Yesterday the culmination of a systematic search begun in 2006 and authorised by businessman and owner of Franschhoek property L’Ormarins Johann Rupert to list all South Africa’s old vineyards. Chairman of Swiss-based luxury goods company Richemont, he drew a comparison between wine and fashion. “At Richemont, we don’t tolerate super-star designers. Our intellectual capital is in the safe. We’re not going to have [watch designer] Louis Cartier come back to deliver anti-gay, anti-Semitic rants like Galliano did which so compromised the Dior business. Just as it’s the maison that’s ultimately important when it comes to fashion, it’s vineyards not winemakers that are key in wine”.
Rupert, who smoked throughout a two-hour presentation and wine tasting, was in full cry. “As a wine producing country, we need to differentiate ourselves in the global market or accept [ruinous] price cutting. One way of ensuring a unique offering is to retain these old vineyards”.
Wines from these old vineyards are necessarily going to sell at a premium because yields per hectare are low. “If the consumer is not prepared to pay R100 to R120 a bottle, then the economics don’t work. Producer and media must jointly accept the challenge of influencing consumers to accept that they are getting something special,” he said.
He identified excessive alcohol levels and the debilitating effects of leaf-roll on quality virus are the major challenges for South African wine going forward, and again old vineyards were identified as vital towards an improved product on account of being so well adapted to local conditions.
Viticulturist Rosa Kruger and high-profile winemaker Eben “Surferboy” Sadie (as he was dubbed by Rupert on the night) were tasked with scouring the length and breadth of the Cape in search of these old vines and now a list of 97 vineyards older than 40 years exists.
“Why do old vineyards typically makes wines of such great distinction?” was Kruger’s rhetorical question. “I think it’s because they are in balance with their environment. They have all the variations of wind, rain, drought and heat wave embedded in their memory banks and they have deep, well-developed root systems. All of this must deliver wines with more of a sense of terroir than variety.
Until recently, the produce of these old vines have mainly been blended away or sold off. Anthonij Rupert Wines has now entered into partnerships with specific owners of old vineyards to bring a limited series of wines to market under the Cape of Good Hope label, and various other leading winemakers were invited to the launch function in the hope that they would strike up similar partnerships with such growers.
The Cape of Good Hope series consists of:
Van Lill & Visser Chenin Blanc 2010 (from properties on Skurfberg near Lamberts Bay)
Laing Semillon 2010 (from a property between Lamberts Bay and Clanwilliam)
Serruria Chardonnay 2010 (from Elandskloof near Villiersdorp)
Basson Pinotage 2007 (from a property in the Paardeberg)
Parel Vallei Farmstead Merlot 2007 (from Johann Rupert’s own Somerset West property)
The Semillon is the most immediately appealing of the five wines bursting with fruit but balanced by tangy acidity; the Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay both come across as more reserved in comparison, these wines about structure rather than aromatics and fruit expression and requiring more application on the part of the drinker to obtain full enjoyment although this is not at all to their detriment. The reds I found appealing but not quite as accomplished as the whites: the Pinotage shows plenty of sweet, juicy fruit and rather soft tannins, the Merlot is inoffensive but a bit plain.