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The ongoing drought in the Western Cape is not only crippling the agricultural sector, but also having a major socioeconomic impact on South African, Zimbabwean and Malawian citizens. With predicted yields for wine production the lowest in 13 years, the impact on seasonal workers will be immense – in a time of year that should the prosperous and fruitful.

We point fingers at the Government, local municipalities, over-population in the Western Cape and, of course,  El Niño. But could we have buffered this drought, even with some areas receiving as little as 105 mm of rain for 12 consecutive months?

I believe the answer is yes. And I also believe we must learn from this. And in this crisis, we must be the change.

For years I’ve heard winemakers dazzle the wine writers and wine critics with wonderful talk of “soil health” and what not. The truth is it was bullshit. Well, in most cases. In the rare cases that those winemakers actually knew what they were talking about, you would see the results in this drought.

In regions like Darling, some of the farmers has been mulching with straw for more than 10 years and religiously replacing that mulching every three to five years. I’ve been to these vineyards last week, and the impact the drought has on these dryland farmed vineyards are significantly less than the almost “scorched earth” vineyards that I see so frequently.

Mulching in the winter of 2011

Megan van der Merwe in the vineyards in Darling with Oubaas Kirsten (a pioneer in mulching!!!) – fresh mulch from winter of 2017 – Thanks Megan, I’ve stolen this image off your Instagram! Credit to you! Look how happy those vines are in harvest season!

In my mulching trials over the past two years, I’ve been amazed at the positive impact proper mulching has on top soil temperature and temperature fluctuations. The first year you can find here. The second set of data of the current season – I believe the images is self explanatory…

This is soil temperatures WITHOUT mulching

This is soil temperatures WITH mulching

So if we mulch we will be alright in the drought? Not quite. There are MANY factors that would impact this. Mulching is just a step in the right direction. Here are some aspects that are counter productive in the fight against the drought during the past two growing seasons:

1. Shit planting methods. A J-rooted vine DOES NOT have ANY buffer capacity. Period.

2. Barron lands. Please note I am not saying that weeds are better.

3. Grapevine Leafroll Virus – we must eliminate this virus ASAP. If the Kiwis can, so can we.

So to wrap up, a few tips for the future:

Plant to grow old. Don’t rush this. Dig proper planting holes. Plant virus free material. Do proper soil preparation. Mulch from day one.

After reading this post I realize it has no structure, but hey, look at the pictures. Enjoy them and learn from them – This is in fact Visual Viticulture!

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