Tierhoek Sustainable Wine Farm
While the Tierhoek wine farm isn’t certified as organic it is managed in an organic way with (at present for the last 6 years at least) zero use of non-organic pest control. The remote site, situated 760m up in the mountains, is influenced by cool Atlantic sea air from the west coast along with dry heat from the mountains. Because the farm is so remote and quite high up in the Cederberg it is less vulnerable to migrating pests from neighbouring farms.
Website www.tierhoek.com/ Phone 0786137274 Mobile 0786137274 Email firstname.lastname@example.org
[Story by Carlin Archer]
Tierhoek - a welcoming farm nestled in an extreme environment
If the drive to Tierhoek wine farm wasn’t so scenically stunning we probably would have given up halfway and gone home. Somehow, after getting a bit lost, we managed to take the long route from Citrusdal to the remote farm, traversing stretch after stretch of rocky dirt road, winding our way up into the dramatic peaks of Piekenierskloof, on the edge of the Cederberg.
The destination itself was well worth the effort. You get a real sense of ‘being away from it all’, with the vast and rugged veld covered mountain surrounds. The rows of grapevines are planted in such a way that they seem to blend into the landscape alongside the beautifully restored rustic Sandveld buildings. It’s a small farm by most measures and the grapes are dominated by the landscape rather than the other way around - as is the case with most commercial vineyards.
An inherent respect for nature
While Tierhoek wine farm isn’t certified as organic it is managed in a natural way - in the over seven years since the farm was brought back into cultivation, no non-organic pest control has been used. Situated 760m up in the mountains, the farm is influenced by cool Atlantic sea air from the west coast along with dry heat from the mountains. Because of its remoteness and altitude in the Cederberg it is less vulnerable to migrating pests from neighbouring farms. As an added blessing, the cold winter temperatures experienced at Tierhoek wipe out all the bad bugs.
The farm also gets a good deal of help by way of ‘natural pest control’ such as guinea fowl that eat the snails, bugs, slugs, and ants, and a strong contingent of local ladybirds. As head winemaker Roger tells us, they “let nature control it, and it always works”. Roger adds that “when you spray one thing, it affects everything, including the good bugs” (not to mention the pesticide residue which would otherwise end up in the wine).
Extra care results in sustainable farming
Tierhoek don't label their wine as organic, but prefer to highlight their sustainable farming practices. The sulphur used in the winemaking process meet the organic requirements and the fungicide is of the organic variety. Roger tells us that, while they haven’t had to use any conventional sprays on the farm in over seven years, should the need arises and they must spray to save an annual crop then they will use this as a last resort, spraying only locally in the affected area - as is their practice with the organic sprays they use.
Roger Burton (Winemaker) & Ryno Kellerman (Farm Manager)
Because Tierhoek is a relatively small farm Roger knows his vines well. He is constantly ‘on patrol’ in the vineyard monitoring the condition of his plants. As soon as something suspicious is spotted it is monitored carefully to see if nature will take care of it (which it usually does) or if human intervention is needed.
When the farm was brought back into cultivation, the soil was sampled from the different fields to decide which varieties would be most appropriate to plant. This was done in an attempt to produce thriving plants that would require lower management and external inputs, such as fertiliser or pest control. The varieties of white grapes currently grown are chenin blanc, chardonnay, and viognier and the reds are grenache (the flagship), shiraz, and mourvedre.
The shiraz, mourvedre and grenache form a popular ‘Rhone style’ blend known by the acronym SMG. Roger mentions that it was just coincidental that the SMG grapes, now quite popular on the market, were suited for the farm.
Older vines, finer wines
The flagship wine at Tierhoek is their Grenache, which requires a lot less water than the other varieties - in fact they do not irrigate these vines. The Grenache vines on the farm are over 60 years old - quite old in South African terms where many farmers rip out older vines preferring to harvest from higher yielding, younger vines (however, these also lack the flavour, and hence quality, of the older vines). Grapevines can survive to around 200 years peaking in maximum grape yield at around 12 years of age.
The Grenache became a personal favourite of the Food With A Story team after Roger served us a few much appreciated glasses, paired with cutlets of superb local vineyard raised free range lamb. The Tierhoek Grenache wine has a deep musty flavour with ripe summer fruits such as plums and nectarines.
The name Tierhoek translates to ‘leopards corner’ in English and there’s a good reason for that. The farm is part of a protected ‘leopard corridor' stretching from the Cederberg to the atlantic ocean. The aim is to allow these endangered animals room to roam and give them a helping hand to survive the ongoing encroachment on their habitat by humans. We didn’t come across any leopards during our stay, although Deni did spot what might have been a leopard footprint in the mud!
The farm was started by the Marais family back in 1886. In 2001 Tierhoek was purchased by Tony and Shelly Sandell who worked to restore the Sandveld buildings and nurtured the then 30 year old and neglected Chenin and Grenache vines back to working condition. The restoration of the farm was done in balance with the delicate natural environment that surrounds Tierhoek giving it membership of the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI).
Winemaker Roger in the Grenache vineyard. Roger, a laid-back surfer from Cape Town, spends most of his time on the farm, walking through the vineyards and nurturing his vines. Weekends, though, he seeks out the waves back in Cape Town with his wife.
View from the Grenache vineyards - the farm is so remote that it's protected from many bugs and other nasties it may have to contend with in the usual commercial farming area. This makes for healthier farming, and healthier wines.
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