The 2018 International Wine Challenge Personality of the Year award winner Rosa Kruger is one of the world’s leading viticulturists, although she has no formal training and prefers the term ‘vineyard manager’. She started life as a political journalist, then became a lawyer before finally finding her life’s calling by chance when managing an apple orchard in a cool climate area that was touted as suitable for vineyards. With her characteristic sense of adventure she decided to give it a go.

Passionate, determined, generous and very focused, she has become one of the key figures in the renaissance of South Africa’s wine industry, travelling more than 6000 km a month to look at vineyards. She works for a handful of wineries but gives free advice to countless more, connecting winemakers with remarkable sites. “They have to have integrity,” she says. “I have to trust them and they must be really good winemakers.”

Winemaker Andrea Mullineux of Mullineux & Leeu says that Kruger “treats each vineyard as a family and each vine as a member of it… she has an intense and intimate knowledge of the vineyards she works with”. And Kruger is remarkably down to earth: “If I see a beautiful mountain, I want to walk over it. I relish the solitude, the space and the chance to work with nature.”

Kruger’s biggest love is for old vines and it’s for this work that she was honoured on the occasion of the International Wine Challenge awards dinner. For some time, she has been working on a definitive list of her country’s oldest vines on a website called I am Old, listing small parcels of venerable Semillon, Cinsault, Chenin Blanc, Grenache and Palomino, among others, to give them prominence and preserve them from the bulldozers.

In 2016, she founded the Old Vine Project formalising something that had been taking shape since 2002, using funding from businessman and winery proprietor Johann Rupert. In 2018, the OVP launched its plaques, held tastings all over the world, developed certification seals and tirelessly promoted the qualities of the Cape’s 2618 ha of old vines. It continues to attract new members and has become a driving force in the South African wine industry. The IWC Personality of the Year is the figurehead of this movement, constantly encouraging her industry to do better…

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