How it started.
Back in 2005 whilst we were housebuilding (out of clay, the subject of an imminent blog) and starting to develop our garden along permaculture and biodynamic principles under the guidance of Avice Hindmarch, we also decided to learn Italian. In Stellenbosch there is only one Italian teacher worth having and that is Simonetta dalla Cia. We were soon befriended by her husband the genial connoisseur, Giorgio. At that time Avice decided to revive an abandoned 3 Hectare Chenin Blanc vineyard close to our building site. Giorgio determined that I learn about winemaking as he understood there was no money in growing grapes. He also said that it would be boring to produce just another organic Chenin Blanc and that I should make straw wine.
What is straw wine exactly?
I have learnt to suppress a smile when asked how you make wine from straw. It is a wine made from grapes that have been dried to intensify the flavour and sweetness. Depending on which country you are in your Passito in Italy or Schilfwein in Austria or Strohwein in Germany or Slamove vino in Czech or Vin de Paille in France will be made from different grapes dried differently in each country. There are a handful of producers in this country and the few I have visited have dried their grapes on nylon bird netting and metal chicken wire!!! Our grapes are dried on racks covered with straw that we harvest on our farm. See below
History of the vineyard
Planted by the previous owner in 1983 and 1984 and then conventionally farmed for 20 years until abandonment. Heavily irrigated and fed all the cides (herbicides, larvacides, pesticides, fungicides, nematicides etc etc. Cide is the Latin word for killing), none of which are on the side of the farmer or the soil or the plant. It is fair to say that this was a tired vineyard. Through biodynamic management the vigour of the vines has improved and I think the wines are becoming more interesting every year.
Who helped me
If it was not for Avice Hindmarch, seen below driving the tractor at age 67 whilst the youngsters are off loading compost into the vineyard,
I would never have had the winemaking discussion with Giorgio dalla Cia. Fortunately for me I also knew Adi Badenhorst from university days and he along with Spier’s Cellar Master Frans Smit helped me tremendously. Finally Duimpie Baily did what he could with the wine authorities to make sure that I could get through all the legalities. Thanks again to you all.
Feeding and nurturing the vineyard.
Winemaking happens in the vineyard although most of today’s viticultural practices are so mutilating to the grape that the winemaker is burdened in the cellar to produce wine from these grapes.
Because we don’t irrigate (Surely irrigation is one of the factors negating terroir?) we have to make sure that first our soils absorb all the rain and that second the vines roots go as deep as they are capable of doing. Biologically active soils enable the above.
First we plant a variety of crops as cover crops, (another blog to follow on vineyard cover cropping) which bring various nutrients to the vine roots as well as break up the hard ground. Second we graze our cattle in the high density method, an enormous energetic and manure stimulus for the land. Third we apply a small amount of Talborne compost and our own vermicompost to each vine. Fourth we apply as folio spray the PFPE from BioEarth to which we have added a little of our own Cow Pat Pit/Barrel compost. Finally we apply the BD 500 horn manure preparation three times a year. See photo below of me stirring the BD500 before spraying onto the vineyard.
The process of making it
Our way of making straw wine is very simple indeed. We wait for the grapes to get to a Brix count of 22.5 and then harvest on the fruit day (according to the biodynamic calendar developed by Maria Thun) closest to that sugar level. The grapes go onto the straw covered racks for about a month.
At a Brix of 48 we then crush them with a handcrusher made by Helmut Amos of Magitec,
leave them overnight in a bin after being sprayed with SO2 of 60ppm and then the next day we press the grapes in a barrel press. The juice then goes into 225 litre French oak barrels. We usually bottle about 2 years later.
We also compost the grape waste with our chicken manure and the Bio Earth DDS innoculant. Here it is being removed from the hand operated barrel press.
What does Ezibusisweni mean?
Ezibusisweni is a Zulu word meaning “The Place of Blessings”. It refers to the area where we built our clay home, established our garden and the vineyard.
The bottling process
The bottling and the corking and labeling is all done by hand. Below is a photo of the three bottle manual bottler on the left and the hand operated corker on the right.
Where all the work takes place.
Inside a cob building at Ezibusisweni watched over by angels.
What the bottle looks like?
There are only 2280 of these beauties with each bottle numbered by hand.
More about the lady on the front.
My oldest friend, Mqapheli Enoch Zungu, is apart from being a graphic designer also an accomplished artist whose best work I think is in pencil.
This is him below
This is his sketch that now adorns the bottles
Where can you buy it?
At this stage directly from me. Contact details on the blog’s contact page.