It’s all good and well to aspire to preventing 35-year and older vineyards from being replaced with young vines or citrus, but is the crucial point of decision not from when the vines are 20 to 30 years old? It is also true that old vineyards can be revived from near deceased to viable, showroom condition, but yields decline and the grower needs to decide what to do in order to make each hectare work to be financially viable. This is the reality.
It’s encouraging then to hear about David & Nadia’s Topography range which does just that – invests early in a vineyard, not yet at Certified Heritage Vineyards (CHV) status, but valuable enough to nurture and invest in to grow old, and the grower benefits in the long run. This long-term view on special but endangered vineyards is crucial to the sustainability of our viticultural heritage and the Old Vine Project (OVP).
Currently the CHV guideline is to allow for 15% of younger vineyards to be blended in along with those 35 years and older, in similar fashion to the Wine and Spirit Board’s blending policy. David Sadie feels differently: “It’s all or nothing. Single vineyard status is 100%. What the OVP stands for is similar to the quality levels of single vineyard status, so why compromise? We all make an effort to have these special blocks listed separately on the SAWIS documentation to ensure transparency. Obviously, there will be chancers, but for the rest of us going the extra mile, the 15% is contradicting what we stand for.”
He suggests a second tier for this age group within the CHV programme, very similar to the Barossa Old Vine Charter: www.barossawine.com/vineyards/old-vine-charter.
He offers me a taster of the newly released 2017 Hoë-Steen Chenin and says: “Let’s continue the discussion later over a few CHV wines,” with a wink. “Let me show you Bill&Co.”
His dad bought a cluster of three erven in the slightly unsavoury part of Malmesbury 38 years ago, with a long-term view. Sort of buy and forget about it, as they tell you these days with Bitcoin (“in 2020 you’ll be a rich guy…”). For the family the investment is coming into fruition. David and his wife Nadia, along with his rugby professional brother, Johann, who recently returned on vacation from France, hatched a plan to create an urban space to enjoy wine, bread and fresh produce, similar to what we’ve seen at The Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, at De Warenmarkt in Stellenbosch and Maboneng in Johannesburg – reviving heritage or simply neglected spaces with a bistro, fine wine, quality coffee, a bakery, art, perhaps a butcher and a vegetable garden to supply the menu. It is an ambitious project, with prospects of raising the area’s image, drawing local and international tourists and creating work. This will be Bill&Co.
As it goes with David and Nadia, along with entrepreneurial endeavours, decisions are made and changed weekly, much how vintage conditions dictate the harvest. The 50-year-old Hoë-Steen Chenin block is the last of the whites David takes in, even after the reds. The lack of rain contributes to this slow ripening, as well as the clay- and iron-rich soils of the Western parts of the Swartland. And then the heritage, not only being old, but interplanted with a very small percentage of Cape Riesling, False Pedro and Palomino, as generations historically did when they had to keep the blocks going and planted whatever arrived from the Cape Town harbour.
The question remains – how does one justify that 15% wiggle space in the vineyards and the wines for the benefit of the long-term, without risking authenticity? Our objective as the OVP is to preserve our South African viticultural heritage, which goes hand in hand with our architectural and cultural heritage. It’s also about what we have learned from history, why certain things worked in a particular environment, or did not, and applying this knowledge to ensure a sustainable future.