Wine Times 7 – A stomping good time

This year we received left over Merlot grapes from good neighbor Lomond.

Sean was at De Hoop on tight deadlines finishing roof gardens so wife was sent over to collect harvest.  The workers at Lomond all miraculously disapeared as the little green Rav drove up and they watched with great amusement whilst hiding behind tractors, as wife lifted and carried 50 crates of grapes.   The certainly got their entertainment worth as I lifted the last load that had obviously been there for a while and I got covered in grape juice – euch!

lomond grape collection

Half way through!

Grapes were then transported from Witkrans to our Stanford garage (by Sean!!!)  There is never a shortage of eager helpers in Stanford and we were able to recruit a few helpers for the annual stomp from a children’s party we attended that morning.

Sean, Matthew and Kilian

Sean, Matthew and Kilian

Little did they know what they were in for ;-)   Bee’s had arrived en-force.  Sean tried to convince us that they were ‘chilled’ bee’s, however put sugar’d up kids and bee’s together and something is bound to happen…….after a couple of stings the kids were put in the closed office whilst the menfolk sent in tubs of wine to be pressed through the doors and then quickly closed before bee’s got in.  Add to this super slippery floors and a few near disastrous incidents, a glass or two (or three) of wine for the adults and you are ensured of stomping great time :-)

Boy power stomping

Boy power stomping

More boy power

More boy power

Stomping outside before bee attacks

Stomping outside before bee attacks

Mom's stomping

Mom’s stomping

Soon to be Merlot Lomond 2014!

Soon to be Merlot Lomond 2014!

Special thanks for the child labor force from Horn, Conrad and Revett Families !!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wine Times 6

Half-filled  bucket of Merlot from Witkrans vineyards

Half-filled bucket of Merlot from Witkrans vineyards

Our latest instalment of wine making news is no different from previous  years, the baboons and birds once more made off with all the grapes.

Well we did actually get one tiny, half-filled  bucket of Merlot this year but not  enough to make a bottle of wine. So it was once again onto the phone with  our tale of misery. The result we were able to source a tonne of excellent  Merlot from Bot River.

The de-stemmer we had used last year was not available so it was back to good old foot stomping and the traditional ‘dunk a Privett kid in the fermentation tank’. We have learnt from previous sessions that the trick is to remove the kid before their skin turns that  Rose’ colour, got it just right this year.

 

Matthew and Emma's annual wine bath

Matthew and Emma’s annual wine bath

We also seem to be getting the hang of dealing with seriously fluctuating temperature in the garage – nothing that some roof insulation matting and a wall heater can’t sort out.  This year the grapes arrived late and we had already planned a long-delayed family trip up the Garden Route so we called in our staunch supporter and wannabe wine making good friend Phillipa Murray, gave her a crash course in managing fermentation in a Jo-Jo tank in a garage and headed for some happy hols. She did a fab job and showed total commitment to the cause – the result is that just ten weeks after stomping our grapes we are ready to  rack, fine and bottle the wine.

This year we are going to fill one oak barrel and bottle the rest. Its tasting good and those fireside winter evenings are calling, I don’t think there will be too many bottles left for Christmas presents.

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‘dunk a Privett kid in the fermentation tank’.

Stomping with Kosi and Maya

Stomping with Kosi and Maya

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Wine Times 5

After the mishap of Eddies gardener knocking our first 1000 litres of shiraz down the driveway, the 2012 Shiraz and Cabernet sauvignon progressed safely and happily through alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in the depths of Eddies garage.

By March we needed to clear the tanks for this year’s pickings so we got together around Eddies bar and  did some serious tastings and blending. We now had at our disposal our precious 220 litre barrel of oak matured 2011 Merlot and a stainless steel tank each of 2012 Shiraz and 2012 Cabernet sauvignon.

Our team of tasting ‘experts’ consisted of Eddie and Sylvana, Michael and Dorothee, Sean and Michelle and later to enter the scene, self-acclaimed wine buff Torben. We used a Nederberg Cab Reserve as our benchmark and started tasting our wines, each taster tasked with giving the wine a score between 0 and 10, with the Nederberg cab as our benchmark five.

We started off with our own rather rough and ready Cab which we all judged to come in at between 3 to 4,  but as the tasting progressed (and we tasted every possible blend permutation) our wines improved to the point that our magnificent Cab/Merlot/Shiraz blend was hitting 10.5′s – magnificent stuff, it was time to scale up, move out of the garage and build that winery!

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The child labor corking team

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Team hard at work bottling and corking

Fermentation tanks

Fermentation tanks

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All new “5 at a time” bottling machine

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Pure sophistication (?)

Chief corker - Matthew must have bottled about 500 bottles that day!

Chief corker – Matthew must have bottled about 500 bottles that day!

Chief wine maker!

Chief wine maker! (….and taster) ;-)

 

 

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A ‘baboon burial ‘on Witkrans

Mother Nature is full of surprises and living in our beautiful valley on the Agulhas Plain I am continually reminded just how privileged it is to co-habit this special place with so many other living creatures. Last week we had one of those ‘natures’ surprises that left us completely astounded. A few years back I embarked on a rather foolhardy attempt to grow a small vineyard on our farm in order to produce grapes for some small scale winemaking. What I did not realise at the time was just how partial the valleys birds and baboons would be to my grapes. Let’s just say that they have won hands down despite my best efforts at electric fencing, bird netting and even sleeping in the vineyard as harvest time approaches. I have accepted that the birds and baboons were here first, after all they are part of the reason we settled here in this beautiful valley. We have spent many fascinating hours watching our baboon troop in the fields below the house and are often woken by loud barking and screeching from their night time roosts in the Poplar forest not far from our house. With the exception of the odd fig, their fair share of chicken eggs and an obvious taste for ripening Cabernet grapes, they pay us little notice and seldom come near the house. To us the baboons are part of our farm and we are privileged that they choose this valley as their home for much of the year.

My three year old Great Dane, Brutus, does not quite share our tolerance towards our co-habitation with the valleys baboons. Despite our best efforts at restraint and an expensive veterinary bill to stich him up last year after an altercation with a large male  baboon he sees it as his role to protect the farm house, chicken coop, vegetable garden and vineyard from these hairy foes.  Unfortunately a few days ago he caught an older female baboon enjoying the fruits of the vineyard and the ensuing confrontation resulted in the untimely demise of the baboon. There was a huge commotion but by the time we got there it was too late and the baboon was dead. We were all much saddened by this event but glad that Brutus was not hurt. It was late afternoon and we left the dead baboon exactly where we found her, with the idea of burying her the next day.

When we returned the following morning we were amazed to find that she had been turned over, and her entire head and most of her body had been covered with sand and branches. We could see where the soil had been hollowed out from around her and used to cover her head as well as where the branches had been bitten off surrounding bushes. All signs of the bloodied injury to her neck were covered up and there were baboon prints in the sand around her.

dead baboon

How we left her that afternoon with the idea to bury her the following morning.

baboon grave

The following morning…..difficult to see from the pictures, but the baboon covered with soil and broken branches laid over her.

baboon grave

Another picture difficult to see clearly but same thing.

baboon grave

Branches bitten off surrounding fynbos and laid over baboon.

To us it looked like she was an elderly female and that members of the troop had returned in the early morning, turned her over and partly covered her with sand and branches. According to baboon experts that we have contacted there is no record of this type of ‘burial’ behaviour amongst baboon troops? Three days after her death we were away from the farm for the morning and came back to find the entire baboon troop running riot across the buildings and vineyard – they had pulled out a lot of thatch from the roof, ate all the grapes, broken into the chicken coup and eaten all the eggs, pulled off gutters and the satellite TV dish, messed all over the walls and spread possessions from our bedroom around the garden. In seven years of living in the valley they had never done anything like this before – coincidence or not?

Witkrans thatch

Thatch from roof pulled out.

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Table grapes gone :-(

witkrans chimney damage

 

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Wine Times part 4

Having successfully made our first wine in 2011 we thought the hard lessons had been learnt and that the 2012 Witkrans wines would be a doddle – well how wrong we were.
The Uilkraals valley’s baboons and birds once again got fat on the fruits of our hard labour and come harvest time not a single grape had been left for wine making. We watched as Dirty Dave, the Alpha male baboon, carefully leopard (or is it baboon) crawled under the electric fence using his thick coat to insulate him from the wire and bounded off with hands and underarms overflowing with ripe grapes. He also regularly ripped the bird netting open to get at the grapes creating entrances for the Valley’s birds that seem to congregate around our vineyard during February each year. I have no doubt that our grapes are far tastier than the valleys natural fynbos and thicket berries so can’t really blame them.
Final score: Baboons 40%, Uilkraals birds 60%, Privett’s 0%.

Fortunately our friend and neighbour Wayne Gabb who is a very successful wine farmer felt pity on us and allowed us to go and pick a few rows of Shiraz that were left after his teams had finished harvesting. Together with Eddy and Sylvana, our kids in tow,  we headed off after work and picked a tonne of grapes returning late to Eddies garage with our treasured pickings.

Sean and Eddy collecting the containers to put the grapes into

Sean and Eddy collecting the containers to put the grapes into.

The work force happily at work

The work force happily at work

More work force doing the heavy worker stuff

More work force doing the heavy worker stuff

Pickings completed

Pickings completed

The next day we borrowed a de-stemmer from another friend and successful commercial grape farmer Jan Malan and after de-stemming, stomped the grapes with our bare feet and poured the juice and skins into our 1000l Jo-Jo plastic tank. Having fermented for a few days the sugars successfully converted to alcohol and it was time for pressing. Our hired press was collected all the way from Wellington, the skins removed and the wine-to-be transferred to our 1000l stainless steel tank. The garage was cleaned and all the equipment put away or returned. Then disaster struck….while Eddy and family headed off to town his gardener decided to take the families beach buggy for a jaunt down the driveway. Needless to say his parking skills require fine tuning and he managed to smack our tank and re-decorate Eddies garage will 1000l of freshly picked, de-stemmed, fermented and pressed shiraz!

Somewhat downhearted but undefeated, we were back on the phone to our neighbours the following day and managed to source what must have been some of the last of the seasons grapes left on Overberg vines – a ton of Shiraz and a ton of Cabernet. A second fermentation tank was purchased, equipment sourced and wine making take two for 2012 commenced. Harvesting late means lots of sugars and therefore lots of alcohol. But hey beggars can’t be choosers and we now have two stainless steel tanks of yummy red wine ready for bottling. We are particularly proud of our Shiraz and plan to mature some in oak barrels over the next year.

On Witkrans we made the very tough decision during the winter to remove our Cabernet vines and replace them with a Pinotage block. The idea being to grow bush Pinotage, which we are planning to cover completely with bird and baboon proof wire. We have hung on to our Merlot block and put all the anti-bird and baboon fortifications in place. The vines are laden with ripening grapes and we are awaiting the annual baboon and bird ground and air assault.   Watch this space………………………

witkrans grapes

Electric fence is up for the baboons and the netting is on for the birds.

The farmer is ready with his pellet gun!

The farmer is ready with his pellet gun!

Witkrans grapes looking healthy and almost ready!

Witkrans grapes looking healthy and almost ready!

 

 

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Season’s Greetings from Witkrans Farm

The Weitzman and the Privett kids enjoying a game of rally cars together.

The Weitzman and the Privett kids enjoying a game of rally cars together.

We were blessed to have our first FULL season at Witkrans.  We had a two day break over Christmas otherwise the cottages have booked with back to back bookings in both cottages.  We have met all kinds of wonderful people and Matthew and Emma have had the best holiday ever.  They have had a permanent flow of children to play with.  It has been wonderful to watch all the children playing together from 3 to 18 years old swimming in the dam together, having boat races, playing on-on, potato races, creating hide outs, playing on the jungle gym, jumping on the trampoline etc.  They have gone on late into the evenings ensuring a good sleep for all the children.

Some guests only managed to come for a short time, however made sure to quickly book another weekend before they left.  We have had wonderful feedback and made some special friends as well.

The sheep (Cutlet and Rebecca) also enjoyed being free-range this holiday and a few guests were woken up by Baaa’ing at their window.  They have just discovered Sean’s new pinotage plants so have been sent back to the paddock.  Boldrick continues to visit his girlfriend across the valley so has not been present this season, however the chickens benefiting from all the leftover food and plenty of farm fresh eggs have been enjoyed this season.  Boldrick continues to be the favorite animal as he heads over each morning to visit each guest.

Thank you to all our visitors this season – we wish you a wonderful 2013 and look forward to many of you returning again!

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Wine Times part 3 – makings of a great Merlot!

It’s been a while since we lasted posted on our wine making antics. A quick recap on where

hands_webwe were at last November. According to our well read ‘Guide to Wine making’, malolactic fermentation (which is the second fermentation which takes place in the closed tank) should take about seven weeks.

Basically what happens is that stuff in the wine called malic acid has to be converted to other stuff called lactic acid. This is a pretty simple process done by very clever bacteria. Unfortunately our very clever bacteria weren’t doing their job. So following our experts’ advice, we had heated them up, fed them with some yummy (and expensive) food, swirled and stirred, but after nine months in their sealed tank they just weren’t cooperating. Wine Times were dire indeed and we even considered pouring our precious grape residue down Eddies drain! A final consultation with our wine expert suggested that our clever bacteria might have passed on. In that case no amount of stirring, feeding, heating or wine dancing would have any effect.

A final trip to Vinlab was planned to test whether there were in fact any bacteria left alive. Sure enough our precious lactic acid converters had all perished. Apparently something not uncommon with Merlot, especially in a poorly controlled environment like Eddies garage. Pity no one had thought to suggest this earlier as we would have saved on many trips to Stellenbosch and significantly decreased the carbon footprint of our wine making escapades. What followed was an operation of military precision; Eddy shot off to Protea Chemicals in Cape Town and returned with a small sealed cooler box filled with dry ice enclosing our new, fresh, and very much alive bacteria. We stirred them into the tank and a week later, and some eleven months after pressing, our 2011 Merlot was finally 100% fermented and ready for drinking.

Now while most modern wine makers use fancy fining agents to remove tannins from their wine, we took twenty of Matthews best free range chicken eggs, separated the whites, mixed in a pinch of salt and beat them until slightly foamy (but not stiff).Having mixed this with ten parts wine we stirred the mixture into the rest of the wine. Over a two-week period the Matt’s egg whites sink down through the wine grabbing hold of the tannins, making it softer, rounder and clearer.

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Our 2011 Merlot was bottled in February 2012, just in time to prepare the tanks for this year’s harvest and pressing – and oh what a story that was……………..

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Free range organic eggs

chicken1

As we enter Spring and the days start warming up, Witkrans chickens are back in full production.  Matthew is struggling with the work load of homework, projects, tests, sport commitments, social playdates and the daily stress of running his chicken business.  He has recently given his sister a small share in his business and she has taken on the box painting role as well as helping with feeding and egg collecting.  His new partners dancing and singing in the chicken hock seems to have improved production to the extent that I am looking for more clients!

Anyone need eggs?  R10/box – free delivery to Gansbaai on Fridays and daily to Stanford.

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Witkrans Indigenous plant Nursery

The Witkrans indigenous plant nursery stocks a wide variety of indigenous trees and leucospermum-prostratum-11fynbos plants at the very best prices in the Cape.   We specialise in growing beautiful, hardy Cape plants, grown outside in full sun and under natural conditions.  Our plants are perfect for using in low maintenance, water-wise gardens.  We have a full range of fast growing trees, windbreaks, hedging trees and shrubs, plants to attract birds, proteas, reeds, bulbs, groundcovers, shade loving plants and much more.

We have more than twenty years of experience in advising on indigenous gardens, landscaping and fynbos rehabilitation and are happy to provide expert advice on which plants will work best for you.

Click here to view our availability list.

We also deliver to your doorstep.

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Witkrans Cottages open for bookings!

Witkrans Farm has recently added another cottage on the farm which will be open from beginning of October for bookings.  Personally I would prefer to move into this cottage myself!  The two front bedrooms look up the beautiful Flower Valley.  There are three rooms each with twin beds.  An open plan lounge and kitchen with a lounge suite much more comfortable than mine.  We are busy in the garden each day and it is starting to look stunning.  The cottage is surrounded by Cone Bushes, and so the cottage has been named Cone Bush Cottage.

The dams are overflowing and we are starting to enjoy the occasional sunny day on Witkrans with the boats on the dam.  The children’s favorite activity is paddling around the dam chasing the ducks with our Golden Retriever.  The vegetable garden is getting replanted after being closed towards the end of summer due to a lack of water.  The leaves of the Mulberry tree are sprouting and the jam jars are awaiting!  Witkrans wine is almost ready for bottling and the honey is almost ready for bottling.  Here’s to Spring arriving!!!!

cottage-poster

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