Arriving at the DeMorgenzon wine estate in Stellenbosch, a faraway sound of music can be heard. Roll down the windows and you may recognise Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor. Or the strains of Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Silvius Leopold Weiss or Jan Dismas Zelenka.
Classical music is said to have many benefits for human development, but this wine producer has taken it a step further and exposed the estate’s vines to baroque music.
The 91-hectare property has two blocks of shiraz vines, but only one has 22 speakers, placed 100m apart, blasting classical music. The other has been left so that any differences can be observed.
Kate Barratt, pictured left, DeMorgenzon’s marketing manager, says the playlist comprises 2 473 pieces from the baroque period, and the music can play for seven-and-a-half days without repeating.
Those featuring the harpsichord have been removed, but only for the benefit of humans, says Barratt, as the harpsichord does not produce the most pleasant of sounds.
She explains the vines don’t hear the music, but feel the vibrations of the sound waves.
The music is played around the clock in the vineyards, the wine cellar and the tasting room.
Playing music in the vineyards was the brainchild of Hylton Appelbaum, who owns the estate with his businesswoman and philanthropist wife, Wendy, who is also the chairwoman of the estate.
The couple bought DeMorgenzon in 2003, and live at the top of a 3km winding driveway overlooking the estate.
Appelbaum – the founder of Classic FM – combined his love of baroque music and gardening to start the process at the end of 2008.
“It’s not only about the fruit. It’s about the passion and putting everything together,” says Barratt.
She says other wine producers have been known to play classical music in their cellars, but DeMorgenzon is the only one in SA that plays the music throughout the cycle, starting in the vineyards.
Winemaker and general manager Carl van der Merwe says it is too early to gauge the full effect the music has had on the end product.
He says there are several factors that influence the taste of the wine, whether or not they are exposed to the music. These include that the temperature in the vineyard is five to seven degrees cooler than in the rest of the area.
This is because the vineyards get the morning sun and are caressed by a strong breeze off False Bay.
Because the site is cooler, the vines produce a more aromatic and peppery style of wine.
Van der Merwe says the only other place he knows where music is played in the vineyards is Tuscany.
“What we’ve seen so far is promising. The proof will take some time,” he says.
The University of Pretoria is conducting experiments on the vines that have been exposed to music and those that haven’t.
But Van der Merwe says he has already seen a positive effect on the growth of fungi and bacteria in the soil, both of which are essential for healthy vines.
Barratt says the music has encouraged better root development, which produces a better fruit, and in the beginning a more “vigorous” plant was noticeable.
The grapes have also ripened evenly and delayed hanging time by up to a week and a half. And this is the first year the grapes have been harvested later, says Barratt.
Van der Merwe says each wine has a unique story, and the music creates the feeling for the wine.
“People drink wine because they want to make a moment special. Here we have something special, with historical relevance. It has an effect on people and life,” he says.