The Tulbagh Valley is situated in the Western Cape Province 120km north-east of Cape Town, shaped like an inverted horse-shoe and surrounded by mountains on three sides. The Witzenberg Mountains lie on the east and on the west lies the Obiqua Range with the Groot Winterhoek Range capping the Northern side of the Valley. The Saronsberg mountain forms part of the Obiqua mountain range.
The valley is situated 80km off the Atlantic coast with a continental climate of Mediterranean summers and cold, wet winters. The only access into the valley is from the south and this 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.
Our soils can be broadly classified into three categories depending on their location:
– Red and yellow clay loam soils with some fine gravel on the slopes of the
– Deposited boulder beds and sandy-loam alluvial soils surrounding the
Klein Berg River.
– Mid-valley shales towards the centre of the Tulbagh Valley.
Apart from smaller mountain streams and springs the main water supply of the valley is the modest Klein Berg River that runs through Saronsberg estate.
Terroir in the valley varies depending on elevation, aspect and slope variations of the mountains and valley floor.
Saronsberg has a unique diversity of terroir as the farm consists of two distinct parts (originally named Waveren and Welgegund) that stretch from the centre of the valley right up into the Saronsberg Mountain. The furthest points on the farm suited to viticulture are four kilometers apart and are situated in two different micro-climates, and replanting of vineyards were carried out to take full advantage of these variations, culminating in unique terroir-driven wines.
Welgegund, the portion of the farm lying on Saronsberg Mountain is 160 hectares in size, of which only 60 hectares can be cultivated. It has weathered red and yellow clay loam soils with a high percentage of fine gravel and some stone with underlying shale phyllites. These soils have developed from pre-Cambrian age Malmesbury shale.
The aspect is steep eastern/south-eastern, varying in height from 200 to 320 meters.
Average annual rainfall is 850 to 1200mm per year, mostly from June to September. Due to the close proximity of the mountains we experience an occasional drizzle in summer.
In the early to mid-morning there is usually a light southern-westerly wind generated by air movement against the mountain but during the afternoon the wind direction is predominantly from the southern-east.
Because of the higher elevation, more air movement and fewer sunlight hours, the average temperature of the vineyards situated against the Saronsberg Mountain is 3 to 4°C cooler than vineyards lower in the valley. The wines produced from these cooler vineyards have more floral notes with greater elegance and form the foundation of our Provenance range and also serve as blending components in the Saronsberg range.
The greater portion of the farm lies towards the centre of the valley and most of its 350 hectares can be cultivated. The Klein Berg River forming the farm’s western border is surrounded by deep hydromorphic alluvial and sandy loam duplex soils that run into boulder beds deposited millennia ago when the river was considerably more substantial than today. These soils are fertile and better suited for fruit and olive orchards than vineyards.
The bulk of our vineyards are planted in 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 185m above sea level. The rainfall is 450 to 550mm per year, from June to September. The general wind direction is southern-easterly, providing most of the cooling effect in the afternoons. The wind velocity is generally higher than against the mountain, but of shorter duration. These grapes form the backbone of the Saronsberg range because of the more concentrated colour and flavours with a firm tannin structure.
Blending the wines from our very different terroirs results in wines with a broader, more layered flavour profile and greater depth.
A comprehensive initial soil and temperature analysis of all potential vineyard sites was done to determine suitability for grape production. The resulting information was used to decide which cultivars, clones and rootstock combinations to plant on specific sites for optimum grape quality.
Before planting the soils were prepared by mechanically ripping and shift-ploughing the earth, thus loosening the soil to enable proper root penetration and to assist in the amelioration by adding lime to optimize the soil pH.
The vines are planted with an average 1 to 1.5m between vines and 2.5 to 3m between rows. The corresponding density varies from 2700 to 4000 vines per hectare, mainly because of differences in soil vigour and slope variations.
Ninety percent of the vines are trellised (extended Perold), except for some bush vines on the mountain foot slope.
The vineyards are planted in approximately one-hectare blocks, separately managed with a yield of three to six tons per hectare (27 to 40 hectoliters). Green harvesting is vigorously applied to balance yield and maximize flavour and extraction.
The predominant row orientation is east to 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 to south row direction to comply with the slopes or to vary the flavour profiles.
Canopy management varies in accordance with each vineyard’s specific requirements. Canopy practices during summer are done by hand and include: suckering, removing the growth points on shoots, removing leaves and lateral shoots and green harvesting. All of this is done by a permanent and dedicated staff force of 35 people.
A variety of cultivars are grown because we focus on blends. 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 were all planted in 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 90 depending on the soil composition. Most of our vineyards are also ‘mother’ vineyards ensuring that we have the best virus free material available.
Supplemental irrigation is sparsely used since we have adopted a regime of keeping the vines under moderate water stress, thereby concentrating the flavours by inducing smaller berries. This is why we give no water until veraison. Irrigation is used to maintain the potential wine quality and not to increase yields.
Disease control is done preventatively by spraying for powdery and downy mildew. This program is adjusted to each vintage requirement, and due to our drier continental climate we can usually reduce spraying frequency to a minimum. We only use registered products that have the least impact on the environment. This is strictly monitored by the IPW (Integrated Production of Wine) management system unique to South Africa, ensuring that our vineyard management practices comply with strict international requirements.
Apart from some small antelope and hares on the farm there are no ‘pests’ that are of economic importance. We encourage 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.
First crops are harvested after the third year. In the earlier years the yield is kept low so as to not overstress the young vines. Harvesting is done by hand – we usually start with Sauvignon Blanc and finish with Mourvèdre.
The following are important dates in the year for our vineyards:
Budding – 2nd week of September to 2nd week of October
Veraison – 3rd week of December to 2nd week of January
Harvest – Last week of January to 2nd week of March
Leaf drop – May
Pruning – July to August