South Africa’s Old Vines Initiative, which was launched in 2006 by Johann Rupert to preserve the wine industry’s heritage, has been lauded by internationally recognized journalist and industry influencer, Jancis Robinson. Her views are expressed in a detailed article published on her blog www.jancisrobinson.com, as well as a printed version she wrote for the influential UK publication,Financial Times.
Jancis recently had the opportunity to sample a wide selection of New Wave South African wines in London. It was presented by Andre Morgenthal of the Old Vine Project, in an effort to demonstrate the potential of SA’s old vines. In her article Jancis remarks that the South African vines which form part of this initiative are typically much more senior than the global, and certainly European, average. Although the concern is that vines are not immortal, and yields shrink as vine trunks expand with age, this is certainly something of which the South African wine industry can be proud of.
A stellar line-up was presented to Jancis and other guests. This included wines from Anthonij Rupert Wyne’s Cape of Good Hope range. She was particularly impressed by the Cape of Good Hope Van Lill & Visser Chenin Blanc 2016, which was one of 35 dry Chenins presented at the tasting. She describes the wine, which is sourced from vineyards aged 52 years old, as being “intense” yet with “a wonderfully ethereal lift”. It grabs the attention, which is in part due to the density of the fruit and the tension that runs through it. Although impressed by all of the Chenin Blancs presented to her, the Van Lill & Visser, in particular, took top honours for her in both the price and quality offering. She commented that the Cape of Good Hope Laing Semillon 2015 presented “deep flavours” and was well-balanced, resulting in a "tangy wine with an abundance of fruit”. Jancis also had the opportunity to taste and review the Cape of Good Hope Altima Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Cape of Good Hope Riebeeksrivier Swartland Caroline 2014- and 2013 vintages, and the Cape of Good Hope Riebeeksrivier Swartland Southern Slopes 2013.
The Old Vines Initiative is regarded as a valuable contribution to the protection of the South African heritage and mirrors the Rupert family’s contributions to the preservation in other fields such as iconic art and architecture. The objective of the project is to encourage farmers to keep these vineyards, or pieces of history, in the ground by offering the them a premium for their fruit. Although the yield per hectare lowers with age, the quality of the fruit increases dramatically and the wines offer more complexity and structure. In the past, grapes from surviving old vines were simply added to a blend without distinction. The Cape of Good Hope range strives to vinify these old blocks separately and attempts to express the terroir of the vineyard through the vine.
The greatest portion of old vines was tracked down by viticulturist, Rosa Kruger, who was at L’Ormarins when this project was conceived. Chris Loubser and Johan Nel, farm managers at L’Ormarins and Riebeeksrivier respectively, also sourced some of these vineyards. Over 100 vineyards older than 40 years have been tracked down over the years.