Grower Q&A: Wilhelm Joubert of Hartenberg

Wilhelm Joubert is the hugely respected vineyard manager at Hartenberg Wine Estate in Stellenbosch. Inspired by Alan Savory’s holistic management, he is most well-known for introducing cattle grazing to the vines.

What does ‘regenerative viticulture’ mean to you?

Participating with nature and allowing all of creation to express itself to such an extent, that we can lessen the off-farm inputs to create a unique product that speaks about diversity and harmony. For me Healthy soil = healthy plant = healthy fruit = healthy wine, and that is our goal.

What was your ‘Aha!’ moment for regen?

For the last two decades we were busy conserving our environment, planting trees, natural corridors and improving our vineyard practices, through cover crops, no pesticides, biological pest control, mulching, reducing the amount of herbicides etc. without knowing we were already busy with regenerate viticulture. In 2019 I started doing research after we ran out of forage for our livestock and I knew I either had to reduce the number of animals, get more land, or manage what I have in a better way. Wanting to do the latter, I read Holistic Management by Alan Savory. Within the first year of applying high density grazing, we started to see nature responding in an indescribable way. Then came the ‘Aha’ moment, if it works in the fallow lands and pastures, it must work in the vineyards also, given we apply the same principles (regenerative viticulture).

What’s the most important change you’ve introduced or that’s made the biggest difference?

Integration of ruminants in a high density controlled grazing manner was the missing piece of the puzzle.

Which creature are you most pleased to have encouraged to your land?

Multi species of dung beetles.

Is there a regen practice that turned out to be super easy and cheap to implement?

Placing all your pruned vine shoots directly under vine. This helps as a mulch and catches organic material such as leaves. It’s for free.

What’s your top regen tip?

Management! Manage your cover crop, manage your ruminants, manage your tractor movements. It is all tools that needs to be managed.

What would you tell a younger version of yourself, just setting out growing grapes?

The eyes don’t lie, even if the old textbook says different. The answer to challenges in the vineyards, often lies in the undisturbed nature outside of the vineyards.

What would an idealised version of a ‘perfect’ regen vineyard feel like?

Soft under the feet, with no bare soil and full of life. Smelling of animal urine, covered with manure from ruminants grazing on diverse cover crops.

 

Is there a piece of technology that has made a real difference?

Soil and air temperature instruments (measuring the effect of covered soils underground and in the bunch zone vs conventional bare soils), YouTube videos.

Are you currently experimenting with any field trials?

Yes. We are partaking in a study to measure the effect that animal integration in vineyards have on the soil, plants and the wine. We have been making wine separately from two parcels in the same vineyards, one parcel grazed and one parcel without animal integration. The results are amazing. I am also looking at different ways to inter seed more cover crops in vineyards that has been rewilded for 13 years, without disturbing the soil. I started rewilding another 12 hectares of vineyards this year and will soon see where I have failed and how to improve the changeover.

How do you control weeds?

By means of weed suppression through effective cover crops. I also use a conveyor belt that I drag behind a tractor, that flattens the cover crops from vine to vine. No mechanical control and no herbicides.

How do you control fungal diseases?

We still follow a conventional preventative fungicide spray program, but using softer/healthier chemicals, but no copper sulphate.

What have you done to slow down and store water on your land?

We have a natural wetland on the farm that we conserve. A reed bed slows down the water and slowly releases the water, serving as a filter to clean the water. Water is then stored in a catchment dam. Good cover cropping and improved soil structure helps the water infiltration rate.

What’s your most expensive mistake?

Lowering the sowing rate of a certain cover crop in a mix, to cut costs – a year lost. Repeating a single species cover crop trial for a third year – monoculture!

Dream dinner party (people not wine!)

Elizna (my wife) and I, accompanied by Joel Salatin, Gabe Brown, Bennie Diedericks (South African soil scientist, good friend and passionate regenerative agriculture advocate) and their spouses.