South Africa: Old vine stock discoveries make the Cape Wine Lands one of most exciting places on the planet to make wine
Viticulturist Rosa Kruger has played a leading role in revitalising South Africa’s wine industry. According to the Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin:
She is to South Africa what Mme Loubat was to Pomerol. Just as the former grande dame of Petrus presciently understood the value of her wine when others dismissed it, so Rosa has awakened South Africa to the value of its vineyard heritage and proselytised a higher level of viticulture amongst its farmers, if not by their owners, then by contracted winemakers. As I have written previously, one cannot understate her importance in revolutionising the South African wine scene, changing winemakers’ mindsets as much as their actual wines. (South Africa: Cape Fearless by Neal Martin, Robert Parker Wine Advocate 30 November 2015)
Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Kruger and others who have discovered and cultivated previously neglected old vine stock, South Africa is now one of the most exciting places on the planet to make wine!
The country’s new regard for old vines reminds me of the mid 1980s in South Australia when legendary Rockford winemaker Robert O’Callaghan paid his growers more than twice the going rate for their old vine fruit, which almost looked like an act of defiance as around the same time the South Australian Government was offering growers financial incentives to pull out old vines!
His efforts and those of other foresighted winemakers gave birth to some of Australia’s most renowned old vine wines, including the Rockford Basket Press Shiraz, Torbreck RunRig, Henschke Hill of Grace, Wendouree Shiraz, Chris Ringland Shiraz, Clarendon Hill Astralis, D’Arengberg The Dead Arm and Yalumba The Octavius Barossa Old Vine Shiraz.
In South Africa, Kruger lives in the small town of Riebeek-Kasteel in Swartland, a warm inland region of the Cape wine lands where some of the best old vines can be found. Originally she worked closely with one of the rising stars of the Swartland Eben Sadie; helping him to discover the most likely plots of ancient vines. As wine critic Jancis Robinson remarked, “not just the chenin blanc that has dominated South African vineyards for years but also ancient semillon gris, semillon blanc, palomino and muscat for wonderfully tense whites and cinsault, grenache and Tinta Barroca for reds chock full of character rather than oak and alcohol.” (Rosa Kruger-0ld-vine-champion by Jancis Robinson, JancisRobinson.com, 5 October 2013)
Today the Sadie Family produces two flagship wines, Columella (a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache) and the Paladius (a blend of Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blance, Viognier, Chardonnay, Roussanne, Semillon and Palomino). Other relative newcomers who have developed strong reputations as old vine specialists include A.A. Badenhorst, Alheit Vineyards, Dewaldt Heyns Family Wines, Intellego, The Liberator and Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines.
An expert on clones, Kruger believes that as vines age they lose their clonal attributes and instead impart the character of their unique terroir: “Wines from clay soils have a certain weight, sand tends to impart more aroma. I try to read the landscape and plant from that. The best wines in the world are with a sense of place…”
Definitely one of the best explanations I’ve read about the importance of terroir!
by Merrill Witt, Editor
Photo Credit: The Swartland Revolution by Jamie Goode, Wineanorak.com