Life at First Light
Driving into the break of dawn, my bakkie’s window slightly open and the air cool, gentle, and clear on my face, is one of the greatest gifts of my job as a viticulturist.
As I enter the vineyards*, I hear the high shriek of the hadedas above. I’m the first one there, except for the owl and the tortoise, a couple of chameleons and a brood of guinea fowl with their little chicks.
Most people aren’t out of bed yet but, here there’s so much happening. We plant cover crops between the vine rows to boost biodiversity and organic matter in the soil. It enriches the microbial life beneath our feet. It’s not yet fully light and already the plants between the vines, the vetch, oats and lupins are teeming with activity. I can hear the thrum and hum of the bees drawn to the flowers.
Cover crops do amazing things. They protect the soil from drying out in the heat. They also fix the nitrogen in the soil that the vines need to grow. Plus, they stop a lot of weed growth and soil erosion.
I bend down to check on the Cabernet Sauvignon. There are still traces of early morning dew moistening the soil and I inhale its earthy smell. I learned the other day that there’s a word for it: petrichor. You know the smell when rain falls on dry ground? It’s that. If there were a petrichor perfume, I’d be the first to wear it. But back to the grapes. They are just ready for picking. And as I bite into a firm, crisp but succulent berry to confirm, the juice dribbles down my chin. It’s ripe with tastes of blackberry, raspberry, cherries, and plums.
But why harvest so early in the morning? (h2 or h3)
We try to bring in the fruit when it’s still encased in the freshness of the night air and retains the full intensity of flavours.
That means the pressure is on to get the grapes into the cellar without exposing them to the full heat of the day. In the cellar we’ve worked out a careful choreography to give each other space. Vineyard and cellar workers, we are all working to strict deadlines. We must get the fruit in on time, when it has reached the right balance of varietal flavour, sugar and acid levels. Pick too early and the berries won’t show their full potential. Pick too late and they lose some of their essence. We must get it right if the grapes are to show their best selves.
We follow a strict delivery schedule to make space for the fruit as it arrives, so sorting, pressing and fermentation can begin. The tension is nail-biting. Or it could be if I didn’t stop myself. In any case, what would manicurist Leonie say if I destroyed her handiwork like that!
Would I change this life to laze in bed over a long cup of coffee? I’m from a farming family, so it’s not even something I’d consider.
And every time I open a bottle of our delicious Cabernet Sauvignon, the answer lies in that harmony of aromas and fresh, lively, juicy flavours backed by tannins. Call it delayed gratification, but it’s so worth it!