Johan Reyneke began his foray into wine-making in 1998, on his family’s farm not far from the long-established town of Stellenbosch, near Cape Town. Years before this, the farm had begun a move to increase biodiversity, with the planting of indigenous vegetation, in part to encourage the return of local wildlife. Cultivation of vineyards along organic, then biodynamic, lines was a natural inclination.
The terroir held true to its promise. The vineyards, on hillsides a few kilometres from False Bay, benefit from cooling ocean breezes. The ancient soils are sandy in nature, atop decomposed granite and clay. Biodiversity on the farm has now reached a level that exceeds even that found in the natural environment. Approaches as simple as planting clover to divert the mealy bug from the vines show how a route away from herbicides and pesticides need not be as complicated as some winegrowers imagine.
The 40-year-old vines of Reyneke produce grapes for what became in 2004 the first biodynamic winery in South Africa. It remains one of the very few wineries in the country taking such an approach and the only one to achieve a John Platter 5 Star Winery rating.
As Johan observes, his wines have only two ingredients: grapes and time. “Wild yeast does the job perfectly and there’s no need to add tartaric acid because the pH in my soil has completely normalised, improving the pH in my grapes.
There’s also no need to add enzymes because the berries have a higher skin-to-flesh ratio. My wines are naturally balanced and integrated, and above all they are wines from this property’s soils, not from superphosphate fertiliser!”
As many organic/biodynamic wine-growers point out, it is impossible to talk about terroir in soils constantly changed using chemicals; in wines that have been manipulated all the way from vine to bottle.
“But when soil comes alive again, it becomes very expressive in the wine,” believes Johan.
The vines express this diversity in their growth patterns – some are extremely vigorous; some really struggle. At first we lamented this fact but over time we realised that we simply had to respect the vines in the different soil pockets by harvesting them separately, vinifying them separately and ending up with completely different styles of wine to bottle or blend.” The grapes picked earlier have delicate, primary flavours and freshness; the grapes picked at a later stage are riper, with more structure, lending themselves to oaking. “But there is no recipe; we just take the fruit of the season and help it go where we think it is going. It’s not very technical!”
Former Boekenhoutskloof winemaker Rudiger Gretschel started to work part time at Reyneke after the 2009 harvest – “guiding” the winemaking not only for the award winning 2009 whites but also for the 2007 red – before joining full time shortly after. “For me, organic and especially biodynamic wines are the future,” he says. “In the next 15 to 20 years, I don’t think there will be a single premium wine in the world that isn’t organic or biodynamic.”