Vineyards & Winemaking
Three main soil types have evolved in the Swartland from the parent materials that dominate the area.
The soils on the Riebeek Kasteel and Porcelain mountains, on the eastern side of the Swartland, are based on Malmesbury shale. These are sedimentary formations, but share similar properties to the metamorphic schist’s of Cote Rôtie, Faugeres and Priorat.
One of the unique characteristics of Malmesbury shale is that due to the tectonic collision 540 million years ago (described in the Geology section), the sedimentary layers of shale often lie in a vertical orientation. This allows for the soils to drain very easily, as excess water has unlimited drainage opportunity between the “bedding planes,” or layers of shale. The vines are never in the situation where they can sit back and enjoy life; they are forced to push their roots down in search for water.
Fortunately, shale based soils generally have a good clay content, and this means there is always moisture available between the shale layers for the vines deeper roots.
Wines produced from these soils tend to have blue fruit and earthy character. They are well structured with good acidity, and form the backbone of any blend.
These deep, sandy soils are found close to, or on the granite outcrops of the Paardeberg Mountains. During the last ice age this zone was invaded several times by the sea due to a combination of land recession, uplifting, and changing sea levels.
The soils are generally duplex in character, consisting of a very deep layer of coarse, bleached sand on top of a thick layer of wet (gleyed) clay. The sandy topsoil is extremely well drained, but the thick, dense layer of clay (which often lies meters below the surface) acts as a slow release sponge for the vines deeper roots over the summer.
Wines from these soils tend to be exceptionally pure with a granitic perfume and nervy acidity .
Gravel & Iron based
These highly regarded reddish and yellowish brown soils are usually associated with granitic hills around Malmesbury and Paardeberg, though they can lie on a shale bedrock. These soils, at altitudes of 150-400 m, are deep with a relatively high gravel and clay content, meaning they are well drained, but have good water retention properties.
Vines grown in these soils struggle to grow, as there is never excess water about (resulting in extremely low yields) but they are protected from serious stress by the soils water retention capacity. This helps the vines towards the end of summer, when it is very dry in the Swartland, allowing them time to build complexity and tannin in the grapes.
Wines produced from these soils tend to be deep in colour and are very concentrated. They easily show reduction, while being structured and grippy on the palate. They bring loads of mid-palate to any blend.