No matter what the reason, the death of a vineyard is a sad occasion, one which calls for black attire, gleaming shoes and a slow march to the rhythmic tapping of drums in unison. If there is an old gun-carriage lying around, bring that along too. But do try to look manly as the warm wet tears roll down your clean-shaven cheeks while the trucks drive off with the lifeless gnarled shapes of uprooted vines.
I attended an uprooting of a 97 year-old Grenache vineyard in the Luberon a few years ago and will never forget that deathly grey silence as the wrinkled thick vines were plucked from the red clay soils, the far-away look in the eyes of Monsieur Treppaird, the vigneron who had made 49 vintages from those expired plants. “A dead vineyard is worse than a dead wife,” he told me. “For a good vineyard and the wines it produced continue to haunt you, while the death of your spouse is acceptable in its finality.”
Yup. Serious stuff. I thought of this the other day when visiting Glen Carlou in Paarl and was told that the farm’s Zinfandel vineyard is no longer, having been plucked from the soils to make room for…..I did not ask, nor cared to.
A dead Zinfandel vineyard is surely not that great a loss to the South African wine industry, which has never really embraced this grape. But I felt for Glen Carlou’s vineyard as it had been planted in the 1990s by then-owner Walter Finlayson who singlehandedly is responsible for there being a Zinfandel narrative in the country, having reached dizzy heights with this variety on Blaauwklippen in Stellenbosch.
Yet Zinfandel has not taken off here despite the best efforts of the current crowd at Blaauwklippen. Too few examples and too little active marketing has caused Zinfandel to be about as relevant to the local wine narrative as bacon sandwiches is to the food scene in Iraq.
Upon hearing of Glen Carlou’s dead Zinfandel vineyard, however, I hauled away a case of the 2009 vintage, the last gasp from this woody corpse.
The vineyard and its death were, of course, immediately toasted with a hefty glass of this Zinfandel, Glen Carlou’s having been the premier example of what this variety can do in South Africa.
As Zin tends to be in a warm climate, the Glen Carlou version is resplendent in a veil of black-fruited succulence, a juice monster with a feral sage-brush and buchu wildness to add verve to the coaxed fruit. The mouth-feel is broader than a dope-heads imagination, and from mid-palate to finish this is a big, heavy wine but without any icky harsh heat on the finish.
Of course, the one thing about Zin is that unlike Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz, it does not leave a fingerprint. There is a bit of steeliness one finds in Zins from the States to Italy to South Africa which could be seen as a common thread, probably the result of the grape’s skin being thicker than Cyril Ramaphosa’s wallet at a buffalo auction. But all-in-all, Zinfandel has always been an individual wine with each bottle bearing a somewhat ballsy and unrefined personality of its own. Red. Assertive. Fruity and untamed.
And of this, I would still like to find more about, but as the gun carriage moves east and the flags are half-mast, another Zinfandel vineyard is gone, leaving options, like, slim.
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