It starts in the soil -Avondale Wine Estate5th Apr 2017
Upon entering Avondale Wine Estate it is obvious that there is something different in the air; something special, something of substance. I had heard that Avondale prides itself on farming in a totally holistic, sustainable and environmentally friendly manner, and in the ethos of Estate Living’s green April issue, we chose to review Avondale as our green wine farm and producer.
The aesthetic appeal of Avondale is evident as you drive through the wrought iron gates. The backdrop is comprised of expansive, green vineyards decorated with dark purple and green grapes, just as one would proudly decorate their Christmas tree. The Franschhoek Mountains stand proud in all of their glory and at the end of a long, green valley; the iconic star of Cape Town – Table Mountain – can be seen in full view. At the end of the characteristic, cobbled road a magnificent and historic Dutch house with large green bay windows welcomes you. Wood is the main element used throughout the home’s interior and it works perfectly with the smell of ripe wine waiting to be enjoyed, and the grand piano just cementing the farm’s elegance and old world charm.
Immediately I am welcomed by smiling staff and I am instantly put at ease. A few moments later I am introduced to Johnathan Grieve, Avondale’s Proprietor, and I am excited to start my educational journey through Avondale. As Johnathan takes me through the farm, it is evident that Avondale has come a long way from a once grape producing farm. The farm was bought by Johnathan’s family in 1996 but the original homestead dates back all the way to the 1700’s. Tall, dominating oak trees line the road with colourful flowers being the perfect juxtaposition- the amalgamation is beautiful.
We move on to the vineyards where we stand between the planted rows of vines with our feet in the soil. The soil here at Avondale, as Johnathan explains, is the most important element of the farming process, and is one of the discerning differences that set Avondale apart from other wine farms both in South Africa and even the world. “It all starts in the soil”, Johnathan explains with passion soaking his every word. Although much of the jargon Johnathan is using to explain their biodynamic and sustainable way of farming is lost on me, I do get the drift of their integrity and dedication.
Every different wine farmed at Avondale is done so in different sections, which use differing soils to create a tailored, hand-crafted bottle of unique wine. The farming process is completely organic and biodynamic which not only contributes to the health and life of the surrounding micro-life and the environment as a whole, but also to the quality and flavours of each bottle of wine. The Cape has some of the oldest soils in the world and at Avondale they believe they need to work with nature and let nature work for them, instead of using any pesticides or chemicals. A perfect balance needs to be found in the soil and this is done in various ways and with different nutritional and natural elements, from volcano rock dust to minerals extracted from unpolluted sea water. Instead of killing off “weeds” that compete with the vineyards, Avondale has decided to rather utilise them to learn about the soil, what it lacks mostly and how they can create a perfect balance and harmony in its roots and infrastructure.
Another example of how Avondale works with nature is with their use of ducks. Just one of the innovative and frankly cute ways Avondale eliminates the occurrence of snails is with the use of ducks. Bought as tiny ducklings, they are trained and get very excited when they hear the engine of the ‘Duck Mobile’ start up as they know its snail eating time. To experience nearly 100 ducks roaming the vineyards eating and quaking away in complete chorus is, to put it in one word, fun!
Another one of the sentiments that Johnathan had explained that I found incredibly interesting was that with farming and working in such a natural way, nature has a way of coming back and embracing the once ‘too man-touched’. With this ideal, Avondale is home to buck, birds of prey and even an elusive leopard. Johnathan also explained the biodynamic and synergy that takes priority at the farm. One could say that this is the homeopathy of wine farming, as different planetary influences are taken into consideration. From planetary calendars one is able to see when the best time for picking and even tasting is.
Not only is Avondale a healthy brand when it comes to their environmental innovations, but they also promote community life on the farm and have over 20 families living here. They have also introduced a crèche with dedicated teachers to educate the farm’s and resident’s children.
The next part of the tour comprised of walking through the production area where all the extraction and aging magic happens. It is built in an old river bed with a gravity flow system, which means no pumping, less electricity usage and better quality wine. The production area and cellar is situated underground which makes use of natural temperature control to keep it cool, and this also does not need any electricity. The barrel room where the wine is placed in oak to age over many months is absolutely atmospheric. It feels as though you have stepped into an ancient barrel room where the musky smell of the French oak and maturing wine immerses the air. Depending on the wine, it can age between 12 and 18 months making for a perfectly matured wine. Avondale only specialises in top end wines that are supplied to boutique wine stores or can alternatively be delivered straight to you. All of the packaging used is recycled and recyclable, is made onsite limiting the farm’s carbon footprint in regards to transport, and is lighter in weight than normal wine bottles.
On the wine tasting leg of the tour I am taken to their elegant dining room that is adorned with long wooden tables and chairs. I made onsite limiting the farm’s carbon footprint in regards to transport, and is lighter in weight than normal wine bottles. On the wine tasting leg of the tour I am taken to their elegant dining room that is adorned with long wooden tables and chairs. I am taken past the large fire place where I’m sure many relaxed winter afternoons have been enjoyed and into a private room. On the round, wooden table various wine and champagne glasses sit arranged on a dark leather place mat.
The experience I had at Avondale was different to any other wine farm I have visited. Apart from the aesthetic beauty and appeal, there is a story, an ethos and a mantra behind every wine and its special process. The little delights from the quacking of the ducks that ran away from our steps, to the tasting of the grapes while still on the vine, all contribute to the holistic charm of this sustainable and green wine farm. The wine is delicious, staff attentive and what’s great is everyone has the opportunity to take the educational tour which costs R200.00; with the normal wine tasting at R50.00.