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Kleinberg launches vine maturing facility – The Kleinberg Mature Vines facility in the Hex River Valley held its official opening on 16 February 2023, and the event was attended by table grape producers and representatives from several nurseries. 

Louise Brodie reports

Above: The group of interested growers at table grape industry stakeholders at the facility launch.

Above: Young vines with matured stems growing in Ellepots ready for planting.

It is not often that a completely new service is developed and made available to the table grape industry, but when considering the savings in time, water usage, and production costs offered by this facility, this is exactly what is on offer at Kleinberg Mature Vines.

This facility offers table grape growers a vine maturation service within the establishment process, in the period between when vines leave the nursery where they have been cultivated and when they are planted by the grower.

Above: An example of a mature stemmed vine, shaped for trellising and ready for planting.

The facility’s management stresses that they are not a nursery. They receive newly grafted, dormant vines from nurseries, store them, treats them, grow them, and in the growing process, shape them into mature-stemmed, trained vines to enable simultaneous planting and trellising on behalf of growers and nurseries.

“This is truly a world-class facility, with state-of-the-art technology that will definitely add value for our industry’s growers,” says table grape grower Francois Rossouw from Mooigezicht Estates. He explained that the uniform development of the vines and the specialised growing material that remains around the roots at planting were both significant improvements for planting new vineyards. “When deciduous tree fruit producers plant their new orchards, they plant small trees with well-established root systems, and this facility will now make it possible for table grape growers to plant vines under similar improved conditions,” says Rossouw.

The current standard practice for planting vineyards is that growers plant small, newly grafted vines that are just emerging from dormancy directly into the soil in the new vineyard. The process of nurturing newly planted young vines from planting through the establishment process to maturity is a time-consuming and labour-intensive process that requires considerable water and fertilizer inputs. It is also normal for a few of these young vines to fail to take root and die during this time. Growers then need to replace these vines later, thus losing further time in establishing these vineyards and this process often results in the slow and uneven development of a young vineyard. During spring and summer, when growers are focussing on the urgent task of crop preparation, the dedicated management of young vineyards can sometimes be neglected, further stunting, and slowing their development.

Above: Kleinberg mature vine facility team, from left to right. MD Johan Kriegler, Wynand Crous, Rosenhof Nursery, Arnold Viljoen Topfruit Specialist Viticulturist and technical advisor to the project, Wim van Rijswijk, Rosenhof Nursery and the Kleinberg general manager Andre du Toit.

The facility offers a value-adding alternative to this process, by maturing new vines in a protected environment before planting them. In the maturing facility, the vine stems are grown to trellis height and split into two stems, ready for immediate trellising. Planting these strong, established, and formed vines makes it possible for the vines to produce a small crop in the first year after planting, a year sooner than when following the current in situ establishment practice. Planting a new vineyard with vines matured in this way also achieves a more uniform vineyard with fewer vine fatalities from the outset. By maturing and establishing young vines in the vine maturing facility, growers can leave the land fallow to disrupt the life cycle of pests and soil-borne pathogens and rear the vines for their next vineyard simultaneously.

Kleinberg Mature Vines takes delivery of newly created dormant vines and stores them in cold storage under dormant conditions. The cold storage is equipped with humidifiers to prevent the vines from drying out, as well as an ozone filtration system that kills airborne pathogens. To prevent the introduction and proliferation of endogenous pathogens into the maturation facility, only dormant vines that have undergone hot water treatment (immersing vines in water at 50°C for a set period) will be admitted to the vine maturing facility. Hot water treatment (HWT) is an effective control for endogenous pathogens and in the South African context, it is the standard practice to eliminate existing vine pathogens including Bacterial Blight (Vlamsiek) and Crown Gall (kroongal). Kleinberg Mature Vines also offers this highly specialised service to clients.

Following the warm water treatment, the vines are planted into Ellepots, which consist of a thin, biodegradable paper membrane filled with homogenous plant material. The Ellepot technology prevents the potted vines from becoming rootbound and as the covering membrane is biodegradable and water-permeable, the entire pot can be planted without removing the covering or disturbing the roots. The homogenous nature of the growing substrate in all the pots assists with the uniform growth of the vines. During the growing process, leaf samples are analysed twice a month, and the required adjustments are made to ensure optimal and uniform growth. Implementing the Danish Ellepot technology represented a significant breakthrough in the development of the facility. This was achieved through their cooperation with Rosenhof Nursery from Ceres, as Rosenhof Nursery manufactures and supplies Kleinberg with the Ellepot production systems.

When the grower is ready to plant the mature trained vines, Kleinberg carefully loads the vines onto an enclosed truck and transports the vines to the grower, delivering the delicate vines directly next to where the vineyard is to be planted. To ensure that the vines continue to receive optimal care during the planting and establishment process, Kleinberg Mature Vines works closely with clients to assist with checking the nature and integrity of the planting holes and irrigation system at the vineyard site.

“The professional service offer and the proximity of this facility to many of our clients in the Hex River Valley and surrounds will definitely allow them to add value to the planting process for growers”, says Jaco Engelbrecht from Voorgroenberg Nursery in Wellington.

Right: Kleinberg Mature Vines General Manager Andre du Toit (left) and MD Johan Kriegler explaining the facility’s services.

This new facility has been established on Kleinberg Farm, an existing table grape production unit. Kleinberg MD Johan Kriegler explained that the concept was originally developed as an in-house service for the farm.  “When considering the time and input challenges of establishing and nurturing young vines planted in situ in the vineyards, we realised that vineyard establishment could be achieved faster, more cost-effectively, and more successfully if we matured our vines and grew the stems to trellis height in a dedicated facility that provided the vines with optimum care, rather than let them struggle to grow from the first bud in the soil,” explained Kriegler. He added that when it occurred to them that all table grape growers face similar challenges, they saw that this initiative could be extended as a service to other clients.  

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