South Africa may have the biggest volume of surviving old vines in the world, leading independent viticulturist Rosa Kruger told the recent Adams & Adams WineLand Seminar in Stellenbosch.
Kruger, who works closely with progressive growers like Andrea and Chris Mullineux of Mullineux Family Wines, Platter’s 2014 Winery of the Year, was sharing her vision of how South African winegrowers could get to an ideal place by 2020.
In a straight-talking and heartfelt presentation, Kruger highlighted an eleven-point plan whose provisions are as much reminders-to-self as exhortations to vine propagators, growers, winemakers, nurserymen, educators and marketers across the South Africa’s winelands:
- Don’t forget South Africa’s 350-year-plus history of making great wines
- Plan and plant each block of vineyard to a specific price point
- Plant the right variety for the site
- Plant new varieties more suited to our generally sunny, warm and dry climate
- Look at higher-altitude sites inland
- Get rid of the leafroll virus, for good
- Train people better, especially those who tend the vines
- Farm the vineyards better to produce top wines
- Preserve old vineyards (35+ years); they’re a national asset
- Love the environment; farm closer to nature
- Keep farmers on the land and workers in the field
“We need to make more South African terroir wines, not varietal wines. We need to listen to our terroir to make wines that express OUR soils, OUR sun, made by OUR people.”
“AOC” FOR GUIDELINES, NOT RIGID CONTROL
“Let’s look at a type of AOC [the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée] system, but just for guidelines, not for rigid control. And for that we need an institute of open-minded, scientific staff.
“We can plant vines that produce for 50 years or more, not just for 20 years as currently. But there are 20 or more things to look at before we even begin to plant: from soil analysis to the right rootstock matched with the right variety, to doing GIS [Geographic Information Systems] studies. We have the technology, we just need to use it. If we get that right, the rest will come.
“We need to grow vines to slot into one of the five levels of wine: the absolutely exquisite, artisanal; the high priced (HP); the medium priced; the entry level; and bulk. There is a place for each. But we need to develop that top level because that is what gives a face to South African wines; wines that reflect a sense of place, a unique, authentic identity.
“We are exploring new varieties suited to our sunny, warm and dry climate, where water may become even scarcer as the climate changes.
“Some 25 new varieties have been identified and imported. We are going to plant all of them in 2016 on one site on the Perdeberg farm co-founded and owned by Sadie Family Wines. Winemaker/viticulturist Eben Sadie will micro-vinify samples which will be available for tasting and comment by anyone in or interested in wine - about four years hence for whites, about six years for reds.
1,500 HECTARES OF OLDEST VINES - AND COUNTING
“We have been working on a project to identify all our oldest vines: we’re about halfway and we’ve found some 1,500 hectares so far. We think South Africa may have the biggest volume of surviving old vines in the world.
“Although WIETA (Agricultural Ethical Trade Initiative of SA) and IPW (Integrated Production of Wine) are doing a great job, we need a body to properly train our local vineyard staff in the skills necessary to tend vines capable of producing great wine. And then we’ll be able to also pay them more.
“New areas higher up inland worth developing or expanding include Piekenierskloof (Citrusdal), Skurfberg (West Coast), Piketberg (Swartland), Witzenberg (Ceres/Tulbagh/Wolseley), where you get naturally higher fruit acidity and lower pH.
“Our top growers must be paid more for their grapes and their wines: the gap between price per ton for those top-quality grapes and for HP wines should be greater.”
Photo courtesy of Wine.co.za