Research from University of Cape Town shows old vines add value

Research from the University of Cape Town shows that using old vine fruit earns winemakers more money.

South Africa has finally discovered – and celebrated – its treasure trove of old vineyards. A country that typically renewed its plantings every 15 to 20 years, pretty much as soon as the yields began to decline, was an unlikely candidate to develop a culture of ancient vines.

Part of the reason for the constant renewal of vineyards lies in the history of the industry. Until the modern era, it existed primarily to supply cheap wine to the domestic market and to provide distilling grapes to the local brandy trade. Accordingly, it was planted to high yielding varieties – or at least to varieties which could be induced to increase their yields if the local market preferred quantity to quality.

There was also another reason for the frequent replacement of vineyards: the widespread incidence of leaf-roll virus. Within a few years of a vine reaching productive maturity, the vine leaves, lacking essential chlorophyll, turn russet long before the vintage. Since the vine is unable to convert sunlight into fruit ripeness, as the season advances it shows signs of stress; acidity declines in the grapes while the sugar levels remain resolutely low. Within a few years the yields drop. By the time a vineyard has reached what should be peak maturity it is economically unviable and must be replaced.

In the pre-modern era of the Cape wine industry roughly a third of the national vineyard was Chenin Blanc (putting South Africa’s share at over 50% of the world’s plantings) followed by Cinsaut. The two varieties accounted for half of all vine grapes in South Africa. With the Mandela presidency in 1994 came an extraordinary worldwide demand for Cape wine. Exports, which in 1992 had totaled a mere 21m liters – roughly 2% of total production – doubled and redoubled every year. At the end of the decade they had grown sevenfold to over 140m liters. In 2008 they crossed the 400m liter mark for the first time.

In this post-Apartheid export boom, vineyards were uprooted simply to meet the expectations of a market that wanted Cabernet and Chardonnay rather than Chenin and Cinsaut.

Rescue Plan

A number of initiatives were undertaken to save focus varieties, of which the most important was a campaign launched in the early 1990s to preserve the country’s Chenin heritage. Happily, Chenin is less susceptible to leaf-roll, so there were many older vineyards yielding reasonable quantities of often fabulous fruit. There was less success with Cinsaut: many of the older plantings fell victim to the simple demands of the international supermarket trade and were replaced with Merlot and Shiraz.

In the early 2000s Rosa Kruger, a viticulturist with a passion for the country’s viticultural heritage, began to research and create a record of the country’s oldest vines. Unsurprisingly, most were Chenin, though Grenache, Pinotage (a local crossing of Cinsaut and Pinot Noir), Semillon and Cinsaut were also present in more reduced amounts. At much the same time Eben Sadie, a producer who enjoyed a singular reputation for hand-crafted artisanal wines, began marketing some of these single-site rarities. His lead was followed by many of the younger, and more adventurous, winemakers. Suddenly, for the first time, it seemed as if it could be profitable to farm low yielding ancient vines.

At this point Johann Rupert, whose family had started one of the country’s major liquor companies and had then gone on to create Richemont (whose brands include Dunhill, Cartier and Mont Blanc), provided the seed capital to launch what is now known as the Old Vine Project. Making use of Rosa Kruger’s catalogue of the old vines, it identified just over 3,800ha of heritage vineyards, and then persuaded the authorities to certify wines produced exclusively from them.

In 2019 the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business conducted research into the value that old vines bring to the selling price of the wines: its primary objective was to determine whether, given the inevitably lower yields associated with older vineyards, it was actually viable (from an economic rather than a sentimental perspective) to keep them in the ground.

Price Advantage

The research was able to quantify the retail price advantage of old vine fruit: all other factors being equal, it added R100 ($5.70) per bottle to the final product. Given that most wines sold from these varietals retail for less than R200, the connection to an old vineyard was significant – at this stage an estimated 30% to 50%. Typically, the fruit cost of a bottle of wine comprises a low percentage of the final selling price. Stellenbosch grape prices average less than R12000 per ton, or R20 per liter. Dry goods, oaking and processing cost would take this to R50. These are largely constant, unless a producer opts to use a high percentage of new wood. Doubling the fruit price only raises the input costs by 40%. If certified old vines add R100 to the price of a bottle of wine, this potentially means that grape prices could increase from R12000 to somewhere close to R60000.

This amount of upward price mobility is vast in the South Africa context: it more than compensates for the lower yields. Johann Rupert’s investment in the Old Vine Project has proved, beyond doubt, that well-sited virus-free older vines are worth nursing to the magical age of 35 years – at which point they acquire the Certified Heritage Vineyard seal. It may seem strange that the country’s most famous luxury goods mogul’s true legacy – at least in the world of wine – will rest on an act of generosity aimed at saving a dwindling number of old vines. But it is also apt. It is the combination of quality and rarity which ensures that there’s nothing artificial about the premium: on reflection, that has always been the unique selling proposition of the luxury goods business.

Source:  Wine Business International

Wines of South Africa (WoSA)  launches ‘Spectacular South Africa’ Campaign

Wines of South Africa (WoSA) just announced they are launching monthly social media campaigns and an online campaign to promote “Spectacular South Africa” wines.

Building towards a virtual tasting of South African wines on Friday 22 May, the campaigns will run across all export markets, encouraging producers and their importers to become involved and support the hard-hit industry.

“In each market we will be encouraging importers, retailers and trade and to come together and get involved in the campaign and supporting the South African category, firstly on May 22, by hosting a tasting, opening a bottle of wine and sharing it on any of their social media channels, video and photos,” says WoSA’s UK market manager, Jo Wehring.

WoSA is keen to build upon the outpouring of support for the country’s producers at a time when lockdown has also been accompanied by a ban on alcohol consumption across the nation, plus a (now lifted) ban on exports of wine.

Dates and themes for the campaigns:

May 22 – Spectacular South Africa (all SA wines)

June 20 – Drink Chenin

July 24 – rosé

August 28 – sustainability (IPW seal, WWF Champion)

September 25 – MCC

October 10 – Pinotage

The social hastags include:

#SpectacularSouthAfrica #SupportSouthAfrica  #DrinkSouthAfrican #southafricanwine #tastingtogether #lockdownwine

 

26th Grand International Wine Awards Mundus Vini Spring Tasting 2020

The Mundus Vini wine awards are held in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, in the heart of the Palatinate region in the Pfalz, south of Frankfurt every spring.  268 wine experts from 54 countries gathered at the 6-day tasting in February to blind taste and assess around 7500 wines from 45 countries. Jenny Ratcliffe-Wright, Cape Wine Master, was invited to be a judge for another year in a row and this time as Canada’s first-panel chair.

Over the days of tasting, Ratcliffe-Wright chaired a panel with judges from Germany, Australia, Russia, Ukraine and Portugal who tasted wines from 11 countries.  Garnacha based red blends from Germany and Spain showed solid quality with very few faulty bottles or winemaking faults. A flight of Sauvignon Blanc from Trentino and Veneto in Italy and white blends from various regions in Italy showed good varietal character, while the blends highlighted the great quality of white wines coming out of Italy recently, being super easy to every day drinkers to enjoy.

The Pinot Noir flight from Chile and New Zealand was outstanding with judges awarding many medals.  Merlot from various Spanish regions ranging from La Mancha to Catalonia was solid without too many surprises.

The sparkling wine and Prosecco flight from Italy and Germany showed wines that were whistle clean and market-ready.  Rioja from Spain was interesting in that there were many different styles from the region, but in general, the quality was very high.

The Shiraz and Shiraz blends from South Australia showed beautiful balance and fruit.  There was a Pinot Gris flight from Germany, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Serbia and North Macedonia, while being from a wide range of countries, the grape showed its character and it was obvious why this varietal is so popular worldwide.

Chenin Blanc from various regions in South Africa from Swartland to Walker Bay was promising with a wild card of a Chenin Blanc from Armenia included in the lineup and that had been blended with Aligoté and Kangun.

Valpolicella Ripasso from Northern Italy was an interesting flight with many excellent wines.

Each judge is measured daily on a tasting and scoring graph against their peers to ensure precision of tasting without too much deviation and to ensure consistency.

Christian Wolf, tasting director for Mundus Vini said: “We can see purely by the figures and the feedback from our tasters that the level of quality has risen considerably this year.”

Australia emerged from the competition as number one in the overseas category with a total of 72 medals with Kilikanoon Wines being named, once again, the best Australian winery with 19 medals. South Africa came in 2nd of the wines from overseas with 55 medals and Argentina 3rd with 49. The best Argentinian winery was Gruppo Peñaflor who received a total of 11 medals

Some of the top-rated wines of the show were:

2016 Kilikanoon Oracle Shiraz (Best of show, Australia red)

2018 Jaraman Chardonnay (best of show Australia white)

2016 DeWetshof Estate The Site Chardonnay (best of show South Africa white)

2016 Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Shiraz (Best of Show, South Africa red)

2015 Felipe Staiti Honor (Best of show Argentina)

For the European wines, Italy scored the most medal with 658 with Spain a close second with 631 and France with 325.

“It was an exciting tasting this year to see high quality from so many regions and a privilege to judge with so many accomplished international palates.” Says Jenny.  “I look forward to judging in the competition again next year.”

Jenny Ratcliffe-Wright