Organic, biodynamic, ecologically sustainable, biological – what is what?

South Africa currently offers certification for organic viticulture and winemaking practices, and not for other biodynamic, biologically friendly and ecologically sustainable practices. One of the vineyards that we use have organic certification, namely the Swartland Syrah.

Our MCC vineyards, particularly the Chardonnay (Robertson) is farmed with a holistic approach by Fritz Breytenbach who has over 50 years of experience in “reading his vines” and treating the soil as a whole living thing with all the complex interactions between micro-organisms, minerals, oxygen, nitrogen and plants, with amazing results in grape quality, volume and consistency.

Orthodox practices usually kill off these micro-processes and, in a sense, force-feeds the vines with nutrients, with detrimental effects to soil health and ultimately to the health of the entire ecosystem. In contrast, “Oom Fritz” (Uncle Fritz), as we call him, has learned to understand more about the complex interactions in a soil and plant system. By replacing chemical control with biological support (addition of already occurring elements to the soil) he strengthens the ecosystem’s resilience.

One result has been the return of indigenous grass species between the vineyard rows. These plants replenish nitrogen in the soil and over seasons have formed a bed of mulch on the soil, which helps to lock in moisture and keeps soil temperatures down in the summer heat. This, in turn, decreases the need for irrigation. Nature’s magic restored! Read more in this article.

Since 2015 Carla has also started to take care of a small Pinot noir vineyard for our Cap Classique in Somerset West. She practices organic principles, only spraying copper and sulfur in the vineyard and no pesticides or herbicides. A bed of hay mulch helps to improve soil quality.

As for wine making practices, we cannot apply for organic certification, given that our grapes are not all from certified organic vineyards. However, Carla uses various biodynamic practices including harvesting or processing grapes and bottling according to the biodynamic calendar of Southern Africa (www.bdaasa.org.za).

Furthermore, Carla allows minimal impact when fermenting, for example only using piseage (punch-down) for our reds and no pump-overs. Our Chenin blanc and Syrah often ferment in barrels with wild yeasts only – no chemical yeasts added. When wines need to be moved or racked, gravity does the job rather than pumps. Finally, all our wines contain very low levels of sulfur.