A great place to grow grapes

One always feels that a magical setting should produce a magical wine. It doesn’t always, of course, but this time I reckon there’s room for hope.

Chamonix-vineyard-32That’s what I wrote a little more than a year ago, after visiting the steeply-terraced, raw-earthed new pinot noir vineyard at Chamonix in Franschhoek. Last week I visited it again, with Gottfried Mocke (who has himself recently passed the decade mark as the passionate director of what happens in cellar and vineyard here – ten years, each one of which seems to have shown improvements).

It’s much less raw now, of course. What were tiny sticks in the ground are now flourishing young vines – the vast majority of them have “taken” and are showing ambitions to climb the poles arranged for each one of them. Other vegetation is starting to grow too – and its important that it does, especially on the steep slopes between the flat steps of the terraces, to bind the soil and retard erosion. But the growth is patchy – unfortunately, the baboons that are plentiful in the mountain above the vineyard are as fond of gathering the scattered seeds as they are of damaging vines. Also progressing is the slow work of building little stone walls to also help preserve the terrace structure.

Chamonix-vineyard-4This style of vine-training, incidentally, with a vine for each pole, is rare anywhere in the world  for pinot, though not uncommon for Shiraz. But the wind that seems to blow unceasingly at this high, exposed elevation (with the wide Franschhoek valley stretching away beneath it) makes “stok-by-paaltjie” a more viable option than trellises.

So much goes to make this a wonderful place – the sight of it from below, the views it offers,  the ambition and hard work involved in preparing these mighty terraces that have reshaped this bit of the mountainside.

And there’s a liveliness to it all, somehow. Firstly because it’s built on a horizontal curve around the mountain as well as on the vertical slope. Secondly, I think, because of the rhythm that is so observable when you’re there, and so different from the monotonous spacing of most flatland vineyards. Each of the terraces separated by an expanse of slope has two, widely spaced rows of vines which are themselves planted fairly close together. It’s a complex, somehow satisfying articulation.

Lower down the slope, where it starts flattening out (as seen in the top photo), Gottfried has planted cabernet franc. That too is a most pleasing little patch of vines. But it is the space carved out for lordly pinot noir that is the most magical. In a few years time it will be bearing grapes to be carefully picked and taken down the steep and rutted road to the cellar, and will then be even more beautiful.

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