The South African wine industry is set to follow the example of local citrus producers by employing the services of wild baboons to help identify superior fruit quality and to create new varietals. This follows the recent international media frenzy where reporters descended upon the Western Cape town of Citrusdal to report on the success a major citrus farmer had after the taste-buds of the mountain baboons had assisted him in creating a new sweeter-tasting and all-round improved variety of orange.
According to Faizel van der Vyver, a wine grower from the Western Cape’s Breederivier wine region, the assistance of baboons in identifying better grapes for winemaking must not be underestimated. “I let the troops of baboons patrol my Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc vines, and it is interesting to see which grapes they eat and which they leave behind,” says Van der Vyver. “Here in the harvest season they will only select grapes at optimum ripeness, around 25?+¦?????+¦???-¬B and disregard bunches that are not yet fit for harvest. Their ability to detect the correct degree of skin or pip greenness is uncanny.”
Van der Vyver said that baboons also steered away from grapes grown on vines infected,with leaf-roll virus or those growing on blocks that had unbalanced acid and pH levels due to over-cropping.
“Baboons have been visiting our vines for longer than most of the local farmers or viticulturalists, and they are part of the terroir, so it is only natural that they know the plants and fruit better than we humans can,” said Van der Vyver.
“In fact, I am considering cutting down on the service from my viticulturalists and just following what the baboons are doing. Baboons don’t want overtime pay, they don’t unionize and they don’t go moaning to the Department of Labour when you chase them away. And you can pay them in fermented grapes without getting the liberals in a tizz.”
Van der Vyver said the involvement of baboons through their process of selection in the vineyard could lead to the development of new grape varieties. “If a human could develop Pinotage, just imagine what a baboon can come up with,” he said.
Darien Morgan, Welsh wine commentator and former employee at the Gerald Durrell animal sanctuary on the Isle of Man, says baboons have highly developed sensorial facilities, surpassing those of even the keenest wine judge.
“The animals can detect a far wider array of aromas and tastes than a human being due to their varied diet and indiscriminate desire to put anything in their mouths,” says Morgan.
“The next step would be to put a baboon on a wine-tasting panel and see what he or she comes up with on the score-sheet. Methinks one will be amazed by the baboon’s ability to detect in-pure aromas, offish yeasts and over- or under-ripe fruit.”
According to Morgan he had trained a nine-year-old male baboon, Roald, to identify 34 wine varieties as well as most major wine faults. “The guy’s an animal. He can identify the difference between South African and French brett, the amount of ascorbic acid used in a local Sauvignon Blanc and is an absolute killer in detecting Merlot greenness. He would be an asset to any panel, and just think how he would liven-up the awards ceremonies. Roald has a hell of a sense of humour, although his public arse-scratching takes some getting used to.”
Industry organisations were reluctant to comment on the possible use of baboons in South African wine officialdom, simply stating that “we welcome any assistance in promoting and protecting the undisputed quality of South African wine so that our beloved product can take its rightful place on the world stage. Because remember, diversity are in our nature”.
Roald was not available for comment.