Greg Sherwood MW: The old vine movement goes global

By , 10 July 2024

The Mev Kirsten vineyard in Stellenbosch, established between 1905 and 1920.

It has been 22 years now since industry stalwart Rosa Kruger started her long and arduous journey of scouting for South Africa’s old vine vineyards. Within only two to three years of commencing, the word on the street had started to spread and growers and winery owners proactively started to contact Rosa to identify vineyards they either owned or had encountered around the Cape winelands.

But it is even crazier to think that we are only two years shy of the 20th anniversary of Eden Sadie launching his first wine under the Old Vine Series – the Mevrou Kirsten 2006, a wine made from the oldest Chenin Blanc vineyard in South Africa, situated in Stellenbosch and named after the owner’s wife, Mrs Kirsten. It was only around 2010 that producers like Chris Alheit, Duncan Savage and the Mullineuxs started sourcing vineyards and grapes from some of the old vine vineyards identified by Rosa Kruger.

A significant culmination of Rosa’s work was realised in 2014 when the “I Am Old” website was launched to catalogue the legion of old vineyards that had been identified around the Cape winelands. In 2016, Andre Morgenthal joined Rosa Kruger when she formally launched the Old Vine Project with all important seed funding from the Rupert Foundation

As someone who already knew Andre well from his days running the marketing department at Wines of South Africa, this new venture seemed to me like an incredibly exciting initiative for him. As for Rosa Kruger, well, I had not met her yet and she was more of an enigma, but certainly somebody that everyone who had encountered her described as intelligent, focused, passionate and compassionate, good willed, and thoroughly determined. 

Chatting with Andre over the years, the development path for the Old Vine Project was by no means a cakewalk, with many resident sceptics among the ranks of both growers, producers and brand owners in South Africa. As a fine wine buyer in London, I perhaps encountered the marketing efforts of the Old Vine Project wearing slightly more rose-tinted glasses, being a huge fan, supporter and enthusiast of the philosophy and goals set out by the organisation from day one.

Every opportunity I had, I would encourage producers, big or small, to sign up as members of the Old Vine Project, to register their old vine vineyards and certify their old vine brands under the Certified Heritage Vineyards seal. The fact this seemed like a no brainier to me was perhaps because the organisation and its early international marketing work had such a loud resonance and impact in and among the fine wine market, which certainly included many of the early members like Eben Sadie, Mullineux Wines, Chris Alheit, Duncan Savage and Naudé Wines, all brands I was actively involved in buying and selling in London.

Roll forward to 2024, and after a lot of blood, sweat and tears from both Rosa and Andre, the Old Vine Project can quite rightfully be described as one of the most positive and beneficial success stories of the South African wine industry in the last 50+ years. While Andre Morgenthal moved on from the Old Vine Project in February this year, he has certainly left his mark with membership blossoming from 30 to 40 in the early years to closer to 130 – 140 members today.

For Rosa Kruger, she can rest easy knowing that practically every old vine vineyard in South Africa has now been documented and registered, one of her original founding aims when she set out on her colossal journey in 2002. Additionally, the Old Vine Project’s various vineyard worker training schemes have been designed to ensure that the 35+ year old vineyards are managed and pruned correctly so that they can be preserved for the future, but also that middle aged vineyards in their teens and twenties can grow old gracefully and healthily to be the old vines of the future.

Of course, the work of the Old Vine Project continues to evolve with the development of an online learning platform, the Old Vine Academy, aimed at educating the wine industry, trade, consumers, and the media on the value of Certified Heritage Vineyards and the wines that they produce. The project has also, more importantly, gone global, and only last week, I attended the Trade, Media and Member Tasting of the Old Vine Conference in London.

The Old Vine Conference is a non-profit organisation co-founded in 2021 by Sarah Abbott MW, a Master of Wine contemporary of mine, together with Alun Griffiths MW (previously of Berry Brothers & Rudd) together with Leo Austin. Its aim is to bring together a global network and create a new category for wine from old heritage vineyards. The organisation also shares Rosa Kruger’s belief that old vines are a beacon for talent, innovation and connection and that the best old vines yield uniquely transcendent wines, incomparably rich in savour, symbolism, and heritage.

The genetic material of ancient varieties, often retrieved from forgotten old vineyards, is now proving vital in adapting to climate change and old vines have their valiant and inspirational champions in pockets around the world. But the global wine market does not yet structurally value old vines or treat old vine wine as a premium category of rich and enduring worth. As a result, healthy old vineyards of cultural resonance and unique qualitative potential are lost because they can’t be made to pay.

The Old Vine Conference is an attempt to change the path for old vines and their wines and in its first three years has contributed exponentially to the awareness, understanding and support of the global old vine movement. The London tasting at 67 Pall Mall was one of the largest selections of old vine wines from around the world, representing old vines from 19 countries including a phenomenal selection of 21 white and red wines from South Africa, drawn from the Old Vine Project’s membership.

Another notable development within the Old Vine Conference has been the “Old Vine Hero Awards” which are essentially accolades designed to recognise the work of various producers in categories such as: Viticulture (Villa Bogdano 1880, 185 Bianco IGT Veneto 2018, Veneto, Italy – Age of vines 81 years old), Overall Impact (Garage Wine Co. Carinena Field Blend 2018, DO Empedrado, Maule, Chile – Age of vines 75+ years old), Communication (Marchelle Wines ‘Royal Tee Block’ Old Vine Zinfandel 2021, Jessie’s Grove Vineyard, Mokelumne River AVA, California, USA – Age of vines 129 years old), Commercial Impact (Once & Future ‘Frank’s Block’ Teldeschi Vineyard Zinfandel 2019, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, USA – Age of vines 115 years old), Research (Feudi di San Gregorio Serpico 2016, Irpina, Aglianico, DOC Campania, Italy – Age of vines 150+ years old), and Winemaking (Basilisco Storico Aglianico del Vulture DOCG 2013, Basilicata, Italy – Age of vines 80+ years old).

Additionally, launched in collaboration with the Old Vine Conference, the International Wine & Spirits Competition (IWSC) Old Vine Trophy has been established to recognise producers working to preserve and protect old vines and spread awareness of the importance of nurturing heritage vineyards. The Shortlist for the IWSC Old Vine Trophy will be revealed later this year and the winner will be announced during the IWSC Awards Ceremony in November in London.

For the time being, we can celebrate the wonderful producers who showed their wines at the Old Vine Conference, who in their literature, described the Old Vine Project as “the benchmark for certified old vines and wines.”

Bellingham Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc Limited Release 2023 – 95/100 GSMW

Le Grand Domaine, The Pledge Our Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2023, Stellenbosch – 94+/100 GSMW

Simonsig Langbult Steen Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2022, Stellenbosch – 94/100 GSMW

Knorhoek Chenin Blanc 2022, Simonsberg-Stellenbosch – 93+/100 GSMW

Bosman Family Vineyards, Optenhorst Chenin Blanc 2022, Wellington – 95/100 GSMW

Rascallion Wines 33 1/3 RPM 2023, Wellington – 92+/100 GSMW

Rascallion Wines, The Devonian 2021, Swartland – 94+/100 GSMW

David & Nadia, Chenin Blanc 2022, Swartland – 94/100 GSMW

David & Nadia, Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2022, Swartland – 96+/100 GSMW

Nederburg Heritage Heroes The Anchor Man Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2023, Swartland – 95/100 GSMW

Roodekrantz Die Kliphuis Chenin Blanc 2021, Swartland – 97/100 GSMW

Spier 21 Gables Chenin Blanc 2019, W.O. Cape Town – 95+/100 GSMW

Terre Paisible Les Dames de 87 Old Vines Sauvignon Blanc 2023, Franschhoek – 95+/100 GSMW

Boekenhoutskloof, Semillon 2021, Franschhoek – 98/100 GSMW

Natte Valleij, Axle Chenin Blanc 2023, Darling – 96/100 GSMW

Natte Vallej, Cinsault 2023, Darling – 96/100 GSMW

Jordan Winery, Timepiece Chardonnay 2023, Stellenbosch – 95/100 GSMW

Jordan Winery, Timepiece Cabernet Sauvignon 2022, Stellenbosch – 95+/100 GSMW

Bellevue 1952 Cinsault 2021, Stellenbosch – 96/100 GSMW

Bellevue 1953 Pinotage 2018, Stellenbosch – 95/100 GSMW

Daschbosch Gevonden Hanepoot 2017, Breedekloof – 97/100 GSMW

The Old Vine Conference is funded by a combination of sponsorship, trade and winery membership, philanthropy, grants and individual membership.

  • Greg Sherwood was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and as the son of a career diplomat, spent his first 21 years traveling the globe with his parents. With a Business Management and Marketing degree from Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, Sherwood began his working career as a commodity trader. In 2000, he decided to make more of a long-held interest in wine taking a position at Handford Wines in South Kensington, London, working his way up to the position of Senior Wine Buyer. Earlier this year, he moved across to South African specialist merchant Museum Wines to become the Fine Wine Director. He qualified as a Master of Wine in 2007.

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