Hartenberg Family Vineyards | Regenerative Agriculture Farming

Situated on the slopes of the Bottelary Hills in the acclaimed Stellenbosch region, is where you would find Hartenberg Family Vineyards. The long scenic drive from the entrance to the tasting room greets you with picturesque views of the farm with indigenous flora along the way to add to the postcard picture.

Hartenberg was bought by the late Dr Maurice Finlayson and his wife Eleanor in 1948. They soon discovered the true potential of the estate and began marketing wines under the label “Montagne”. Eventually in 1987 Ken Mackenzie purchased Hartenberg and the Mackenzie family has been the owners of Hartenberg Wine Estate since then.

Both Wilhelm Joubert (Viticulturalist) and Carl Schultz (Winemaker), come from farming backgrounds. Carl’s dad was a biologist so Carl grew up for the love of nature and for plants specifically. He has overseen many of theregenerative agriculture projects implemented to harness and protect the natural resources since hejoined Hartenberg in 1994. Wilhelm, born and bred in Ceres, always had a keen interest in cattle. He discovered that grazing animals can have a positive effect on plant and soil health, provided they are managed correctly.

“If you can’t change your mind, then what’s the value of having a mind”

– Carl Schultz

They both continue to strive, to change, to investigate and to innovate and share the same passion and philosophy with the owners of the farm of having a holistic and in-contact approach to nature. Bennie Diedericks (Architect of Soil) is a veteran of 40 years of soil and studies plant cycles, water cycles and life cycles and looking at what’s available globally about Regenerative Agriculture. Together their vision is trying to make the planet a better place, trying to make lives a better place and ultimately make wonderful wines.

Regenerative Agriculture

Hartenberg’s water has been a closed system since the 1990’s with proper management and investment to ensure pure clean water for the estate. A pure water source flows through the entire length of the property into a pristine wetland system and all the waste water on the estate are being recycled.

The Ankole cattle arrived on the farm about 8 years ago and is used in a very scientific way, which allows them to analyse a plot where it was grazed versus where is wasn’t grazed. The results shows in the soil and potentially the aim is to improve the soils and to improve the environment. This creates an opportunity in our industry with South Africa already ahead of this as South Africa is known for conservation and agriculture. This process will hopefully inspire everyone to adapt and look at ways to make this planet a better place for us all.

Ankole cows play an important role in the Regenerative Agriculture program at Hartenberg. These cattle, which are native to East Africa, are a key component of the farm’s soil health and fertility management practices. Wilhelm shares that animals do cause desertification if you leave them at a spot for too long, but one can also recover that same soil by the use of animals.

One of the primary ways in which Ankole cows contribute to soil health is through their manure. The manure is rich in nutrients and particularly nitrogen, which are essential for plant growth. When spread on the fields, the manure provides a source of natural fertilisation, reducing the need for synthetic fertilisers that can be harmful to the environment.

In addition to providing natural fertilisation, Ankole cows also help to improve soil structure. As they graze, they trample the soil, which helps to break up compacted soil and promote aeration. This, in turn, improves water infiltration and retention, reducing soil erosion and increasing the soil’s capacity to hold moisture.

Another important role that Ankole cows play in Regenerative Agriculture is in their ability to sequester carbon. As they graze, they consume grasses and other vegetation, which they convert into organic matter through digestion. This organic matter is then returned to the soil in the form of manure, where it can be stored as carbon. By increasing the carbon content of the soil, Ankole cows help to mitigate climate change by reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

Interesting to note is that since they started using the cattle in the vineyards, dung beetles started to come back.

Cover Crops

Different species of cover crops are planted on the estate. Different species can work in symbioses with each other to take different nutrients from the soil to release it to the plant. This needs to be managed carefully, otherwise if left un-attended it can be over-grazed which can cause harm to the roots. A certain amount of grass is left so that the roots are not destroyed and will recover. The cycle continues and the cattle will graze the land again.

In the process, they get lots of manure, saliva, urine and microbial explosions. By doing a soil analysis after 8 weeks they saw an increase in microbial life. The pulling effect of the animal when they graze, they pull up the soil which in turn stimulates microbes and insects.

By continuing moving the cattle they haven’t planted cover crops since 2011. All cover crops are naturally grown. In other vineyards where they do plant cover crops, it needs to be managed. It’s a constant observation to get the most out of it. The cattle spread a lot of different seeds which will give them different plant species in a natural way.

“At the end of the day it’s about the soil. Healthy soil. Healthy roots. Healthy plant. Healthy food”

– Wilhelm Joubert

“Climate change is the slow poison of our time,” says Carl. “We will be expected to produce thesame amount of agricultural product, with less water, in a warmer climate. Due to its positive impact on the environment, regenerative agriculture is truly the only antidote”.

Overall, Ankole cows are an essential component of the Regenerative Agriculture program at Hartenberg Family Vineyards. Their ability to contribute to soil health, fertilisation, and carbon sequestration is vital to the farm’s sustainability and is a key factor in producing high-quality, environmentally-friendly wines.

Wine Tasting

The Eleanor – Chardonnay 2020

100% single-vineyard Chardonnay. This vineyard was planted in 1997. The wine was made to express the site with only 30% new wood used. The bouquet is flush with fresh aromas of citrus and lanolin, finishing on an an enticing floral note. The aroma evolves in glass, developing hints of pastries. The citrus freshness carries through to an elegant and balanced palate. Good acidity met by biscotti and stone fruit with and long finish.

It’s named after Eleanor Finlayson, who owned Hartenberg between 1948 all they way to late 1970’s. She essentially put Hartenberg on the map. Her husband was a veterinary surgeon who commuted to the city on a daily basis and she was a farmer.

The Stork – Shiraz | 2019

Eleanor Finlayson also decided to plant Shiraz with the first vintage in 1968 and today Syrah is Hartenberg’s estate wine. The wine is named after Ken Mackenzie who was a Spitfire pilot during the Second World War. His call-signal and nickname was “Stork” as he was tall with long, thin legs.

Very elegant wine. The Stork 2019 boasts a complex bouquet of cherries, violets, forest floor, cloves, and black pepper with a subtle smokey undertone. On the palate, this wine is bold and plush, yet refined and elegant, displaying a beautiful harmony of peppercorns and black cherry flavours. The tannins are integrated seamlessly into the wine, providing structure and depth, with a long finish.

Lunch in the cellar

For Starters we had Parmesan crackers with onion puree and fennel. For Mains we enjoyed Kudu that was marinated in Amasi with grilled figs, carrots, potatoes and pastry filled with spinach and kale.

Tours of the underground cellar are also available. Their underground cellar is the largest privately owned cellar in South Africa. Commissioned in the late 1980’s, their cellar plays gallery to twelve artworks by German coppersmith, Karl Heinz Wilhelm. It took two years to complete, and describe each of the twelve phases of cultivating and producing wine. Fascinating to see the large collection of library stock and a rare bottle of Hartenberg Pontac 2000!

Hartenberg’s commitment to Regenerative Agriculture has not only contributed to the improvement of soil health, but also to the preservation of biodiversity. Their innovative practices have set an example for other farms and have demonstrated that sustainable agriculture is not only possible, but also profitable. As we continue to face the challenges of climate change and food security, it is encouraging to see farms like Hartenberg leading the way towards a more sustainable future.

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