As the owner and wine maker at Dagbreek Wine Estate in Rawsonville, Peet Smith’s main business is farming grapes for much larger “big brand” estates in the region. However, he also grows very small batches of grapes to vinify for himself under his own boutique label that shares the same name as the farm, and the product of these grapes have been delighting our customers for several years now.
This picture of Peet Smith is a fantastic visual example of what we in the “wine world” mean when we talk about “low yield” or “boutique yield” vines. The larger bunch (in terms of the amount of berries) is from the vines he grows for the bigger producers, whilst the much smaller bunch is from vines for his own wine production.
Quite a difference isn’t there? But why?
The common theory
The common theory behind the difference in berry yield on vines is that vines only have so much soil, nutrients, water and sunlight to make their fruit, and therefore the fewer berries the vine produces, the more concentrated the complexity of the resultant juice is as less berries are sharing the vine’s resources.
Overall we believe this is a fair assumption, but it isn’t the whole picture…
A whole berry
Much of the science around this debate is centred on the canopy of leaves on the vine rather than the actual fruit. Perhaps an easy analogy would be to think of the leaves as solar panels, with each panel providing a certain amount of energy for the vine.
Continuing our analogy of the solar panels, the berries on the vine could then be thought of as the light bulbs that are powered by the energy gained from the solar panels – the more bulbs the panels have to power, the dimmer the resultant glow from each bulb.
However, simply pruning vines heavily to reduce the amount of berries on the plant is not sufficient and won’t bring added complexity to your wine – there is much more skill required and one will have to manage the canopy carefully too.
It all depends on the varietal
Some varietals, such as a Pinot Noir for example, also seem to hate being pruned too heavily and yet we still have some ‘A Class’ Pinot Noirs in the Frogitt & Vonkel cellar such as Freedom from Radford Dale, which clearly shows that the cultivar can create wines of extraordinary complexity and delicacy despite not reacting well to being grown in a low-yield environment.
As with so many things in wine, there is no one single correct answer however the difference in the wine is truly spectacular!
To taste the massive differences between commercial yield and boutique yield as described above, treat yourself to a box of Dagbreek Chenin Blanc (in stock at time of writing) and a bottle of Chenin-plonk from the supermarket, and taste them alongside each other! You can order online here, or speak to your Private Wine Merchant™.