The Swartland region benefits from approximately 500mm of annual rainfall, largely during the cold winter months when it is not unusual to have freezing temperatures which help the vines rest. The summers are hot, dry and water is scarce on the surface, which in other regions of the world would demand irrigation.
Hot, dry summers are balanced by deep, moisture-retentive soils which retain the cold. Night temperatures are also surprisingly cool, effectively slowing the ripening process – especially important for the late-ripening varieties – to close the gap between high sugars and phenolic ripeness.
Here, the vines are trained as low lying bushes with small yields and planted on tap-root rootstock. The bushvine training requires a heavy hand in the vineyard, protecting the fruit from sun and wind damage while using the canopy to retain moisture in the soil. The rootstock encourages the roots of the vine to dig deep down into the soils, closer to the water table.
The delicate balance between vegetal growth, fruit and natural water is maintained through the hands of the farmer as bushvine requires mostly manual labour, from pruning to hand-harvest.
The four hundred hectare Klein Amoskuil farm was planted mainly with Tobacco before 1997. It took a decade to define exactly which parts of the farm were best suited to dryland viticulture. Today, only a quarter of the farm is planted under vine, with 3 soil types favoured.
The dominant and most exciting for our reds, Koffieklip (Coffee Stone) : A deep ferricrete soil of decomposed granite from the Paardeberg Mountain percolated with Earth’s rich iron. This pretty red soil has a rugged aspect to it with dark brown and red stones. This soil tends to have good drainage and produce red wines with a certain elegance blended with the typical robust nature of granite soils. This soil produces exceptional Mourvedre.
Oakleaf : Of similar mineralogical composition as Koffieklip, it finds itself in a evolved state of decomposition. This equally ferricrete soil has a finer, more compact aspect, with more water retention. The wines from these soils tend to be richer and more complex, well-suited to Syrah and Tannat.
Malmesbury Shale : The oldest geologically, the shale soils are found closer to the Diep Rivier, which runs through the farm. These rocky, well-drained soils offer a completely contrasting style of wine, and the vineyards planted on these rocks (!) produce finely grained wines. Viognier, Carignan and Pinotage produce excellent wines on these soils.
Duplex soils : A fourth soil type is in fact duplex, where the iron has not percolated the decomposed granite. These soils, grey and sandy on the surface, have sub-soils of richer red clay and shale rocks. They are well suited to Petite Sirah and Grenache, which enjoy the struggle for water and nutrient.
Darling is increasingly regarded as a prime Sauvignon Blanc growing area in the Western Cape. Spice Route’s vineyards on the rolling hills outside this sleepy town are less than 4km from the Atlantic Ocean and its cooling breezes are instantly apparent if one visits the site. The deep red Oakleaf soils here are perfectly suited to producing Sauvignon Blanc grapes of intense flavour and intriguing minerality. These vines are trellised and with strong vigour require constant attention to ensure that yields are carefully managed. In addition Sauvignon Blanc, Charles Back and Charl du Plessis have bushvine Chenin Blanc, Semillon, Grenache and Shiraz planted in this exciting sub region.