While the wine industry was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Stellenbosch Wine Routes, a world-class site for vineyard training and research was also unveiled in the Cape Winelands.
The Welgevallen Training and Research Vineyards, based on an experimental farm in Stellenbosch, is the result of a partnership between Stellenbosch University and wine industry body Vinpro. It promises to not only benefit students and researchers but also the broader wine industry.
In a joint media release, the university and Vinpro says six diverse vineyard blocks were established on former training vineyards. Here, the focus is on winemaking, trellis systems, traditional and new wine grape varieties, clones and rootstocks, irrigation, pruning systems and table and dried grape cultivation,
In 2019, the vineyards stretching nearly 4.5 hectares, were uprooted. Last year it was replaced with the purpose-driven vineyard blocks.
Professor Danie Brink, dean of Stellenbosch University’s agrisciences faculty, says the benefit of the Welgevallen Training and Research Vineyards is threefold.
“It will not only offer students and researchers of the university access to an exceptional training and research facility but is also a great platform for knowledge transfer to the broader wine industry,” he states.
There are future plans to use the vineyards for training and knowledge transfer to producers and vineyard workers. Input suppliers will also have the opportunity to evaluate and demonstrate new technology or products at this site.
Six diverse vineyard blocks
The winemaking block consists of 19 red and white wine grape cultivars essential to undergraduate grape and wine sciences students’ curriculum for winemaking purposes.
In the trellis system block, one grape variety, namely Chenin Blanc, is trained on 19 different trellis systems and cultivated as bush vines to demonstrate the respective trellis systems and the effect of vine spacing on root distribution.
A vineyard block dedicated to irrigation management has been meticulously designed by the project and research team at the department of viticulture and oenology, specifically with a view to perform extensive water management research. Winetech will fund the project going forward.
The cultivar block, which consists of more than 80 grape varieties, displays the diverse characteristics of different cultivars, clone variations and rootstocks.
Finally, the table and dried grape vineyard block is the first of its kind on this site and consists of more than 20 table and dry grape varieties that are trained on six different trellis systems.
Commercial vineyards on the cards
Stellenbosch University’s faculty of agrisciences funds the project and has Vinpro to implement it over the next three years as part of the organisation’s Gen-Z vineyard project.
This project aims to promote knowledge transfer in the South African wine industry by practical demonstrations and vineyard trials.
Vinpro’s CEO Rico Basson says in order for South Africa’s wine industry to remain globally competitive, there is a need to continuously innovate and equip people with the right skills.
He says, “That is why it is crucial for the industry and academic institutions to collaborate. The partnership between the wine industry and SU goes back more than 100 years, and we are therefore excited to be part of this milestone that serves as a building block for innovation and talent development for generations to come.”
In addition to the training and research vineyards, 16 hectares of vineyards will be established for commercial purposes over the next three years, the planting of which will kick off later this year.
Long-term value for wine industry
Talitha Venter, lecturer at the department of viticulture and oenology who oversees the project with the Gen-Z team, says new training and research vineyards were designed in consultation with their department.
Venter explains it will expose students to as many vineyard management practices as possible and offer excellent research opportunities.
“Current students experience all the processes associated with vineyard establishment first-hand, while future generations will benefit from well-planned, well-developed vineyards in which they will gain valuable practical experience,” she says.
Challenging the next generation of students
“The occasion of our 50th comes at a most opportune time,” says Stellenbosch Wine Routes chairman, Mike Ratcliffe. “The wine industry and indeed, the country, is undergoing one of its most challenging seasons and reflecting on historic achievements is important for the inspiration it provides given the work that awaits us.”