Tim James: Old vines and the Old Vine Series 2009

By , 28 October 2019



To the best of my knowledge, the first Cape wine to proclaim “old vines” on its label was the Old Vines Barrel Reserve 1998, a chenin blanc from the winemaking team of Irina von Holdt and Francoise Botha, who’d brought out a pioneering chenin called Blue White in the mid 1990s. They also around this time named their venture Old Vines Wine Cellars (more recently modulated to Old Vines Cellars). Other early advocates of old vineyards included two Franschhoek producers: Eikehof, with the oldest semillon in the country, and Landau du Val, not far behind.

It was later, however, with the publicity that followed Rosa Kruger’s quest for the Cape’s old vineyards, primarily on behalf of L’Ormarins, that the idea of old vines started getting well publicised. And the release of Sadie Family’s Ouwingerderdreeks (Old Vine Series) in 2010, with wines from the previous year, made the concept much better known and brought it a prestige and significance which greatly accumulated since then. Looking back, that release of the initial six wines in the series appears as a seminal moment in the history of the Cape wine revolution.

The Ouwingerdreeks 2009 boxed set.

There were only 280 boxed sets of the initial six wines in the series – the number being dictated by the shortest run – which I reported at the time as being Kokerboom, apart from the half-bottles of the sweet muscat called Eselshoek, but which Eben recalled at this tasting as being Mev Kirsten. The initial labels were designed with drawings specially made by artist William Kentridge (see here for more on that); but from the following, 2010, vintage these were dropped, mostly to allow for an easy expansion of the range, and the current design was adopted.

So the maiden Ouwingerdreeks wines are now ten years old – a significant milestone, which has been noted by, for example, some pricey sales at auction (just over R25 000 inclusive on the Strauss & Co Johannesburg auction earlier this year, and just under R20 500 at the Cape Town one) and Harald Bresselschmidt showing the depth of the Aubergine cellar by offering special dinners with all six of the wines. In 2010, the price was R3850.

Angela Lloyd last Saturday broached her own well-cellared case of the wines and invited the two people most crucially involved in their creation, Eben Sadie and Rosa Kruger, as well as a few fortunate others, to come and taste them. All were in excellent condition, showing tertiary development to some degree, but far from needing to be drunk up soon. Probably the most advanced was ‘T Voedpad from the extreme north of the Swartland, always one of my favourites of the series in youth, and gorgeous enough here, especially its waxy, fennel-hinting aromas. Ripe and richly textured, with a light grip, but to me a touch off the harmony of the others. I’ve nothing much to say about the Eselshoek, from a block of hanepoort in ‘T Voetpad’s mixed vineyard: I’ve never found it very convincing, and didn’t lament when it fell out of the range after a few years. At ten years old, this one was dry-finishing, fairly elegant and pleasant enough.

One of the general favourites was Kokerboom, the semillon from the Skurfberg area. Certainly the most youthful in colour, it was fresh and lively, with lemony notes and a gunflint/toast element to the finish. Most of all a beautiful balance and harmony; a superb wine which should develop happily for a good few years. (How we tend to under-appreciate semillon, when all it needs is time and understanding to give us something marvellous!)

Eben Sadie with 2006. 2007 and 2008 bottlings of Mev Kirsten Chenin Blanc.

Skurfberg was the richer, more flavourful of the two chenins, though not at all flaunting its 14.8% alcohol; with a powdery texture and a flinty note. Should at least hold, and probably develop, a good few years. I was in a minority in finding Mev Kirsten, from an ancient, low-yielding Stellenbosch vineyard, the finer of the two. I relished its brighter lemony acidity and aromas of freshly ironed linen and its subtle elegance. This was the first of a more orthodox, less oxidative Mev Kirsten (“we went commercial in 2009”, Eben jokes about the change), as we were reminded by bottles of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 that Eben brought along to the tasting. (These forerunners of the Ouwingerdreeks were called Mrs Kirsten – she was made Afrikaans to fit in with all the other names.) These, particularly, are wines that will cruise (probably almost unchangingly in their case) for many years – I enjoyed their subtlety and dry austerity. Going back to the splendid 2009, one realised just how full of rich fruit it actually was by comparison.

The only red in that initial Ou Wingerdreeks line-up was Pofadder. I recently wrote about the 2010 and 2013 vintages of this wine, and like those wines this had developed very well – perhaps even better than my bottle of 2010 (which was a rather riper wine). The heady perfume of its youth had transmuted into something more valuable and complex, the obvious charm into something deeper. Finely balanced, with a good bright acidity and a bit of grippy tannin, all harmoniously and inextricably intertwined, as they should be in a serious wine moving gracefully into its second decade.

  • Tim James is one of South Africa’s leading wine commentators, contributing to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.


10 comment(s)

Please read our Comments Policy here.

    Tim James | 1 November 2019

    Thanks for the positive comments. It’s perhaps worth my adding that, in fact, I do see myself as having something of a specialism in the Swartland, though a generalist too. That partly accounts for my giving it, on the whole, more coverage. I can’t see that having a specialism is a problem, and if South African wine writing were in better shape, I’d hope that there’d be more people with one. More groupies, Carlos might call them. The industry is substantial, and if one wants to do more than simply sit at home and taste the wines, if one wants to visit and get to know the winelands and the people, it’s hard for an underpaid person to cover everything properly. It’s also worth adding that there is frequently more going on in the Swartland than most other areas – at least, I get invited to more interesting events there than anywhere else. Like a 10-year vertical of Mullineux Syrah today, and a vertical of Sadie Palladius in a few weeks. Admittedly Palladius is an insignificant wine, but I am a groupie, after all. And when I get invited to such events in Paarl, Elgin, etc – I’ll endeavour to go, and report on them, with the greatest satisfaction.

    Colin | 29 October 2019

    You tell him Kwisp! Tim’s only written 13 articles about the Swartland or Eben or the ouwingerd wines since the beginning of July. It’s not so bad and very informative.

      Kwispedoor | 29 October 2019

      13 if you count every mention in an article, yes. Out of 31 articles. Considering his experience and exposure that sounds about right.

      Considering the industry-altering impact Swartland producers have had on quality wine production in the last decade or so, perhaps the percentage of Swartland cover (from Tim, at least) can even be bumped up a bit. Then again, some of us couldn’t care less about what region’s wines are being written about, as long as the they are good and interesting. For instance, some people would always harp on about which province should be represented most in the Springbok squad, while the rest of us just want the best players and a successful team.

      Perhaps many readers here are able and can afford to drink 2009 Old Vine Series wines regularly, but I certainly enjoyed the opinion without experiencing any compelling urge to be negative about it.

    Smirrie | 29 October 2019

    I humbly agrees with Kwispedoor.

    After reading the article i wished the article was way longer. I immediately searched the internet for a review of the same wines by Angela Lloyd.

    Most of the avid readers here are regular purchasers of the Old Vine Series. To hear how the wines develop is like compulsory study material.

    Tim now to provide us with detail tasting notes of each wine and if possible the remarks made by Eben on the day.

    Carlos | 29 October 2019

    Geez Tim, you should write more about Eben and the Swartland. We haven’t seen anything from you about him and the area at all over the years. Groupie much?

      Kwispedoor | 29 October 2019

      O great, another derogatory comment the moment Tim dares to write about Sadie or Swartland wines.

      I wonder what percentage of regular readers of this blog would not have been interested in feedback regarding Angela’s decade-old vertical of these remarkable wines. And who better to write about it than Tim James?

      Why don’t you complain about all the times that Tim write about Stellenbosch wines? This unnecessary negativity is getting so old, man. How about some constructive criticism, rather? For instance, if Tim describes a Sadie wine, tell us why you might disagree with him.

        Gareth | 7 December 2020

        Not to be a nitpicker – but isn’t the tasting described here a horizontal tasting, rather than a vertical?
        But I agree with your sentiment. I found it fascinating and why can’t some wine writers specialise in certain areas? I would think that this is quite normal.

          Kwispedoor | 8 December 2020

          Hi, Gareth

          Of course you’re right – it wasn’t a vertical. Older horizontals are so scarce that I inadvertently used the wrong term. It’s arguably also not a horizontal tasting though, the latter being mostly a corresponding cultivar/blend of the same vintage, but from different producers (like, for instance, a lineup of 2001 Cabernets). Either way, a treat indeed to read about these old gems.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Like our content?

Show your support.