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South African
Wine Lab Association:

Ecophysiology, Vigour, Berry and Wine Characteristics of Grapevines Growing on and off Heuweltjies

S.J. Bekker1, J.E. Hoffman1, S.M. Jacobs2, A.E. Strever3, J.L. van Zyl1*

Heuweltjies are unique landscape features putatively created by the termite Microhodotermes viator
through their burrowing and nest-building activities. They have been closely examined in the natural
veld of the Western Cape in the recent past and are the focus of many ecological studies, but their effect
in cultivated landscapes (e.g. vineyards and orchards) has remained unexplored. This study addresses the
vigour and physiology of vines growing on and off heuweltjies, as well as the wine emanating from these
vines. This study was conducted on Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz in two climatic regions of the Western
Cape, namely Stellenbosch (Mediterranean climate) and Robertson (semi-arid climate) respectively, to
better understand how differences in heuweltjie characteristics correspond to differences in rainfall and
temperature. Through the use of ANOVAs and Fisher’s LSD post hoc tests to indicate statistical significance,
it was apparent that the soil on and off heuweltjies differed significantly in respect of several physical and
chemical properties. Consequently, soil water content was more favourable on heuweltjies, especially in
the Stellenbosch area, where only supplementary irrigation was applied. Heuweltjies induce substantial
changes in grapevine vigour and grape composition. Differences in grapevine physiology between
heuweltjie and non-heuweltjie plots were subtle, but vine vigour was severely altered on the heuweltjieassociated
vines, exhibiting excessive vegetative growth in Stellenbosch and leading to variations in berry
and wine characteristics on and off the heuweltjies. The opposite was observed in the semi-arid climate of
Robertson. The presence of heuweltjies in vineyards presents an opportunity to produce and market wines
with a difference in respect of their characteristics and unique origin.

Termites, soil properties, soil water, canopy density, wine sensory analyses

Full article

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