A lifelong honeymoon in Elgin
Shrouded in the morning mist, the turnoff to the Paul Wallace farm takes shape as the sun trickles through the oak trees. The unassuming entrance is framed by vines, leading up to quaint self-catering cottages; their family home is poised on the edge of a dam, mirroring the hillside vineyards. A few ducks are claiming territory on the dam, and the rooster has proclaimed a new day. Everything is routinely serene. With the vineyards astir with chickens, Nicky scolds her black dog not to chase them and walks up to me with a smile, lips matching the roses she fondly tends to. As a team, Paul and Nicky Wallace receive guests who, by happenstance, discover the farm. Others come back religiously to drink in both good wine and another enjoyable experience.
Paul Wallace is a consulting viticulturist with an insatiable love for the cool Elgin terroir. You will find him in the vines at daybreak, a commitment embedded in him as an Elsenberg student, with over 30 years of viticultural experience in both local and Australian vineyards.
His reputation precedes him and the joy he derives from farming, is palpable in how he delivers these enthralling tales. Paul and Nicky are living a dream they never thought was possible. But being at the right place at the right time made this honeymoon-driveby town the perfect place to settle down.
You would think they met through the grapevine, but Paul was bowled out when he met the ever so charming Nicky at a cricket match. Studious on the marketing side of wine, her dad owned a liquor store, and her great grandfather was Mr. Sedrick from old brown sherry himself, so this was undoubtedly an exciting blend to champion the test of time.
Paul and Nicky Wallace – Paul Wallace Wines
“I inherited my love for hospitality from my dad, who grew up in hotels. As a wine buyer for Woolworths, I had John Platter as a consultant, and I learned a great deal from him. And I will never forget when we drove passed Elgin en route to our honeymoon and Paul saying: ‘this is the best place to plant grapes.’”
Their faces light up at the fond memory of starting out in the countryside. “One of the greatest gifts of moving here was to see how it impacted the boys. Both our sons (Bob and Mark) embraced it and have pursued careers in wine.”
Why grapes love Elgin
Paul shares how, at the turn of the century, the apple industry took a nosedive. Some farms changed hands while others looked to diversify, and so the landscape changed.
“I consulted many farmers in the area, which included scrutinizing decisions of what to plant and where to plant it to make it economically viable.”
Ironically, a decade later, the scale would again tip in the favour of deciduous fruit.
“The income from a hectare of grapes is about R50 000 while you can easily net about R300 000 for apples. Many farmers resulted in pulling out vines again.”
Wine farming might have become a smaller blip in the dominating apple landscape, but Elgin remains a sought-after region to source grapes. Looking after vineyards in Elgin is a challenge Paul thoroughly enjoys after working for Stellenbosch Farmers Winery before being lured to Elgin permanently.
“Grapes love Elgin. A huge plus is the landscape’s undulation, soft hills creating meso-climates. The macro-climate is like that of Bordeaux, but some pockets echoes the character of Burgundy, Rhone and Loire. That is why you can find good Sauvignon Blanc, elegant Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and bigger reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.”
Although quality is almost a given, farming in Elgin is not without challenges. Although they do not use pesticides, dedicated to recreating a natural ecosystem, moisture invites a fungus like Botrytis that needs judicious management. On the other hand, adequate rain ensures that the vines do not stress unnecessarily.
“We work preventative, rather than curative. A lot of effort goes into soil rehabilitation, and rejuvenation and cover crops fulfil different roles to improve microbial activity.”
The Malbec block in front of the tasting room is trained to the Smart-Dyson method. Here, where the soil is particularly fertile and fed by an underground water supply, this method of trellising effectively channels the vigour without compromising the quality. The vine is trained to extend along a higher than standard cordon wire, one meter above the ground. The arms of the vine are extended in both an upward and downward position. The benefits are multi-fold.
“Not only does the vine produce a decent return per hectare of grapes in perfect balance, the improved airflow also means less disease and slower ripening. Vineyard practices are at waist level height, which means less bending and back-breaking work for the farmworkers. They love working this block. In Elgin we are blessed with good natural acidities and low pH’s while we still get even and phenolic ripeness which translates into great purity of fruit in our wines.”
Not ready to leave?
Spending time in the Elgin valley, is quite rejuvenating. The farm has two fully equipped guest cottages should you decide to linger longer. Chances are you will find fresh roses from the garden waiting for you. If this will be your first visit, it will not be your last. Visit their website for more details: www.paulwallace.co.za