By Dr Jonathan Steyn

View the original article here.

Dr Jonathan Steyn caught up with global viticultural thought leader Rosa Kruger, who recently became the first South African to be inducted into the Decanter Hall of Fame. What began as a vine finding mission in her bakkie quickly snowballed into the Old Vine Project, which seeks to protect, promote, and develop vineyards older than 35 years and advance a culture of planting to grow old. 

JS: You mentioned that initially many people didn’t buy into your vision of old vineyards. Do you think that sentiment has changed? 

RK: It’s not about sentiment, it’s about practicality. So many people phone me and say, “I’ve got old vines but I’m not making money. I can’t pay my bond. I can’t pay for my tractors. I can’t pay my wages”. If an old vineyard doesn’t make money, you can’t expect a farmer to keep it. That’s why we try to lift the price of the wines and lift the tonnages by very selective, careful pruning. You can’t ask a farmer to be romantic. 

JS: Do growers in South Africa value their older vineyards? 

RK: Listen, some of the farmers love their old vineyards. I would often come to a farm in South Africa, and they would show me their old vineyards with pride. They would phone and say, “I’ve got a 30-year-old, can’t we slot it into a 35?” I love that. We don’t have to push too hard anymore. And now, even the producer cellars make wines as good as any of the rockstars. But they look after their old vines. They have the infrastructure. I don’t like only playing for the smart guy. I like playing for the ordinary guy, for the humble guy, and for the guy that has no status. 

JS: Do you see the Old Vine Project as a viticultural movement? 

RK: I see it as a viticultural culture of preserving and loving what you do. Loving farming and being a farmer and instilling that in farm workers. Some of these workers have been living on the farms for three or four generations. They have generational knowledge about old vines that we sometimes miss. Vineyards should not just be a commodity; it should be something you love to do. I think in a small, small way, the Old Vine Project is bringing that back. 

JS: You have this mantra “planting to grow old”. How does the old vine story fit into the way you’re designing new vineyards? 

RK:  It’s André [Morgenthal] that came up with that line, but it’s something we live every day. I want to plant vineyards now that in 60 years’ time people can harvest and love. The new designs are planned in a way to live with global warming. It’s not only a way to make vineyards grow old, but also to produce better quality. Because the higher the quality, the better the income, and the better for the farmer and farm worker.

Share this