Exceptional wines start in the vineyard. Since 1963, Vititec has ensured that wine lovers will be able to raise a glass to even more exceptional wines for generations to come, through their innovative, future-oriented approach to improving and propagating wine grape vines.
The Western Cape Minister of Agriculture, Dr Ivan Meyer, visited this leading supplier of vine planting material to South African wine grape producers and growers to learn more about Vititec’s pioneering work.
“Wine and vineyards are part of the Western Cape and South Africa’s character and historical heritage. I believe that one should honour one’s past but live for the future. Vititec lives this motto, as can be seen from their future plans and strive towards greater efficiency,” says Dr Meyer. “During the tour of Vititec’s facilities I was also impressed by the passion, dedication, competence and pursuit of excellence of everyone who works here.”
Vititec, an affiliate of the wine industry body Vinpro, supplies more than 90% of the South African wine industry’s vine planting material to nurseries and wine grape producers. Together with the supply of rootstocks and grafted vines, Vititec helps fulfil the local wine industry’s replacement need of 7 to 8 million virus-free vines per year. The company is based in Paarl, with sites in Vredendal and Stellenbosch and six nursery sites in the Clanwilliam and Piketberg areas.
Vititec also fulfils a crucial role in terms of the import of and virus elimination in vine plant material and are the custodians of a gene pool of nearly all wine grape cultivars and clones that have ever been grown in South Africa. Along with this, they also clean and propagate a selection of plant material for the production of table and dried grapes.
“During Covid-19, we, just like other wine-related businesses, were forced to renew our thinking about the way we were doing things,” says Vititec CEO André van Wyk. “We had to stay ahead of the game and adapt to ensure that we can continuously supply top quality, affordable plant material to the wine industry.”
More importantly, Vititec wants to continuously ensure that the plant improvement side of the business remains sustainable – a free service that is not funded by the industry but paid for by their own grapevine sales. “A funding model would need to be considered going forward whereby wine grape and wine producers help protect this important asset for the South African wine industry.”
Over the past few years, Vititec has made adjustments that greatly improve their energy consumption, productivity, and cost-effectiveness. The company is also testing alternative plant propagation practices that may mitigate risks and unlock efficiencies.
After grape vines are grafted, it is traditionally packed in crates with a growing medium of vermiculite and sawdust and stored in large hot callus tunnels where the rootstocks and scions grow together in a heated environment. These tunnels require high energy consumption to maintain the heat needed for warm callus to occur.
“We were able to drastically reduce our energy consumption and costs and greatly increase the number of grafted vines we can callus at once,” says André. The vermiculite was replaced with a pure moist sawdust mixture. Then the grafted vines are placed in micro-perforated plastic bags in crates that create a naturally warm environment. The crates are then left in smaller callus chambers under air conditioners that consume less electricity.
The new way in which the team packages the grafting material also increases productivity, and André foresees that small changes to staff and equipment will enable them to graft even up to 20% more vines per day in the future. “Grafting more vines at the same time will bring down our unit costs, which would be beneficial for our customers. It will also free up our capacity to provide other valuable services to the industry,” says André.
Vititec also strives to help buffer the industry against possible risks, among others, by honing their practical expertise regarding alternative wine grape cultivation methods. “Climate change is going to pose several challenges, and as unreal as it may sound, soil-borne diseases may even prevent us from growing nursery vines directly in the ground,” says André.
So far, his team has mainly used the cartonage method – whereby grafted vines are grown in small pots or biodegradable bags – to develop one-year-old vines that producers can plant as replacement for vines that have shown poor growth. “Cartonage cultivation can, however, have many other advantages in the future. I would like to advise wine grape producers and growers to familiarise themselves with this cultivation method,” says André.
Vititec is also now trialling alternative methods of cultivating the main source of their clean, virus-free vines. More than 1 100 ha of rootstock and mother blocks, which serve as the source for rootstocks and scions, are cultivated widely across several commercial farms. Vititec is currently setting up net structures at their Paarl site to see how vines grown for propagation purposes fare under these controlled conditions in pots and with training systems. “If we obtain good results from this, we are able to grow exponentially more vines on a fraction of the surface and within better reach, which translates into considerable cost savings,” says André.
Taking climate change into account, Vititec has been proactive for many years in identifying drought- or disease-resistant wine grape cultivars and clones, importing them, eliminating harmful viruses, and making the clean plant material available to the industry. Some of these cultivars include Assyrtiko, Artaban and Vidoc.
Vititec also continuously imports other promising cultivars such as Marselan and Arinarnoa that can introduce new wine styles to the market or can be used in addition to existing blends. “We also support and work closely with other industry players on projects such as the Old Vine Project, the Gen-Z Vineyard Project and Heritage Chenin Blanc. Each project is distinctive, but the golden thread remains the preservation and expansion of the South African wine industry’s gene pool for the benefit of generations to come,” says André.
Vinpro Communication Manager
Tel: 021 276 0458