What is the Old Vine Project?
The Old Vine Project is a fairly new initiative in South Africa. Although it has been taking shape since the early 2000s, it was only founded in 2016 by Rosa Kruger. The aim of the Old Vine Project is to better preserve old vines by creating an awareness around them and introducing people to their heritage.
The Old Vine Project has already shown considerable growth in the first half of 2018 by launching its plaques, holding wine tastings all over the world, and, perhaps most impressively, developing its very own certification seal!
What are Old Vines?
Old vines are, naturally, vines that have been alive for a long time. There is some debate about exactly how old a vine must be to be considered ‘old’, but the Old Vine Project is mostly concerned with vines that are at least thirty-five years old.
Like older people, older vines have their own, unique story and this is what the Old Vine Project is passionate about sharing. These vines have shown their strength through their ability to withstand years of hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters – and yet still manage to produce good-quality wines. This, of course, would not be possible without the skill of the farmers who have maintained them over the years and so, they too, form part of the heritage of the old vines.
What makes Old Vines so special?
Wines made from old vines are unique in that they contain more ‘layers’ to them. As you can imagine, a new vine’s roots have not had a long time to grow into the soil. They may have only grown a few meters down and therefore only have access to a small number of layers within the soil. Old vines, on the other hand, have spent their years reaching far down below the surface of the ground. They are therefore able to access varying soil types among all the layers and are also able to access varying levels of moisture, making them quite remarkable.
However, since the vines are older, they produce less fruit. This is not necessarily such a bad thing, though. Due to the smaller quantities of fruit, the fruit is naturally more concentrated and so the resulting wines are more complex. Wines made from old vines tend to have more ‘earthy’ flavour compounds, reflecting their years within the terroir, and less of a fruity flavour, that is more typical in wines made from new vines.
What are Heritage Wines?
Due to their passion for preserving the current old vines as well as maintaining the young vines effectively so that they can age healthily, the Old Vine Project has undertaken the responsibility of creating awareness of the importance of proper viticulture practices. Through their efforts, South Africa has become the first country in the world to hold an official Certified Heritage Vineyards seal! This means that members of the Old Vine Project can now put an official seal, together with their planting date, on their bottles of wine that are made from vineyards that are thirty-five years and older. Therefore, if you see this seal on a bottle, you know that the wines are authentic and grown according to the Old Vine Project guidelines.
Which wines in South Africa are Certified Heritage Wines?
There are many old vineyards in South Africa, but those wine farms who have registered with the Old Vine Project and joined as a member, are listed on their website as proud certified heritage wines. Currently, the list is at 29 members, but it is expanding as more members join. One of these members is Sadie Family Wines. The winemaker there, Eben Sadie, is also passionate about the unique Swartland terroir and wishes to protect it and preserve it for generations to come. You will thus be able to spot the Certified Heritage Wines seal on the old vine Sadie’s bottles going forward. Other members include, but are not limited to: Bellevue Wine Estate, Fairview, Meerendal, Waterford Estate and Windmeul Winery.
(In recognition of the important work of the Old Vine Project, the Platter’s Wine Guide will now be adding the Certified Heritage Wines icon in next year’s 2019 edition.)