Revitalising Excellence - A virus-free vineyard

Thursday - 13 July 2023


Quality takes patients and dedication


In the realm of winemaking, a commitment to quality and sustainability sets the stage for excellence. Here at Waterford Estate, we specialise in Cabernet Sauvignon, and in our quest to produce some of the wine worlds best Cabernet, we have started our virus-free initiative and have been removing virused vines and replanting healthy ones.


This endeavor not only speaks to our unwavering dedication to producing exceptional wines but also underscores our commitment to sustainable farming practices. While the removal of the infected vines may impact wine production in the short term, we are looking towards a future of growth and innovation, propelled by our regenerative farming ethos.


The Virus Challenge


Recognising the critical importance of vine health, our viticulturist, David van Schalkwyk, has implemented a comprehensive program to eradicate virused vines from Waterford Estate’s vineyard. Virused vines are susceptible to various diseases and pests, resulting in diminished grape quality and yield. David and his team meticulously identify and remove these infected vines, and have even gone so far as removing entire blocks of up to two or even three hectares.


Through consistent assessment of the vines, and the pests the viticultural team proactively implements natural techniques to improve the vineyard's health and alleviates the risk of disease-carrying pests.


One of the most damaging viruses the team is contending with is called Leaf Roll Virus - this virus results in the leaves of the vines turning red as the chlorophyll the plant produces decreases substantially. This inhibits the vine from photosynthesising, thus reducing the energy available to the vine for it to ripen its grapes. This leads to poorly developed phenols resulting in poorer quality and less complex wines, a winemaker's nightmare!


Leaf Roll Virus is transported by the humble mealybug. As the insect burrows its way into the fresh sap of the vine it transfers the virus into the vine, thus permanently infecting the vine. The best way to manage Leaf Roll Virus is to manage the mealybug population. You can do this through chemical means which kills all life in the vineyard, good and bad, or one can utilise the natural predators of the mealybug.


Natural predators are a brilliant way to nurture microbial health and manage the pest population simultaneously and by releasing insects such as the Lady Bug, you can manage these viruses transferring pests with ease. However, once a vine is infected there will come a point where the vines will have to be removed and the vineyard replanted.


This is the harsh reality of what our viticultural team has had to undertake, removing almost five-hectares worth of vines between 2022 and 2023 to fully eradicate the leaf roll virus on our property. The biggest removal being from our esteemed Cabernet Sauvignon block, our leading varietal on the farm.


The soil will be allowed to lie furlough for the next three years before new vines will be planted on it to ensure that the virus has fully died in the soil and that the soil has replenished the necessary nutrients.

This process will take a lot of patients and preparation but in the long run, the vineyard will be happier and will produce a higher quality of fruit thus allowing Waterford Estate to craft some incredible wines!

Implications for Wine Production


Removing virused vines will have a profound implication for the wine production. In the short term, one will see a reduction in grape yield, which could temporarily impact the availability of the esteemed Cabernet Sauvignon. However, Waterford Estate views this as an investment in the future, prioritising long-term quality over short-term gains.


By replanting healthy vines, Waterford Estate is laying the foundation for improved grape quality, enhanced flavour profiles, and ultimately, the creation of exceptional wines.


At Waterford Estate, we feel that the decision to remove virused vines from the estate and to replant healthy ones exemplifies our unwavering dedication to producing exceptional Fine Wine. While the implications on wine production may be felt in the short term, we look confidently towards the future, embracing the growth and innovation that lies ahead.


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