South African wines’ favourite viticulturist, Rosa Kruger, recently launched a site that lists all known vines in South Africa older than 35 years of age: iamold.co.za. There’s no secret that Rosa has great affection for older vineyards, working with several producers to procure and manage old vines that seem to more often end up as noteworthy wines.
Lesser-known is her interest in almost the opposite of these rugged old vines: a project to import new varieties. It makes perfect sense when one considers our industry and its general obsession with the classic French varietals. Yes we make exceptional wine, but the New World wine regions all make the same, so today we’re in a global wine bunfight, all selling the same wines to the same buyers trying to reach the same consumer.
Imagine if we brought a selection of totally new grape varieties to South Africa and saw what they could do? Easier said than done. Bringing new varietals into the country is not as easy as slipping vine cuttings into your luggage (or socks) and planting them upon your return home, though this has occurred in the past.
Rosa explains that South Africa’s demanding standards when it comes to protecting plant material from potential disease make things difficult: “Our phytosanitary laws are very strict so few nurseries in Europe want to abide to our laws – it’s easier for them just to sell to their neighbors that are not so strict.” Once someone imports new vine material, it’s a patient five-year process at minimum.
But together with Vititec, a company that develops and markets vine material, and a few likeminded wine colleagues, she’s been working on importing new virus-free varietals with the idea to expand the range of options and introduce some exciting new grapes. But which varietals hold the most potential?
“It was always difficult to decide which varieties to import, but I brought wines back from Europe and we tasted them as a panel,” says Rosa, “Who in his right mind would have ever guessed that Chenin Blanc, seeing it grow in the Loire, would ever do so well in SA? Therefore the choice has always been difficult.”
Varietiess in the current mix include some Greek (Assyrtiko, Xynomavro), Spanish (Macabeo, Mencia), French (Picpoul Blanc, Poulsard, Terret Noir) and Italian (Aglianico) as well as several new clones of existing grapes. Poulsard, out of interest, also known as Ploussard, is used in the Arbois-Pupillon appellation in France, whose wines are hugely popular in wine bars across Europe.
Rosa is full of praise for Vititec and their endeavours in getting much-need clean vine material into the country. “We have a clonal garden at Nietvoorbij with a very wide selection of international varietals, but they are all heavily virused. It seems to be cheaper and a faster process to import clean, virus-free material from Europe than to clean up our own material here in SA.”
Once these new vine materials are through the red tape of becoming legally available, they will be made available to anybody that wants. The question then will be who’s brave enough to plant and produce something truly different?