By by Sussie and Peter |

Sadie Family Wines Treinspoor 2016, Swartland, South Africa

(c. £35, Lay & Wheeler, Noel Young, Uncorked, Hedonism, Handford, Philglass & Swiggot & more via WineSearcher)

First things first: this is a wildebeest of a wine. It’s wild – no domesticated decorum here. It has almost animalistic tendencies in its floral, wild berry and hung meat aromas, as well as its firm, fleshy and grippy flavours and textures.

But then – what can you expect from old-vine Tinta Barroca grown in Swartland and made by one of South Africa’s most high-profile ‘rock star’ winemakers, Eben Sadie?

An adventure, is what, and that’s exactly what you get. But this wine doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Currently in South Africa there is a movement afoot to rescue and champion the Cape’s old vines, a great source of diversity and wine heritage but which are at risk of being grubbed up as farmers consider them un-economical or too much like hard work. It was started in part by Rosa Kruger, a viticultural consultant whom I met when I was in the Cape a few years ago, and whose work is invaluable.

I tasted this wine as part of the Old Vine Project, a formal new initiative to continue Kruger’s work and keep these old vines in the ground while also fostering new plantings that will, in their turn, also stand the test of time. That means working on many fronts: from educating growers in how to maximise yields to promoting the existence and quality of these wines to the wider world. Hence the tasting – according to André Morgenthal of the Old Vine Project, ‘maybe the biggest and most ambitious old-vine tasting ever held’.

According to Morgenthal, there are around 2,640 hectares (ha) of vines older than 35 years in the Cape. Of these, around half are Chenin Blanc but, in total, there are around 35 different varieties of old vines. And this is just what is known about. Morgenthal estimates that around 80% of these old vines are within the co-op system, whose members are obliged to sell to their cellar or face financial penalties. The challenge is thus to help people realise the quality and potential of these old vines both in South Africa and abroad.

The other challenge for Morgenthal is to keep the Old Vine Project afloat financially. The project has received initial seed funding but is unlikely to attract much public sector support. It’s undoubtedly a hugely worthwhile initiative and one that will benefit South African wine enormously. Potential donors take note. In the meantime, the rest of us can continue to enjoy the wines, which are seriously impressive – particularly the whites.

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