The Tulbagh valley is situated in the Western Cape Province 120 km north-east of Cape Town.
Shaped like an inverted horse-shoe, it is surrounded by mountains on three sides: flanked to the east by the Witzenberg mountains, capped by the Groot Winterhoek range on the northern side and to the west lies the Obiqua range, of which Saronsberg mountain forms a part. Access to the valley is only possible from the open southern side, which allows the prevailing south-eastern summer wind to generate airflow and cool down the valley. Cooler air generated by cold air flowing down the surrounding mountains at night also accumulates on the valley floor, effectively trapping the cold air. Situated 80 km off the Atlantic coast, the valley’s climate is generally continental, enjoying Mediterranean summers and cold, wet winters. Depending on where you find yourself in the Tulbagh valley, you will encounter different terroir units, mainly due to the elevation, aspect and slope variations of the mountains and valley floor.
Apart from various smaller mountain streams and springs the main water supply of the valley is the modest Klein Berg River which runs through Saronsberg farm. The water from this river is one of the main sources of agricultural water for the farms in the valley as well as supplying water to the Cape Town metropole. Tulbagh lies in the north-western corner of the Breede River valley and was the origin of the Breede River before the Klein Berg River formed and found its way through the Obiqua mountains to join the Berg River. Through the ages the valley had been carved out of the sandstone bedrock by water and gravity – an ongoing process that is responsible for the creation of the unique soils that feed the vineyards and orchards of Tulbagh.
In addition to its natural beauty, Saronsberg’s location was carefully chosen for the unique diversity of its terroir. We are fortunate in that Saronsberg as a farm consists of two portions (Waveren and Welgegund) that stretch from the middle of the valley up to Saronsberg mountain. The two furthest points suited to viticulture are about four kilometres apart from one another and are situated in two different micro-climates. Owing to these differences we have set upon replanting much of the existing vineyards, utilising the different micro-climates to their full potential to produce unique terroir-driven wines.
Saronsberg’s soils can be broadly classified into three categories depending on their location:
• Mountain foot slopes (Welgegund farm against Saronsberg mountain).
• Deposited boulder beds and sandy-loam alluvial soils (Waveren farm around the Klein Berg River); and
• Mid-valley shales (Waveren farm towards the centre of the Tulbagh valley).
Welgegund lies on the foot slopes of Saronsberg mountain and is 160 hectares in size, of which only 60 hectares can be cultivated – the rest being too steep and inaccessible for cultivation. The mountainous part is covered by indigenous Cape fynbos which is protected against future development. It has weathered red and yellow clay loam soils with a high percentage of fine gravel and some stone with underlying shale phyllites. These vineyard soils have developed from Precambrian Malmesbury shale. It has a medium to steep east/south-eastern aspect, varying in height from 200 to 320 meters. Average annual rainfall is 950 to 1200 mm per a year, mostly from June to September. Due to the close proximity of the mountains we experience an occasional drizzle in summer, but this is mostly negligible. In the early to mid-morning we usually experience a light south-westerly wind generated by air movement against the mountain but during the afternoon the wind direction is predominantly from the south-east. Due to the higher elevation, more air movement and fewer sunlight hours (due to the afternoon shadow of the mountain), the average temperature is 3 to 4⁰C cooler than at Waveren.
Usually the wines produced from the Welgegund vineyards have more floral notes with enhanced elegance. These wines form the foundation of our Provenance range and also serve as blending components in our Saronsberg range.
Waveren lies in the centre of Tulbagh valley and most of its 350 hectares can be cultivated. The Klein Berg River that forms the farm’s western border is flanked by deep hydromorphic sandy alluvial soils and hydromorphic sandy loam duplex soils; these run into boulder beds deposited millennia ago when the river was considerably larger than today. Due to the fertility of the soils we do not plant vineyards here; rather olive and fruit orchards instead.
The vineyards found on Waveren are planted on the mid-valley medium deep soils that have developed from Pre-Cambrian age Malmesbury shale. The aspect is moderate east with an average height of 160 to 185 meter above sea level. The rainfall is 500 - 600 mm per a year, mostly from June to September. The general wind direction is south- east, providing most of the cooling effect in the afternoons. The wind velocity is generally more intense than against the mountain, but of shorter duration.
The grapes from Waveren form the backbone of the Saronsberg range as we get more concentrated colour and flavour with a firm tannin structure.
Initially, a complete soil and temperature analysis of all the potential vineyard sites was done on both farms to determine their suitability for grape production. This information was used to decide which cultivars, clones and rootstock combinations were to be planted on the specific sites to maximise grape quality.
We utilise these differences in soil, temperature conditions and clone/rootstock combinations between the two farms to produce wines with varying flavour profiles, which provides us with more blending options. The resulting wines have a broader, layered flavour profile with more depth. The soils selected had similar characteristics, such as good drainage, good water retention, good aeration and inducing moderate vigour.
Prior to planting the soils were prepared by heavy machinery that ripped and shift-ploughed the earth, thus loosening the soil to enable proper root penetration and to assist in the amelioration of lime additions to optimise the soil pH.
Ninety per cent of the vines are trellised (extended Perold), except for some bush vines on the mountain foot slope. The vines are planted with an average separation of 1 to 1,5 m between vines and 2,5 to 3 m between rows. The corresponding density varies from 2 700 to 4 000 vines per hectare, mainly due to differences in soil vigour and slope variations.
The vineyards are planted in approximately one-hectare blocks, separately managed with a yield of four to eight tons per hectare (30 to 45 hectolitres). Green harvesting is applied to balance yield and maximise flavour and extraction.
Canopy management varies in accordance with each vineyard’s specific requirements. All summer canopy practises are done by hand and include suckering, removing the growth points on shoots, removing leaves and lateral shoots and green harvesting.
A permanent and dedicated staff force of 35 people tends the vines. Great emphasis is placed on detail.
The predominant row orientation is east-west to keep the grapes in the shade (and thus cooler) for longer periods of the day, providing a more uniform fruit quality, greater diversity of flavours and fewer overripe flavours. A small number of vineyards have a north-south row direction to comply with the slopes or to vary the flavour profiles that we might get from these vineyards.
Due to our focus on blends we grow a variety of cultivars. Shiraz is the main cultivar comprising fifty percent of all plantings. The rest are Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Nouvelle, Chenin Blanc, Semillon and Muscat de Frontignan. These cultivars are all planted with a variety of clones to provide us with greater flavour and structure diversity in our wines. All the vineyards are also grafted onto rootstocks with Mgt 101-14 being the predominant rootstock. Others include Richter 110 and 99 depending on the soil composition. Most of the vineyards are also “mother” vineyards ensuring that we have got the best virus-free material available.
Supplemental irrigation is sparsely used since we have adapted a regime of keeping vines under moderate water stress, thereby concentrating the flavours by inducing smaller berries. This is why we give no water until veraison. After veraison we might do a 25 - 35 mm irrigation depending on the available soil water. This should be sufficient for ripening the grapes without negatively affecting wine quality. After harvest the vines will usually receive one or two irrigations of 30 mm each. Irrigation is only used to increase or maintain the potential wine quality and not to increase yields. To achieve this all the vineyards are managed separately.
Disease control is done preventatively by spraying for powdery and downy mildew. This spraying programme is adjusted to each vintage requirement, and due to our drier continental climate we can usually reduce our spraying frequency to a minimum. We only use registered products that have the least impact on our environment. This is strictly monitored by the IPW (Integrated Production of Wine) management system unique to South Africa, ensuring that our management practises comply with strict international requirements and promoting sustainable farming. Apart from the small antelope and hares on the farm there are no “pests” that are of economic importance. However, we encourage the wildlife as it is an integral part of the farm and the little they take we see as a part of our contract with nature. The first crop will usually be harvested after the third year. In the earlier years the yield had to be kept very low so as not to overstress the young vines. Harvesting is done by hand – we usually start with Chardonnay destined for our MCC and finish with Mourvédre.
A summary of the most important dates in the vineyard diary:
• Budding - 2nd week of September to 2nd week of October.
• Veraison – 4th week of December to 2nd week of January.
• Harvest - Middle of January to 2nd week of March.
• Leaf drop - May
• Pruning - July to August.
We continuously experiment and adapt our vineyard practices to ensure we maintain and increase our grape – and resulting wine – quality. Each vineyard is micro managed and practices adapted to suit its individual needs.