Daring to question the praising of old vineyards places one in the same category as those supporting rhino poaching, the clubbing of baby seals and the banning of anything sounding like Leonard Cohen. South Africa has an enthusiastic Support the Old Vines lobby. With the zeal an anti-foie gras activist would be proud of, these lobbyists host emotional wine tastings underscoring the need for seasoned patches of weary vineyards to be conserved. For not only do such geriatric vineyards produce remarkable wines – apparently – they form an integral part of the country’s vinous legacy in terms of cultural and human provenance.
It is the role of a journalist to remain objective in such matters. That is why it is important to also look at reasonable and informed voices holding a different view on this sensitive, yet ubiquitous topic. Bruwer Raats, a highly respected winemaker who usually lets his Raats Family wines do the talking, recently stepped out of the cellar to offer Wineland Magazine his take. Herewith the translation from the original Afrikaans:
Things have been getting quite emotional about the gnarled old vines scattered throughout the Cape Winelands. And yes, they are magnificent plants adding to the brooding atmosphere of some of the more robust and rural wine regions. The sight of an ancient vineyard, dense and obtuse vines pointing their wrinkled shoots at the heavens, set among the rolling hills of Bottelary or Malmesbury, can be mesmerising.
No, please. Don’t tell me I have turned into a wine ponce….not now. Not ever.
One of the features of homo sapiens vino wankerus is his or her preconceived idea that the use of new wood in the fermentation and/or maturation of wine is nearly as big a crime as to imply that South Africa makes decent Merlot and that oxidised white wine from old vines is not brilliant. I have seen this species, noted them sniffing at a glass of Shiraz, almost to inhaling point, until the tiniest whiff of mocha of smoke is detected before putting down the vessel with a shake of the head and a “tut-tut….over-wooded”.
It ain’t over till it’s over. But now that Cape Wine 2015 really is a thing of the past, a few insights are rising out of the vinous haze like the sails of Viking boats appearing through the mists of eastern England.
I could not experience the country’s triannual wine showcase as a true visitor as there were business partners to assist and journalists to appease. Functions to host too. And here, business was excellent.
One of the rules about imbibing states one should never drink alcohol when thirsty. I never got the memo.
Thirst, real throat-scorching, spleen-drying thirst can for me only be quenched by a few healthy slurps of cold booze. Beer, icy and foamy, is an obvious candidate. Novelist Jay McInerney even used beer when reviewing a particularly good batch of cocaine in Bright Lights, Big City. Something about the snort of Bolivian marching powder being as gorgeously satisfying as a “sip of cold beer on a hot summer’s day”.
Despite having the blood of La Grande Nation coursing through my robust veins, the French can really get on my pods of pectoral muscle, commonly known as tits. Take the current form of Les Bleus in the Rugby Six Nations. Not only are they playing with the listlessness of an unbaked baguette, but their tight five – traditionally the mainstay of French rugby – appear to be sponsored by Weigh-Less and the Peace Brigade. And as far as passion goes, they apparently left their spines in the Montmartre whorehouse where their mothers worked.
If you can remember the Stellenbosch Wine Festival of the old days’, you probably weren’t there. This was held in the Town Hall in Plein Street, and around its heyday circa 1982 it was an ideal place to get mindlessly drunk under the pretence of experiencing Stellenbosch’s wine culture. I mean, give a few hundred 19 to 25 year olds a wine glass and tell then they can get it topped up all night for free, and the result is not going to end in spirited debates on the poetry of NP van Wyk Louw interspersed with rigorous bouts of waltzing to a boere-orkes.
One of the many Cape estates experiencing an endless summer of wine tourism success is Simonsig, and this is no surprise. The Stellenbosch farm has always been a wine tourism pioneer. In the 1970’s legendary patron Frans Malan played a lead role in engineering wine tourism in South Africa and as far back as I can remember Simonsig has always been known as a winery with open doors and a hospitable, welcoming atmosphere.
I howled into Paris determined to find great Chenin Blanc wine. Being a homo sapiens Africanus South, Chenin Blanc is my national white wine, so we are told. It is was one of the grape varieties lovingly crushed by Jan van Riebeeck’s singing slaves at the birth of South Africa’s wine industry in 1659 and since then has been a ubiquitous feature on the local terroir.
I love a winter vineyard. There is just something magical about the starkness of the gnarled, leafless vines and their bewitching tentacles that strikes a chord with my heritage which is one where the tracks of cold country European wanderers lie etched in the annals of meaningless history.