Thanks to the pruners


William Kentridge’s etching of an old-fashioned pair of secateurs, inspired by his visit to Swartland and Olifants River vineyards

It’s pruning season. How reassuring to know, while I’m sipping wine in here, that there are people out there in the winter cold and the rain looking after the vines. OK, it’s been sunny and warm today, but maybe tomorrow it won’t be!

I suddenly recall these evocative observations of Adi Badenhorst when he was talking about the origins of his Secateurs label:

“We wanted something that represented the physical working of a vineyard by people and the snoeisker was perfect. It’s a beautiful tool – slender, wonderful curvy lines, sharp … It also makes a wonderful sound when you work with it, that carries very far in the crisp winter morning air. And, of course, when you stand before a vine with secateurs in hand you truly feel like an artist about to sculpt something wonderful.”


Sculpture. A photo by Rosa Kruger of a freshly pruned vine in Banhoek, Stellenbosch

Even more, re-reading that, I’m glad that they’re out there pruning our vines, and my gladness is touched by a little comfortable envy of those sculpting in the cold!

This sentimentality  was brought on by an interesting phonecall today from Ryan Mostert, the wine-maniac who makes the Silvervis and Smiley and (to come) Terra Cura  wines (and formerly worked with Rudiger Gretschel and Johan Reyneke at Reyneke Wines, making that formidably excellent range). He’s been out and about in the vineyards from where he draws his grapes, working with the vines.

Ryan began by saying how heartbreaking it was to see the damage wrought on old Swartland dryland bushvines by this last terrible summer of dryness and heat. The rains have come (and may they come some more, and let there be a good midsummer fall in December too!) but even if it’s back to normal with the weather, it’s going to take those vines a while to recover. Especially some of the frailer older vines (toughness and growing inured to harshness is not an inevitable part of growing old as a vine or a person). Pruning must be sensitively adapted to the needs of the shocked vine, keeping down the crop so as not to overwork it next season, seeking to build up the stronger parts of the vine.

The Swartland’s almond trees are early in blossom, says Ryan. It looks as if the vines could be early too, with a shorter season perhaps, and an early harvest. I recalled how the splendid 2015 vintage had, in its earliness, so quickly overthrown the conventional wisdom (of European viticulture?) that a longer hang-time was necessary for flavour and structural development. Perhaps a shorter season is what we need for harvest 2017 in the parts that suffered last season; it’s easy to be nervous about the lengths of another brutal summer….


Rosa Kruger posted this photo a few days back on Twitter. She wrote “Oom Loenkies Claassen 61 years old pruning at Twee Jonge G[ezellen] … thanks to all the great pruners in the Western Cape!”

Ryan and other sensitive workers with the vine are learning how to respond better to the seasons and the strangenesses thrown by global climate change, in the nurturing of their charges. It occurs to me that, though Ryan is still young, with a lifetime ahead of him of working with vines and the fruit they deliver to his cellar, perhaps he’ll only have 20 chances of working with a great vintage like 2015. As many or more, I hope, but perhaps fewer, and, please, not too many like 2016.

They’re out there today, legions of vineyard workers with their cold and aching hands – most, I fear, just pruning by rote, by the rules, others studying the vines (or listening to those who do understand vines and their changing needs). Raise a glass or two to those working the vines!

One thought on “Thanks to the pruners

  1. Pruning is an emotional and social experience. To me it is therapeutic and almost mystical. Knowing that you are about to shape the future of a young vine for the rest of its lifetime, possibly the next 60 vintages or more. Sharing your skill and experience with, and learning from, your fellow pruners. And all the while listening to the soft, crisp sound of the secateurs and the gentle banter and laughter of the team. To me, it’s the very best of times….

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