CONSTANTIA, SOUTH AFRICA
The rhythmic snapping of secateurs filtered through the greenery as I walked down a long alley of the outermost vineyard on the estate. Leaf litter was soft underfoot after all the recent rains and on the nose was an earthy freshness – interspersed by a sugary sweetness of the occasionally discarded, undesirable and now very much trampled grape.
There was a sense of calm among everyone. The team moved steadily along, working methodically from row to row, as the tractor trailer slowly filled. On my left were open, airy vines harvested mere minutes ago, and on my right were heavily-laden Sémillon plants patiently waiting to be picked after many months of grape development. These grapes are destined for creating the next vintage of Gouverneurs Reserve White – a Bordeaux style white blend which comprises Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.
Set bordering the residential edge, this vineyard block provides refuge for wildlife. There were signs of porcupines: quills, tracks and scat littered the vineyard. A flock of Helmeted Guineafowl swooped in. Chattering away they skittishly kept to the areas where the harvest team were absent. Skofelling the ground cover, the game birds found their desired cuisine. The soil they exposed was deeply colored. Rich humus full of nutrients which feed these vines. Driven by the environmentally sensitive farming practice of conservation tillage, utilizing the green cover crop and pruned vines, this not only nourishes and enriches the soil but also prevents soil erosion via water and wind. This is key to the estate being a conservation champion. Protecting soil is arguably the most valuable action that can be taken by a farm for the sustainable use of the land. With the green cover, not only does this prevent erosion but it has positive water conservation effects through greater infiltration and storage capacity. There is less sedimentation of streams by preventing wash away of topsoil and the cover aids in preventing big fluctuations in soil temperatures. This too is a pesticide free estate. Biological pest control takes place and this has positive impacts on the overall ecosystem health.
The southwestern Cape is a Mediterranean climate region and Groot Constantia receives over 1100 mm of precipitation – this takes care of irrigation for a number of vineyard blocks, including the Semillon which I’ve watched being harvested. The valley is fed by a cool Atlantic Ocean summer breeze blowing in from False Bay which regulates temperatures. On this day a gale force southeasterly wind, the Cape Doctor, was battering the Cape Peninsula and seemed to be forgetting about Constantia altogether. Clouds poured over the Kalk Bay Mountains and pushed across Steenberg Ridge to Constantiaberg. Down in the valley not even a leaf rustled. Barely a breath of wind was evident and we all longed for some relief by mid-morning. However, on the sun-beaten upper granitic slopes of Vlakkenberg the air movement was felt – this being key to Groot Constantia’s quality Sauvignon Blanc with that cool climate effect.
As the 2023 harvest season draws to a close Groot Constantia Wine Estate will finish harvesting all the remaining black grapes seeing that the white varietals are all in the cellar. The reigns now get handed from viticulturist team, to the winemaker, but almost immediately work resumes in the vineyards to ensure that the next harvest is just as successful with another year of preparation and nurturing of both vine and soil.
Groot Constantia Wine Estate is a WWF Conservation Champion: Find out more HERE
*This is a personal account of my experience photographing the annual harvest in mid-March 2023.
By Justin Hawthorne