First new SA varietal since pinotage nears fruition
Professor’s 18-year devotion finally bears fruit
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.
EXCITED: Dr Jerry Rodrigues with his grape varietal at his home in Plumstead.