The year 2017 marks the very first year of De Toren Private Cellar’s three year organic conversion period. For a few years already, we have been hard at work behind the scenes, with immense amounts of research. All in preparation for the commencement of this new methodology to ensure a seamless integration of the organic wine growing principles.

Why organic wine growing?

We at De Toren, have always believed in sustainable farming and have practised this over the years with about 90% of the organic principles implemented to date. However, the more research conducted on the topic of soil health, the more we were lead in the direction of organic farming to ensure longer term soil health. The reason for this shift is to progressively stimulate our soil’s health, which in turns enables greater plant growth, increased immunity and self-protection to produce even more balanced and complex berries.

The benefits of growing wines organically?

The application of organic wine growing practices have helped shift our focus from rather treating our vines’ symptoms to building the vines’ immune systems. As they say in the medical industry, prevention is better than cure. The long-term effect is that the plant will over time become more self-sufficient (as nature intended) and therefore less reliant on us (human interference). Thus, once the vines have built up a strong immune system, it will be more resistant against harmful environmental factors.

This organic approach will also help to remove only the unwanted elements from the vines’ surrounding ecosystem. In the past, with conventional wine growing principles in place, good elements were also destroyed in attempt to remove the harmful elements. A good example is the use of a pesticide on the plants to remove mealybug (the vector that actually infects the plant with a virus that causes a slow death to the plant). During the pesticide spraying action, the predators that should naturally remove the mealybug from the ecosystem would also be killed in the process. Organic wine growing therefore helps us to restore the balance or harmony in the environment to cultivate healthier soils, encouraging the development of bacteria around the root system. This helps strengthen the plant and ensure better balance within the vines to grow optimally complexed berries.

The challenges of organic wine growing?

Bad weather circumstances are known to do damage to the vineyards, e.g. spreading diseases and attracting destructive insects. During such periods, with organic wine growing, the timeframe you have to address these challenges is much shorter and the available resources to fight these fungal diseases or harmful insects are also limited. With proper and meticulous planning, one is however able to control these challenging situations that may arise, very well and act accordingly. Precision (something De Toren is known for) is key when it comes to organic wine growing.

The biggest difference between organic & conventional wine growing?

Even though we have always believed in practicing sustainable farming as far as possible, we were only 90% there. We continued to be the plants’ lifeline – the vines thus relied on human interference to fight against nature’s harmful elements. The plants therefore did not build up any resistance against these injurious factors, to ensure it can sustain it and continue to grow even stronger. Since 2017, no pesticides or herbicides have been used on our farm. Natural predators such as falcons, eagles and owls are also used to control the vermin on the estate, again a more natural way of managing the protection of our vineyards.

We are now only making use of organic products and processes in our vineyards to ensure the independence of the plants.

Any noticeable differences in the vineyards yet?

We are only in year two, but it is very exciting to already start seeing much more of the natural predators in our vineyards compared to previous years. These include among other things, ladybugs/ ladybirds, earthworms, dragonflies, lacewings and also our precious owls, eagles and falcons which all help to protect the vineyard in some shape or form.

We have noticed that on every single vine that we spot the presence of mealybug, we have also spotted the presence of good predators needed to fight against these infectious insects. To help the process along of increasing the good predator population, we have added more of these predators to the environment as a start – they feed on the harmful bugs or insects that need to be controlled to manage vine health. The predator population will thus increase as they reproduce and will eventually resort and stabilise the ecosystem in the vineyards.

Myths or untruths about organic farming?  

Organic farming is often perceived as uncontrolled and disordered; however we believe there is a big difference between organic by neglect and organic by design. We pride ourselves on the latter, i.e. pre-determining the goals to be achieved and working towards that, i.e. working with nature vs working against nature. For example, the desired state of the soil and plants’ health will be determined upfront, along with an exact strategy and timeline in order to achieve the objective.

What are the next steps following year 1 of De Toren’s organic conversion?

It requires a total of 3 years’ full organic farming and three annual audits before certification is obtained. The main objective is thus to reach this milestone, but more importantly, to restore complete balance in nature in the De Toren vineyards. The focus from here onwards will remain the long-term sustainability of our vines. This will ensure healthier soils and plants, which will produce even better, more balanced and complex berries for our wines’ production.