Old vineyard in Darling
It’s a reality. The Old Vine Project - which has seen a few dedicated and enthusiastic people beavering away for close to two decades - has spawned a certified seal to be used on bottles of wine made from vines at least 35 years old. They offer consumers a guarantee of authenticity alongside the date the vineyard was planted.
Not only is this visible progress in this hugely appealing project, but it is, according to the OVP team, a world first, as only in South Africa can such claims of venerability be officially approved.
Last month the first wines bearing this seal were showcased at Stellenbosch to trade and media. It was also time to offer congratulations to Rosa Kruger, who is largely responsible for the project’s founding and existence. Andre Morgenthal came on board soon after and sponsorship from Johann Rupert funded initial exploration . The team today also includes Christina Harvett while Johannes van Niekerk, Eben van Wyk and John Lofty-Eaton are directors.
Andre and Christina
Rewind, now to earlier in the new century when a dream involving conservation and heritage, lent practicality with financial benefits, was given expression at Franschhoek, where wine media listened as this project was detailed.
Back in 2002 Rosa Kruger, self-taught viticulturist with a mission, accepted a post at L’Ormarins, historic home of Rupert Wines and soon embarked on a project close to her heart. Having long marvelled at the intensity and fine structure of wines made from venerable vines in Europe, she set out to unearth old vineyards with potential on remote Cape farms. Letters were sent to wine grape farmers to find out who had vines older than 40 years. Her subsequent odyssey took her from the West Coast to the Little Karoo, from Robertson valley to the Helderberg, from Swartland to Stellenbosch.
Sometmes Eben Sadie accompanied her, as trips yielded a trove of gnarledvinesfrom Lutzville in the west to Calitzdorp in the east. Photographs of rugged farmers,perching with their dogs, among equally rugged bush vines surviving among rooibos bushes and grazing sheep came to typify, for me, the success of ventures in areas seldom visited.
Chenin blanc was most common varietal found, along with cinsaut, palomino, hanepoot, muscat, pinotage and semillon and a few less common cultivars, all ranging from 40 to around 100 years old.
Those worthy of restoration were singled out and their owners advised on treatment. Partnerships with the farmers were formed and the vines nurtured back to fruitful life.
The maiden wines produced from subsequent vintages included a pinotage from a 40-year- old vineyard in the Paardeberg, and a semillon and a chenin from the Skurfberg, both from vines older than half a century. They were founder members of the Cape of Good Hope range and proved Rosa’s point as these seductive , well balanced wines presented impressive expressions of terroir.
The project grew as adventurous winemakers sought out old restored vines and farmers received double or triple the amount for their harvest than before.
In 2009 Eben Sadie began releasing limited volumes of his brilliant Old Vine series, illustrating the potential of several aged varietals in a swathe of regions, which helped put the OVP on the global wine map.
In 2016 a logo was added to the title enabling Andre Morgenthal to produce a suitable letterhead. More than 10 vineyards that are more than a century old have been listed which is, in itself, worth celebrating.
Meanwhile another aspect – the importance of good care for worthwhile younger vineyards so they will continue to a productive old age – is also being addressed. UCT, University of Stellenbosch and Winetech are involved in relevant research. Thanks to Felco, who manufacture pruning shears, vineyard workers entrusted to tending these venerable vines are undergoing specialised pruning courses.
The Old Vine Project already has more than 30 members, and while I was writing this summary, Attie Louw of Opstal in the Slanghoek valley added his estate.
It’s a story with, happily, no end in sight and it’s a tale that well illustrates the magic of wine, the mystery that lures men and and women to this ancient craft – no matter how the industry is struggling, what droughts prevail, how markets stagnate and governments remain disinterested.
In a future blog I will review a few of these certified wines from OVP members,. We will also find some of them at the OVP stand at Cape Wine 2018 later this year.
OVP team with Rosa Kruger, left