Altitude Collection

In 2008 approximately two hectares were planted to Shiraz, Pinotage and Pinot Noir grapes. At close to 1700m the vineyard is possibly the highest producing vineyard in the country and a truly cool climate terroir.

The wine is named after the Southern Bald Ibis which is endemic to the montane grasslands of the Eastern Free State Highlands and relatively rare, like our wine.

Wine Tasting

Tasting and sales between 10.00 – 16.00, Tuesdays to Saturdays, otherwise by appointment.

Mile High Vineyards Restaurant

OPENING TIMES:

LUNCH ONLY

Tues – Sat, 10.00 – 16.00

Accommodation

Choose between the Garden Suites, Veg Garden Cottage and the Self Catering Barn Units.

The Bald Ibis Wines

Our Process

  1. High Altitude
  2. Climate
  3. Varieties
  4. Production
  5. Natural Approach

“We, Trish and I, moved to a farm here in 2006 and established a guest house called The Rose House. I have long been interested in wine and, a few years later I decided to plant some red-wine grapes.”

“I began to read many articles about cool-climate wine-growing and the effect of climate change on wine production. I realised it wasn’t impossible to produce wine in summer rainfall areas, as winemakers were already doing it in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.”

According to the report Climate Change, Wine and Conservation, published earlier this year by Conservation International, South Africa stands to lose 55% of its wine-producing land through climate change in the future. With higher temperatures leading to more drought in the Western Cape, the farming of certain crops could become possible further north, unlocking areas such as the Free State for wine production.

“At which point, however, I approached Johan Wiese, viticulturist, for advice and assistance. Pinot noir, pinotage and shiraz were decided on – the Bordeaux varieties would presumably have been thought too late-ripening for the cooler conditions. Tempranillo has since also been planted.”

Together they assessed the suitability of the soil, climate and water. But soil analysis conducted by the Agricultural Research Council in Bethlehem was not encouraging.

“I was told the soil was very unsuitable, had a pH of 4 and consisted of silty sand in parts, with heavy clay and deep loam in others, but we had plenty of good water from springs in the sandstone rock face 1,5km away, and it was ideal for drip irrigation.”

The weather records were more positive: there was sufficient heat in summer for Shiraz and Pinotage. This pleased John as he wanted to stick to red wine production, which requires less infrastructure than white-wine production. With sufficiently low minimum night-time temperatures and temperate daytime highs, good acidity could be achieved in the fruit.

According to Wiese, the high altitude of 1 700m, and cooler night-time temperatures, could result in grapes ripening later than in the Western Cape, providing positive results. “In vintage years with lower rainfall, we can expect good quality and colour from red grapes. I recommended that John start with Pinotage, Shiraz and Pinot Noir, as the first two are low-risk cultivars. For such a new venture, we had to minimise risk,” he explains.

“Pinot Noir is the wild card. It’s planted with great success all over the world in continental climates, but achieving the right quality can be tricky. That’s why I advised that it be planted as a test cultivar in Fouriesburg. The Eastern Free State isn’t a traditional cultivation region and you can get rain during flowering or harvest, as well as late frost. The rainfall in February can also promote diseases such downy mildew and bunch rot.”

As to those problems for viticulture: “Early and late frosts can be problematic but pruning methods go some way to fighting this one”; and summer rainfall (sometimes at harvest time and “occasionally with devastating hail”) can threat serious outbreaks of mildew. Yet he optimistically feels that “overall, in a good year the quality of the fruit is excellent.  Drip irrigation, composting with worm castings and teas complement the overall health of the vineyard.”

The weather records were more positive: there was sufficient heat in summer for Shiraz and Pinotage. This pleased John as he wanted to stick to red wine production, which requires less infrastructure than white-wine production. With sufficiently low minimum night-time temperatures and temperate daytime highs, good acidity could be achieved in the fruit.

According to Wiese, the high altitude of 1 700m, and cooler night-time temperatures, could result in grapes ripening later than in the Western Cape, providing positive results. “In vintage years with lower rainfall, we can expect good quality and colour from red grapes. I recommended that John start with Pinotage, Shiraz and Pinot Noir, as the first two are low-risk cultivars. For such a new venture, we had to minimise risk,” he explains.

“Pinot Noir is the wild card. It’s planted with great success all over the world in continental climates, but achieving the right quality can be tricky. That’s why I advised that it be planted as a test cultivar in Fouriesburg. The Eastern Free State isn’t a traditional cultivation region and you can get rain during flowering or harvest, as well as late frost. The rainfall in February can also promote diseases such downy mildew and bunch rot.”

As to those problems for viticulture: “Early and late frosts can be problematic but pruning methods go some way to fighting this one”; and summer rainfall (sometimes at harvest time and occasionally with devastating hail) can threat serious outbreaks of mildew. Yet he optimistically feels that “overall, in a good year the quality of the fruit is excellent.  Drip irrigation, composting with worm castings and teas complement the overall health of the vineyard.”

John has taken a natural approach to his wine-growing venture by mulching his vineyards with wheat and bean straw and fertilising with earthworm castings. This has increased the soil’s pH level and improved its friability in the upper layers, boosting water infiltration and retention and creating ideal conditions for microbes.

The castings come from John’s small vermiculture project. He keeps about a million red wiggler worms, feeding them on manure sourced from surrounding farms. Since introducing this mulching and composting regime, he’s seen an increase in worm activity around the vines, a clear sign of soil health. The worms have also brought an influx of Guinea fowl and Southern Bald ibis.“As I intensify the mulching and composting, I use fewer inputs. “I also don’t use any herbicides or pesticides, other than copper and sulphur, to control mildew. That’s the benefit of small-scale farming: you can be preventative, not reactionary. My aim is to be non-invasive and create healthier plants that are more resistant to attack. All this has been a steep learning curve for me. I now know the importance of listening carefully to neighbouring farmers who have experience of local conditions, and I’m never too proud to ask for advice. Operations like mine could increasingly provide alternative sites for wine production in response to the loss of traditional vineyard areas because of climate change.”

10000 Bottles Per Year

The best advertisement for the possibilities of Free State viticulture, I thought (not to mention for John’s winemaking), was the Pinotage. John’s general approach is much in line with modern, minimal artisanal winemaking, with modest oaking, and it shows in the natural, unforced quality of the wines, most winningly in this pure-fruited Pinotage, its fruit fullness balanced by a fresh, vibrant acidity and a well-calculated light tannic grip. It’s a wine that would be worth a detour to find.

Tim James, Winemag.co.za

“A giant leap of faith best describes this wine” is inscribed on all the back labels and you have to admire property owner John Critchley’s chutzpah in undertaking winemaking in these unusual climes. It must be said, however, that the results are rough-hewn bar the Pinotage which I really like. The nose shows some floral fragrance, red and black cherries, earth and spice while the palate is concentrated and fresh with tannins that are not too grippy. It’s a cheerful drop and worth seeking out should you find yourself on a road trip in that part of the world. Price R120 a bottle.

Christian Eedes, Winemag

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MILE HIGH VINEYARDS, home of THE BALD IBIS WINES.

Phone

+27 (0) 72 142 3183

Address

S325, Fouriesburg, 9725

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