First new SA va­ri­etal since pino­tage nears fruition

Pro­fes­sor’s 18-year de­vo­tion fi­nally bears fruit

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - RE­BECCA JACK­MAN

HE’S SPENT 18 years nur­tur­ing a new va­ri­etal of wine in the front gar­den of his Plum­stead home, and now that UCT pro­fes­sor Jeron­imo Ro­drigues is set to re­tire, his vine has fi­nally borne fruit.

It’s been a long wait, but Ro­drigues says that con­sid­er­ing pino­tage took more than 30 years to come to fruition, he’s do­ing quite well.

Called caber­net lam­br­usco num­ber two, the va­ri­etal is a cross be­tween the French grape caber­net sau­vi­gnon, an in­ter­na­tion­ally pop­u­lar red, and the Ital­ian grape lam­br­usco marani, used to make sparkling wine.

It was num­ber two out of 10 seedlings, and only it and num­ber seven sur­vived. But num­ber seven only showed qual­i­ties of caber­net sau­vi­gnon.

The bio­chem­istry lec­turer in UCT’s depart­ment of molec­u­lar and cell biology says wine has al­ways been a pas­sion; al­though he’s lived in Plum­stead for 55 years, his par­ents are from Por­tuguese wine coun­try.

“(The vine) is ba­si­cally the cul­mi­na­tion of a life- long dream,” he said. From its very first bud­ding birth in 1994, the vine is as old as our democ­racy.

Ro­drigues said he was “very ex­cited” when the vine gave its first bunch of grapes this year, at the end of Septem­ber.

“This is my baby. I’ve been look­ing af­ter it for 18 years. You don’t know how happy I was when this bunch of grapes ap­peared,” he said.

Ro­drigues ex­plained that a vine had to go through a pe­riod of ju­ve­nil­ity be­fore it could bear fruit. While South Africa had seen new va­ri­eties of ta­ble grapes in re­cent years, this would be the first new grape va­ri­ety since pino­tage, which was cre­ated in 1925 by Pro­fes­sor Abraham Perold.

Caber­net sau­vi­gnon, says Ro­drigues, was un­der threat from a disease called Grapevine Leafroll Disease (GLD). He be­lieved that by com­bin­ing the grape with lam­br­usco marani, the new plant could be re­sis­tant to that and other dis­eases.

Al­ready Ro­drigues’s vine has un­der­gone a colour change, in­di­cat­ing it was pro­tect­ing it­self from the sun, which caber­net sau­vi­gnon did not do.

His next step in the process is to do disease test­ing on the vine. Then, in two or three years, it should be ready to make wine. Once the plant was ready to go, it would be easy to du­pli­cate for mass pro­duc­tion.

Ro­drigues could not be sure whether his idea would work, and had no idea what type of wine he’d end up with.

The down­side, he said, was that he also had no idea what the wine would taste like – and he wouldn’t know for at least the next two to three years. But with such great-tast­ing par­ent plants, he’s not too con­cerned.

PIC­TURE: LEON LESTRADE

EX­CITED: Dr Jerry Ro­drigues with his grape va­ri­etal at his home in Plum­stead.

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