Durbanville Hills Newsletter - November 2012

Friday, 30 November, 2012
Durbanville Hills Cellar
It's the last newsletter of 2012! Next month, while some are sunbathing and others are frolicking in the snow, I shall sit back with the year's traveling behind me and enjoy the slow but inexorable changes happening in the vineyards that surround us.
A crucial stage in the cycle
Each step in the growing process - from bud break to the falling of the leaves before dormancy - reflects the reaction of the vines to the weather. At the moment, we're entering a crucial stage in the development of the vine and of the fruit it will bear as what happens in this stage will determine the success of our next crop. Vines are now in full flower, with miniscule lantern-like flowers dotted among the green leaves.

Our vines are from the genus Vitis vinifera which is hermaphroditic (each flower has both male stamens and female ovaries). Each young flower is initially covered by a cap called the calyptra. These clusters are often confused as miniature bunches of grapes by the untrained eye. Eventually, these caps drop away to expose the yellow pollen on the stamen. Until the berries ripen, they're sour, tannic and un-appetising. The moment they ripen, they become a sweet and irresistible snack for birds which eat the fruit and disperse the pips all over the valley. As you may imagine, there's always been competition between the farmers and birds! It's not only the birds we have to look out for at this time of year - we also fear the wind and with that, the cold and the rain. What we hanker for are tranquil, balmy days when the little bouquets of flowers can fertilise themselves.

The birth of a new cultivar
Wind played a role in creating several new varietals of which Cabernet Sauvignon is arguably the best example. Spontaneous cross pollination between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc resulted in one of the great stalwarts of our industry. Back in 1924, Prof A Perold, the first professor of viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch, transferred pollen from a Pinot Noir stamen onto a Cinsaut flower. His manual pollination resulted in only four seeds which he planted in the garden of his Stellenbosch house in 1925. They were left behind when he move to Paarl a few years later and would have been uprooted by a gardening team it had not been for Dr Charlie Niehaus. The plants were moved to the safety of a nursery where they grew into "South Africa's own grape".

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