Reading the story of the “Last Rites for Lodi’s old vine growths” I might as well have read a mirror article called something like “South African Old Vines Under Threat”. The situation in Lodi seems to be a mirror image of the difficulty we face in South Africa to preserve and protect our South African Viticultural heritage. It is an uphill battle, but a battle worth fighting.
I have no idea to the extent of the size in acreage of the old vines of Lodi, but for interest sake (more to set the record straight), South Africa has more than 2600 hectares (6424.74 acres) of vineyards older than 35 years, with some vineyards dating from the late 1800’s. Most of these vineyards have not been so lucky to have been saved – mostly due to Leafroll Virus, the lack of knowledge as to the quality these vineyards bring, but most importantly no one knew about them or where they were.
So viticulturist Rosa Kruger saw the red lights flickering about 15 years ago and started to document these vineyards (much like the guys are currently doing in Chile and Argentina – keep going guys and make some noise!) and getting some winemakers in touch with these vineyards. The results? Spectacular wines that helped put South Africa on the map internationally. From old vines the likes of Eben Sadie and Chris Alheit was born, the Mullineuxs exploded onto the scene, and Pieter Walser of Blankbottle is pushing boundaries. Nearly all of the new wave winemakers making waves internationally did so using old vine fruit to some extent, some more than others – Donovan Rall, David and Nadia Sadie, Duncan Savage, Ginny Povall (Botanica), Adi Badenhorst, Loggerenberg Wines, Boekenhoutskloof (And a must mention is the House of Chevallerie). Even the older generation of winemakers/companies are fiercely staking their claims to old vines – Jan Boland Coetzee, David Nieuwoudt, Ken Forrester and Kanonkop to name a few. But don’t forget about Anthonij Rupert Wines, DGB, Darling Cellars, Perdeberg Winery and other larger companies (in contrast to Lodi) that value old vineyards.
The pace at which the economy change is just so high we can hardly keep up, but we have to, because if we don’t, we might face a situation where all we can drink is fruity wines given structure with oak and winemaking skills, and not tasting what that piece of earth could have offered, was the vineyards given the time to mature and find itself, much like a teenager that needs to find himself/herself, in order to become the person they were born to be.
So without becoming emotional or philosophical, I’d like to invite the winemakers, public, viticulturists, garagiste winemakers, farmers, company CEO’s or whoever is concerned, excited or who would like to be involved with the South African Viticultural Heritage and help drive our mission to save these historic monuments, to join the movement set out by Rosa Kruger (with the constant support of Johann Rupert) 15 years ago and now operates under the Old Vine Project. (www.oldvineproject.co.za)
And to the producers, winemakers and viticulturists in Lodi – save your old vines, cherish your heritage and fight for these vineyards that have given you so much over the past 150 years.