Tulbagh is situated 120km north east of Cape Town and 90 km east of the Atlantic coast in a Mediterranean climate area. Cold winters with rain and snow, and warm dry summers with plenty of wind. The valley is surrounded by mountains, resulting in cool nights. “Rijk’s Viticulture – the combination of location, climate, soil and man’s decisions in the vineyards. We study and respect nature, for our future generations.”
The entire farm consists of vertical shale soils, also known as schist. This soil type has typically 300mm of topsoil and then deep vertical shale. The water retention properties of shale are very low. This naturally restricts vine growth resulting in small concentrated berries and bunches. Another excellent property of shale is that the wine produced has a low ph which allows for long ageing of our wines. Our low potential shale soils produce on average between 4 and 5 tons per hectare.
Our first plantings were in 1997. After extensive soil tests, discussions and planning, we decided to plant many cultivars to see which suited our farm best. White wines included Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Red vines planted were: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinotage and Shiraz.
In 2010, ten years after our first harvest, we removed all Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot so as to concentrate on the cultivars best suited to our farm: Chenin Blanc, Pinotage and Shiraz. A very good decision.
Each block is around one hectare. Rootstocks used are Righter 99 – drought resistant with low growth. Row direction is mostly East to West thus following the sun. Row width is 2.5 mt, and vine spacing is from 0.8 to 1.0 m. Plant density is from 3600 to 4400 vines per hectare. We use two trellis systems – open Perold trellis (producing very fruity grapes) and extended bush vine (producing fully concentrated grapes).
Canopy management and how we “grow wine”
The start of the growing season begins in spring around the first week of September at budburst. This is when we at Rijk’s start to “grow wine” and the new shoots begin their journey towards the sun. The management of the canopy is the most important aspect in our endeavour to produce quality grapes. 7 permanent workers spend every day in the vineyards – thinning, removing unwanted shoots, removing leaves in the bunch zone, opening up the canopy to light and sun. This also allows for healthy, disease-free vines and creates a canopy microclimate perfect for the production of low yielding healthy grapes.
The Rijk’s growing seasons
Budburst : When the buds start swelling and the first shoots appear – normal irrigation.
10cm shoot growth : Spacing between shoots thinned to 150 mm apart. Thinning to 2 shoots per spur. This is critical as it sets the spacing and growth of shoots for the whole growing season. Full irrigation applied.
Flowering : Vines must be strong and healthy with sufficient soil moisture.
Fruit set to Pea size: This is when the bunches begin to form.
Remove unwanted leaves in bunch zone. If leaves are removed too late this will result in sunburn to bunches. Little or no irrigation to reduce growth and berry size.
Veraison : Colour starts showing in the berries. Shoots with less than 12 leaves – remove bunches as they will not ripen well. Bunch counts are then done on each block to determine tonnage expected. If yield will be too high, bunches are removed. Target is 5 tons per hectare.
One week before harvest
Quality control of bunches : remove any bunches that have not ripened evenly.
Check sugar, acid and ph level, taste berry flavours, check pip colour. Winemaker Pierre will then decide when to harvest.
Last week in January till mid March
This is the moment we have waited for: Finally the time, effort and attention to detail to each block will now pay off. All harvesting is done at night in order to transfer bunches to the cellar as cool as possible. This helps to retain freshness and flavours.
After working so hard to produce quality bunches, we reward the vines with good irrigation and a small amount of fertilizer for their well earned winter rest.
July and August
Prune back to 2 buds per shoot : This is critical, as to how you prune will determine the number of shoots and therefore the quality and yield for the next vintage.