As a pioneering vineyard in a new region, we had to do a lot of research and thinking about what to plant. Instead of planting easy to sell varieties like Cabernet and Chardonnay, our ambition was and still is, to plant the best possible quality varieties suited to our climate and soil, regardless of their prestige or obscurity. In order to assist this process, we drew up this table of the practical viticultural considerations of the different varieties we considered suitable, as well as some of the most important international varieties. Our focus is to produce a red & white blend of the highest possible quality.
This table is an ongoing work in progress and is regularly updated as more information becomes available. It is surprisingly difficult to find some of the most basic viticulture information and we would welcome any input, whether ‘scientific’ or anecdotal.When you are only getting 3 tons/ha, the practical viticultural aspects are important as we have to try and keep our per hectare costs down.
The following are notes to what we considered relevant to what we’re trying to achieve at Malgas:
We are looking for most of our varietals to come from regions that are warmer or a similar temperature to Malgas, rather than the common New World theme of using varieties from cooler areas & producing riper, fat wines lacking finesse. Our goal is a combination of “ideal” or a “bit cool”.
Malgas has about twice as much wind as the Cape Town / Stellenbosch area. Luckily seldom violent, damaging wind, but typically 10-30km winds most afternoons. It is important to have varieties with strong shoots that can tolerate the wind.
Drought Resistance: Some varieties are more drought desistance than others and it is an obvious advantage in the poor soils and dry climate of Malgas. Rootstock choice and a little irrigation, however, can mitigate this to some extent. The soils at Sijnn also vary a bit in their water holding capacity, so we do have a few subtle options.
Bush Vine Suitability:
Due to the very poor stony soil & low rainfall and minimal irrigation water, we decided to restrict ourselves to very low yielding bush vines. Some varieties are traditionally grown as bushvines, while others such as Cabernet Sauvignon may not, but are ideally suited. Chenin Blanc are never grown as bushvines in the Loire, but it is very common in South Africa. It is an important consideration for us, however due to our low vigour situation, even a variety like Syrah, which usually has long, floppy shoots performs well as a bush vine at Malgas.
Due to our mild winters, we have to be cautious of varieties prone to uneven budding. This is more important with red varieties, especially those that struggle with green tannins, like Merlot & Cabernet. This was the technical information we found the most difficult to confirm.
Due to our poor stony soils, it is an advantage to have vigorous varieties. Choice of rootstock can also mitigate this and the combination is critical. (We have found the rootstocks R110; R99 and Ruggeri 140 to be ideal).
Traditional Soil Preference:
Some varieties perform best on certain soil types, while others on several. This is more of a reference point and in some cases we can match Malgas soils quite closely to regions where they perform best. The schist of the Duoro for Touriga Nacional’ the schist of Cote Rotie for Syrah and the “Galet Roules” of Chateau Neuf du Pape for Granache, Syrah & Mourvedre, for example.
Only really applicable to the red wines. Due to the concentration we get at Malgas we have to be cautious with tannin management. We need a balance of varieties natural rich tannins and those with light, soft tannins. We’ve have avoided varieties that are prone to astringent, green tannins like most of the Bordeaux varieties, though we couldn’t resist a little Cabernet Sauvignon!
We never add acid, a common practice in all New World countries and increasingly common in Europe with global warming. We place much importance on varieties that keep their acidity when properly ripe.
We believe in picking at optimum ripeness, especially for the red grapes where tannin ripeness is so critical. We place a premium on varieties that achieve full ripeness at lower alc. levels, though this is very much site & vintage dependant.
We have a long, warm summer and autumn with high sunlight hours, so we can ripen almost any variety. It helps to have a reasonable mix of early, mid & late ripening varieties to ease the harvest logistics.
Not the most important criteria for us, as even the high yielding varieties will be moderate producers in the Malgas terroir. We have to be a bit cautious of the low yielding varieties like Viognier & Roussanne, but we can also adjust vineyard practices a bit to help.
Availability of good plant material:
This has in the past been a big issue, but recently some excellent imports have been done by the wine industry. In particular varieties from France due to an agreement with Entav. Where there are only one or two good clones available, we are cautious about planting too much of that variety.
Taking all the practical viticultural aspects into account we come to a suitability score. A high score does not necessarily mean the best possible wine, but rather the ease with which we can produce an excellent wine and with time produce something great. A unique expression of a very special place.