ELGIN VALLEY

 

ORIGIN OF “ELGIN”

 

In the late 1800s, a locally-born child named “Elgine Herold” was killed by snakebite near the Palmiet River. Her distraught father named the area of land “Elgin” in his daughter’s memory, with support from other locals.

Two main events caused this name eventually to be used for the entire valley. Firstly, when the earliest railway was built through the area, it was found that this plot of land was the most suitable for a railway station, and the station was consequently also named “Elgin”. For decades, this station provided the main connection between the people and produce of the valley, and the outside world. The name therefore became known around the world due to Elgin’s famous agricultural produce. Secondly, two young brothers had bought a small plot of land here named “Glen Elgin” in 1903, where they grew vegetables. The Molteno brothers were partially responsible for revolutionising the region’s deciduous farming industry and, in an unusual move in the 1950s, they ordered that their vast “Glen Elgin” farming enterprise was to be divided up and returned “…to Elgin’s farmworkers and inhabitants for their own use.”The name “Elgin” thereby gained a certain significance, as the name by which some of the region’s land first began to be shared with the majority. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elgin,_Western_Cape)

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Geography

Elgin is situated close to the Southern Cape Coast between Sir Lowry’s Pass in the south east (outside Somerset West) to Bot River (en route to Hermanus) and Villiersdorp to the north west in the Overberg region. It is about 70km east of Cape Town, just beyond the Hottentots Holland mountain range and is centred around the village of Grabouw.

The Elgin Valley topography is bowl-shaped and elevated from 350m to 500m above sea level and is totally surrounded by a rim of rugged mountains that form part of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site. It is the 4th highest altitude in South Africa and lies approximately 20 km away from the Atlantic Ocean with its cold Benguela current. The prevailing south easterly wind brings cool, maritime air into the Valley bowl and is trapped under an almost permanent cloud cover that keeps the average temperatures cooler than the rest of the wine growing region.

CLIMATE

The Elgin Valley, like most of the Western Cape, experiences a typical moderate Mediterranean climate with warm, dry summers and cold, rainy winters.  There are diverse mesoclimates that are influenced by altitude, slope and prevailing winds.

Of the five Winkler index parameters, the Elgin Valley falls within the Winkler I , II and III indexes (summation of temperature above 10° Celsius over 7 months) which determines the best climate for growing specific wine grape varieties. This depends on the slope, aspect and sun exposure of a vineyard site within the Elgin Valley.

Winkler I (Cold): Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay
Winkler II (Cool): Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc
Winkler III( Medium): Semillon, Syrah

Cool Elgin temperatures allow for extended hang time which means longer ripening periods on the vine. The later ripening period closer to Autumn means a slowing down of sugar development which brings about heightened aromatic and flavour intensity with retention of natural acidity for added freshness, purity and overall optimal ripeness.

SOIL

Our soils are some of the oldest in the world, with huge soil diversity. The main soils in the Elgin Valley consist of ancient sandstone with coarse pieces of silica quartz and shales that are predominantly iron-rich. The soft, porous Bokkeveld shales are highly acidic as they have been well weathered and exist over water holding substrates which are ideal for available soil water uptake during the growing season. The substrate soil layers are red granite and white kaoline clays.

The three main soil types include:

 

Table Mountain Sandstone 

Sandy soils with poor nutrient value and water-retention properties.

Shale

Well structured, brown in colour, on decomposed parent rock. With good nutrient reserves and water retention.

Granite

Found on mountain foothills and hills. Excellent physical and water retention properties. Usually red or yellow in colour and acidic.

 

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VINEYARD SELECTION

After many years of scouring and experimenting with many different Western Cape vineyard sites, Elgin is the region that is of most interest. The decision in 2007 to work only with 100% Elgin fruit was taken. Out of this, firm relationships since 2004 were forged with four of our growers in the Valley from whom we purchase each year.

Close collaboration with the growers in the vineyard with regards to pruning, canopy management, size of crop, optimal vine and cluster ripeness, harvest dates and wine production are conducted.

VINE GROWING

The varieties best suited to cool climate like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir are best grown on east facing slopes with morning sunlight while the more robust reds like Merlot require warm afternoon west facing slopes to ripen completely.

Vines grown in cool climates like Elgin are generally harvested 3 weeks to a month after Stellenbosch and Paarl. An added benefit is that alcohol levels are kept in check too. The most important consideration for growing vines in cool climate Elgin, is the natural maintenance of good, natural acid levels in grapes which ultimately determines freshness, brightness, purity, longevity, balance and overall harmony in the wine. In warmer grape growing regions, some of these aspects are often compromised.

Vine canopies and crop loads are monitored and manipulated regularly during the growing season in order to enhance flavour production and ripen the tannin profile optimally so that the resultant wines are balanced. Controlled leaf plucking timed correctly for cluster exposure to “burn” off green pyrazines (green compounds) and without burning the delicate fruit flavours is applied under well researched weather forecasts just prior to harvesting.

All vines, both red and white varieties are vertically shoot positioned on five wired fence-styled trellises. This trellis system aids proper vineyard husbandry and easy access when harvesting the clusters.

There is stringent control on herbicide, pesticide and fungicide applications that is strictly auditored so that all vineyards currently used for our wines are sustainably accredited.

Irrigation, mostly under drip systems at each vine, is applied according to soil moisture requirement which is tested during the growing season on a regular basis by means of tensiometres and pressure bomb apparatus to determine accurately the quantity of water to be scheduled per vine.

Harvest decisions are based on vine and cluster ripeness monitored very carefully by both tasting the berries and using accredited laboratory analysis so that the parameters required for the style of wine to be crafted are determined.

Clusters are hand harvested into 17kg baskets and are mostly sorted in the vineyard. Matter other than grapes is removed and brought to the cellar for a further sorting regime.