Value comes with age

Financial Mail - - FMFOX - Stafford Thomas thomass@fm.co.za

When Anna Kirsten passed away at the age of 90 in April 2015 she left an ir­re­place­able legacy: the coun­try’s old­est chenin blanc vine­yard, which she had lov­ingly tended on her wine es­tate in Stel­len­bosch’s Jonker­shoek Val­ley.

Her name lives on in a white wine, Mev Kirsten, cre­ated by mas­ter wine­maker Eben Sadie and made from her chenin blanc vines, which were planted be­fore her birth, be­tween 1905 and 1920. “She was a great in­spi­ra­tion to me,” says Sadie, who is as pas­sion­ate about old vine­yards as he is about the wines for which he has won in­ter­na­tional ac­claim: the red Col­umella and the white Pal­la­dius.

Sadie’s own roots are in the Western Cape’s Swart­land where, as the first wine­maker at Charles Back’s Spice Route Win­ery be­tween 1998 and 2001, he played a key role in putting the re­gion onto the in­ter­na­tional wine map.

Sadie likens grapevines to hu­mans. “A young vine is like a young man who lives only to en­joy him­self. But when the dif­fi­cult times come he has no re­serves to fall back on,” he says, al­lud­ing to the Swart­land’s low rain­fall, ex­treme tem­per­a­tures and ab­sence of ir­ri­ga­tion.

Old vines are dif­fer­ent, he stresses. “They are like an old man who has ma­tured, be­haves wisely and has more re­serves to draw on when things are tough.”

Old vines also of­fer re­li­able con­sis­tency of qual­ity not found in young vines. “A serious wine­maker wants con­sis­tency. Old vines have it,” says Sadie. “That is not to say you can’t make a great wine from young vines, but it is far more dif­fi­cult.”

Sadie made his first com­mer­cial move into the Swart­land’s world of old vine­yards in 2009 when he launched his Old Vine Se­ries. There are now eight wines in the se­ries, all with names rep­re­sen­ta­tive of their farms of ori­gin.

Among them are Soldaat, a name de­rived from Cape Colony soldiers who once guarded the Pieke­nier­skloof pass.

Pro­duc­ing wine from old vines is a labour of love. It starts with the har­vest­ing of grapes from 10 widely dis­persed farms and their trans­port to a ded­i­cated win­ery in the Paarde­berg moun­tains.

One of the big com­mer­cial draw­backs of old vines is their low yields com­pared with young vines. This has also made old vines a rar­ity in a world where the bot­tom line is king.

“It means wine made from old vines is ex­pen­sive,” says Sadie.

“We have to make it fi­nan­cially vi­able for farm­ers.”

The low­est-yield­ing old vine­yard is the one from which Mev Kirsten orig­i­nates. It yields a mere 7 hl/ha, a frac­tion of the av­er­age yield of 73 hl/ha achieved on SA wine farms.

But what the old Jonker­shoek Val­ley vine­yard yields is of ex­cep­tional qual­ity. In 2015 it was rated one of the 50 best wine re­leases in the world by in­ter­na­tional wine fundi Robert Parker’s pub­li­ca­tion the Wine Ad­vo­cate, which awarded it an al­most per­fect 96/100 score.

Mev Kirsten sells at R850 a bot­tle, but you prob­a­bly won’t find one. “De­mand for all our old vine wines greatly ex­ceeds sup­ply,” says Sadie.

Eben Sadie Serious wine­mak­ers want con­sis­tency

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