When wine is your trade and passion, it is also your reference. Recently, I have been chatting quite a bit to bakers and have noticed the similarities between bread and wine when it comes to fermentation, taste and texture. The same happens when you speak to olive oil producers and beekeepers and this week, we had a wonderful opportunity to taste honey with the same terroir as our La Motte wines. It was quite an experience.
As we are busy with renovations at La Motte estate, we found that a swarm of bees that has been living in one of the estate’s ancient oaks were becoming a danger to themselves and guests and we decided to relocate them. As we’ve been working quite closely with honey sommelier, Natasha Lyon, for a while now, we called on her expertise as well as those of Deane Woollam, an expert in removing and rescuing bees.
Natasha describes the process better than I can, so I quote her Instagram post:
“What a day!! I am in my happy place. I spent most of the morning observing this amazing capensis bee relocation from an old Oak Tree in Franschhoek, estimated to be well over 100 years old. We could see very dark old comb in the cavity and a sheet of propolis covering the top of the nest. Well done Deane and Jaco.
This was not an easy relocation and our leading lady, Mrs Queen bee, proved somewhat elusive. She was spotted a few fleeting moments but managed to stay hidden in the many crevices inside the hollow branch. We also spotted three queen cells and the large brood pattern was impressive and healthy looking. We were even treated to seeing the birth of a new little worker bee. Fascinating!
This is a mother of a swarm and have been, by the looks of it, indeed a Mother swarm, undoubtedly giving birth to many wild swarms over the years at La Motte.
I am delighted to report that his was a successful relocation. Shortly after being re-hived, the buzzing ladies started their housekeeping duties. A good sign.
The jury is still out on the Queen being home. Time will tell.”
A honeycomb with warm honey was one of the treasures of the day and Natasha promised to write us some tasting notes. Like the wines produced from vineyards on La Motte, that honey shares the attributes of the soil and the climate and the vegetation and it was quite a special experience to imagine all of that in its sticky sweetness.
What makes the honey story different to the one of wine and olive oil, for instance, is the bees. These little insects are just phenomenal. They are so organised and dedicated and have all their systems and procedures figured out without any human help. They are an example to us in many ways, but perhaps because Natasha explained it in so much detail and because the team went to so much effort to keep the honeycomb from cooling down, it was the bees’ effort with temperature that made quite an impression on me.
Temperature is always a factor in winemaking. In summer, viticulturists and vineyard teams use canopy management and irrigation to regulate temperatures and unseasonal cold is dealt with using aspersion (read more). In the cellar, winemaking teams optimise temperatures for fermentation and store wine at ideal temperatures for maturation. Wine serving temperature is just as important to make sure we get the ultimate enjoyment from that glass.
Temperature is also crucial for bees. They have an intricate system to maintain a constant temperature within their hives of between 32°C to optimally 35°C. When temperatures drop, they stay in a tight group, clustering the queen bee, to keep both her and them warm. In summer, worker bees fan their wings to keep the hive from overheating. There are even ‘heater’ bees that carefully regulate the temperature of each developing pupae, determining what kind of honeybee it will become. “Those kept at 35°C turn into the intelligent forager bees that leave the nest in search of nectar and pollen. Those kept at 34°C emerge as “housekeeper” bees, conducting chores such as feeding the larvae and cleaning the nest.” (Read more)
Although we were doing these bees a favour with the relocation and have been going to some trouble to make the process as easy and stress-free as possible for them, one does feel bad for disturbing their peaceful home in that spectacular, historic tree.
We all know about the threat to bees’ existence, but Natasha tells me that not all species are endangered, although most populations are declining due to human activity and climate change. (Read more) Why do we need honey bees? They are the most important pollinators. They visit 90% of the 107 global crop types and in South Africa, more than 50 crops depend on bees for pollination. They have in impact on the set, weight and quality of fruit they pollinate and contribute to the improvement of crop yield and quality. (Read more)
Other than sharing our terroir, do bees play a role in the vineyards? Grapevines are wind pollinated and do not rely on bees, but many of the plants surrounding vineyards do and bees, via their importance to cover crops, therefore help to improve the water-holding capacity of the soil, eliminate the need for chemicals use, and regulate vines growth. (Read more)
And while bees have a honey tummy they also enjoy grape juice as much as we enjoy wine. Luckily, they don’t damage whole berries, but get their fix from cracks in the berries. Let’s hope we can be just as considerate to them, because as per Christy Lefteri’s The Beekeeper of Aleppo: “Where there are bees there are flowers, and wherever there are flowers there is new life and hope.”