Grapes Going Green: Biodiversity in South Africa
The DeMorgenzon winery, located in Stellenbosch, South Africa, stands as a case study in excellence due to its owners’ innovative and precise techniques and unique history. Located in the Cape of Good Hope, Stellenbosch was founded in 1679 by Dutch Governor Simon van der Stel. The winery was officially established twenty years later in 1699. The vineyard survived first as a section of one of the oldest farms in South Africa called “Uiterwyk,” which means “outer ward.” The vineyard was later named DeMorgenzon, the morning sun, due to the fact that the estate is the first part of the Stellenboschkloof valley to see the sun because of its high altitude. The first vines in the Stellenbosch Hills were planted during the early 1700s as the mild climate was ideally suited to the production of quality grapes. This rich, irreplaceable history has evolved into the DeMorgenzon winery pioneering biodiversity techniques that has made it a one-of-a-kind vineyard.
One thing that makes the DeMorgenzon Winery stand out from the crowd is that the organization is a member of the Biodiversity & Wine Initiative, or BWI. The BWI is a partnership between the South African wine industries. In 2004, many ecosystems were under attack. The wine industry then started a conservation partnership with the South African Botanical Society, Conservation International, and the Green Trust to combat forces working against them. This partnership between organizations later morphed into the BWI.
The BWI pioneers the ideals of minimizing the loss of threatened natural habitat and “[contributes] to wine production, through the adoption of biodiversity guidelines by the South African wine industry.” With 55 hectares of carefully tended vineyards intermingling with a garden that spreads 91 hectares, DeMorgenzon has set aside approximately ten percent of land for the restoration of Renosterveld, one of the most threatened habitats in the Cape Floral Kingdom. They also only farm naturally and view the vine as a creation, not a machine. The grapes grow on vines first planted in 1971, which were originally planted as bush vines but recently lifted onto trellises. Growing between the vines are specifically chosen wildflowers. Many vintners believe that growing not just grapes, but also flowers, pumpkins, and squash greatly contribute to the quality of the wine.
In this regard, the BWI and the DeMorgenzon Estate demonstrate the importance of having quality land and grapes, not just a dry plot of land and the cheapest grapes. Some vineyards try to pick as many grapes as possible to maximize production. Instead of blindly picking grapes off the vines, grapes in the DeMorgenzon fields are picked in multiple different passes to make sure only the highest quality grapes are used to produce their different wines. Dawn Ratermann, co-owner of Sane Vine Wine, located in Livermore, California, briefly describes how picking the grapes at the right time is crucial: “We have a lower yield of fruit, but we are trying to have very good tasting fruit. A small lot of fruit [picked at the perfect time] that all tastes great versus a large lot that has all different tastes of fruit. We will have a more consistent and better tasting wine this way.” Likewise, the DeMorgenzon organization is more invested in the quality of the grapes rather than production numbers, which is what makes it stand out from the pack.
No two vineyards have the exact same beliefs on how to pick their grapes, nor do they have the same growing methods. The grapes of the DeMorgenzon winery are handpicked in the early morning hours. When the grapes are picked from the vine, the quality of wine occurs immediately and establishes. When grapes are picked, their sugar and sweetness is captured. The cool climate and low humidity of the terrain gives their wine a unique traits. The old wives tale of classical music helping plants grow to perfection does not remain a tale in the DeMorgenzon Winery.
One intriguing innovation has to do with vibrational frequencies. At the DeMorgenzon vineyard, the idea of melodic sound energy having positive effects on plant growth is fully believed and executed by everyone involved. The vineyard has Baroque music playing seven days a week for the full 24 hours. DeMorgenzon winery plays artists such as Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni (1671-1750), Charles Avison (1709-1770), Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) to name a few. The music survives through strategically placed speakers in the vineyards and cellar. With methods that might seem strange to some, DeMorgenzon produces remarkable results, and the following quality wines have established the vinyard’s elite reputation: DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc, Maestro White, DMZ Sauvignon Blanc, and Garden Vineyards Rosé. In fact, the DeMorgenzon winery has been listed in the top twenty best international wineries for the past several years. In 2013, a critic panel tasted 12,500 wines and placed DeMorgenzon in the 13th slot. In short, being environmentally friendly, visionary, and innovative can produce ideal results.