Since being elevated to the position of red winemaker at Simonsig, Michael Malan doesn’t get to spend as much time in the vineyards as he’d like. “Yup, the winery duties keep you on your toes, but whenever I get the opportunity, I check things out in the vineyards,” says Michael. “Which is about 20% of my working time. I just love it there.”
It is the first week of Spring 2019 and Michael is in the 20-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard to the right of the entrance to Simonsig. “It’s been a cold, long winter and the vines had the chance to go into an extended period of dormancy,” he says. “We have done most of our pruning, although this vineyard still has to be pruned – my uncle, Francois Malan – says Cabernet must be pruned before 25 September, as that is his birthday.”
Simonsig did, however, not receive as much rain as could have been expected from a winter perceived to have been one that broke the Cape’s infamous four-year drought. “We’ve had 408mm from January to end August, still a ways to go of the annual average of 760mm,” he says. “But the soils are moist, the farm’s dams are full and conditions are looking better than was the case two years ago. It was a real winter, for a change.”
Bud-break has been even an on schedule in the early varieties, such as Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. “You obviously don’t call the quality of next year’s vintage in Spring, but the vines are looking in good health and I’ll eagerly be watching the bud-break and growth over the next few weeks.”
Michael employs a boot to scrape at the soil at the foot of the vines. “Look how loose the soil is,” he says. “We send in a machine to hoe the soil at the base of the plants, eradicating weeds and the need to use herbicide,” he says. “I like the concept of a soft approach in the vineyard. Natural fertilizer and minimum herbicide use, as it’s more sustainable and better for the soil. We have a programme whereby ladybugs keep the unwelcome critters away. And then there is leaf-roll…..”
As one of the young generation of wine farmers, it is up to Michael and his ilk to – as far possible – see that leaf-roll virus is removed from the Cape winelands.
“Look at this vineyard,” he says, indicating down a row. “It’s pretty clean, free of leaf-roll. Where you see a vine marked with white you can be sure it has been identified as infected with leaf-roll. It will be removed and a clean, virus-free plant of about one year old will be planted in its place. It’s going to be a long haul, but we plan to be as leaf-roll free as possible. The Cape farmers are united in seeing leaf-roll disappear, and its eradication will have a major effect on wine quality and vine ageability.”
But for now, it’s all eyes on the current conditions and preparing for harvest 2020.