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The Old Masters

“At 90 I hope to have penetrated into the mystery of things; at 100 years of age I should have reached decidedly a marvelous degree, and when I shall be 110, all that I do, every point and every line, shall be instinct with life.” - Hokusai (artist)

The Old Masters

In Art

Claude Monet painted ‘Water Lilies and the Japanese bridge’ at the age of 59, he continued to paint until the year of his death at the age of 86, doing arguably his best work, even with cataracts and lung cancer. Picasso underwent various historically relevant periods during his lifetime: the Blue period, the Rose period, African art and primitivism, Analytic cubism, Synthetic cubism, Neoclassicism and Surrealism. Begging the question: What would art today BE without his take on it? If Picasso had died at a young age, how much poorer would WE be? Not having experienced the various stages of his genius. If not art, well then choose an old master composer, actor, singer, statesman, designer…time does things to talented people [SOME talented people], it refines them, makes them the best version of themselves and their craft. This is a concept we feel can be applied to a select group of vines. Mind you, not ALL vines, only those that have the vigour to live a hundred years; only those that have the potential to make great wine and the probability of inhabiting its terroir for so long and so successfully, that it BECOMES the terroir. 

In Vines

What is old (in vine years)? ‘OLD’ differs from place to place. In South Africa, ‘OLD’ is 35 years or more. In the Old World (as the name suggests) ‘OLD’ is 60 to a 100 years; the outermost limits of a vine’s lifetime estimated at 120 years. South Africa’s relatively youthful vines are due to a number of factors, including virus and opting to plant alternate, more economical crops to ensure a yearly profit instead of waiting for that mystical vintage to change everything. The main argument against old vines is the fact that they produce lower yields than their youthful counterparts, meaning less WINE. But as with most things this is merely a question of perspective. The low yields produced by old vines ensure concentrated flavours and aromas, their extensive root networks benefit from complex soil composition, which in turn produces a unique expression of terroir in the resulting wine. Because of the depth of these root systems, old vines are mostly unaffected by extreme weather conditions, which make the quality of the grapes more consistent and the vines more reliable. Vines become more self-sufficient with age, cutting down on vineyard maintenance, in their quest to perfect the skill to survive - making them masters at it. 

In South Africa

South Africa only has an estimated 3,538 hectares of old vines, of which almost 1,376 hectares are sultanas, making a mere 2,162 hectares legitimately ‘OLD’ {As estimated by Ms. Rosa Kruger in her ‘I am Old’ project}. As such there is only a limited amount of old vine South African wine out there, given the already precarious situation due to extreme weather conditions and political and financial unrest. Other than the actual facts about old vines, there is the fact that legitimately old vines usually have a person or persons behind it with a passion for wine and the terroir; people who take pride in both the care of the vines and the making of the wine; patient people. THESE are our people and they are to be found all around the world. From the iconic French brands of Château Cheval Blanc and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Marqués de Riscal and Bodegas más que vinos to our own fair Cape of Good Hope and Neil Ellis. Old vine wine is a labour of love and we invite you to find out what THAT tastes like. 

Published On: 05/10/2017

Daléne Fourie

Twitter @DaleneFourie

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