D’Amato & Szabo: Wine Thieves

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In this episode:  how cataloguing old vines in South Africa has raised standards for fair employment, and sustainable farming and may just prove the key to solving the problem of the country’s most prevalent vine virus. We continue investigating the topic of old vines, this time from a different perspective, as we look to the Certified Heritage Vineyards of South Africa. We hope you’ve built up an appetite for the subject after last week’s head-turning conversation with the South Australian duo of Dr. Dylan Griggs, the man who wrote the Ph.D. thesis on old vines after an extensive study of the old vines of the Barossa Valley, and Prue Henschke, viticulturist for the renowned Henschke winery, that produces two of the oldest single vineyard wines in Australia today.

We know that the term “old vines” helps to sell wine. Trade and well-informed consumers, tend to believe that old vines = better wine. But is that really true? Listen to last week’s episode to find out more about that topic but, spoiler alert, a more accurate expression would be “old vines make different wines”. The Thieves have come to think that those differences are worth preserving and protecting and thus will be discussing a movement in South Africa whose core mission is to do just that – preserve and protect old vines. Winery members of what is known as the “Old Vine Project” can now put a Certified Heritage Vineyards seal on bottles – the threshold for old is 35 years, which is not quite as arbitrary a number as you might think and the seal includes the date of the original planting of each of these old vineyards – a guarantee of authenticity. 

Our guests on the program include former lawyer-turned-viticulturist Rosa Kruger who is the founder of the small, privately funded group of crusaders known as “The Old Vines Project”. Kruger is the great-great-granddaughter of Paul Kruger, President of South Africa from 1883-1900, and the one for whom the famous Kruger national park is named.  During her travels and tastings around the wine world, Kruger arrived at the realization that old vines not only had advantages on a viticultural level, but also produced better, or at least distinctively, wine. 

Rosa’s colleague and counterpart at the OVP, Andre Morgenthal,  joins the round table. André has lectured at the Cape Wine Academy and has worked several vintages at Domaine Bertagna in Vougeot, Burgundy and made wine on a small Stellenbosch property, Clos du Ciel. In 2001, he joined Wines of South Africa (WOSA) as Communications Manager with a focus on media relations but in 2016 he resigned from WOSA to start his own business, among other ventures assisting Rosa Kruger with the Old Vine Project (OVP). 

Also joining the conversation is Andrew Harris of DGB, one of the largest South African producers and distributors of wine and spirits. DGB has developed and built some of the most successful wine brands in South Africa, including Boschendal, Franschhoek Cellars and Bellingham, as well as new projects through Artisanal Brands such as The Old Road Wine Co. and Fryer’s Cove, which DGB acquired last year. DGB is an important member of the Old Vine Project and manages more old vineyards than any other group in SA.

Find yourself a glass of old vines chenin blanc and join the conversation!

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