Domaine ‘I am old’

‘The best wines improve with age’ is the old adage. Leading viticultural consultant Rosa Kruger takes it a step further back, proclaiming that the vines themselves improve with age. Her new website,, is an invaluable resource, documenting South African vineyards known to be more than 35 years old. 
The introduction reads: ‘It’s an interesting list, with our culture, history and landscape all built into it. In the list, in between its numbers and calculations, you will find very different soils and landscapes: the red sand of Skurfberg, Kasteelberg shale, sea-sand at Dwarskersbos, and Paardeberg granite.’   Suitably evocative names for places in as rugged a landscape as ours.
According to the website, seven of the vineyards listed on it were planted before 1905. In total, there are 3 538 hectares of old vineyards counted in South Africa – this includes 1 376 ha of sultana (Thompson’s Seedless, not used for wine). In the summary 33 varieties are listed, with local heroes Chenin Blanc and Pinotage claiming the most hectarage at 999.93 and 188.92 ha respectively , followed by  Cinsault (178.60 ha), Muscat d’Alexandrie (168.36 ha)and Colombar (130.87 ha).  
A labour of love, Kruger began documenting them a decade ago when, as vineyard manager at L’Ormarins in Franschhoek, she started listing the oldest vines in South Africa. Some of these grapes found a place in the Cape of Good Hope range of wines. 
Grapes from these old vines also find their way into wines made by luminaries of the Swartland such as Eben Sadie of Sadie Family Wines’ Old Vine Series, for example, or Chris and Andrea Mullineux of Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines – old vine Chenin forms the backbone of their Mullineux White Blend and her first CWG Auction wine, the Reserve The Gris Semillon, is made from rare red-skinned old vine Semillon.
There are more examples to be found in the Cape winelands. At Boekenhoutskloof in Franschhoek, for instance, Marc Kent uses fruit from two old vine blocks, one of them 113 years old, the other 73 years old, for the barrel-fermented Semillon. In the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley near Hermanus, Chris Alheit of Alheit Vineyards vinifies grapes from four old blocks of Chenin from vineyards scattered across the winelands, from Skurfberg in the Citrusdal Mountain district to Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, for his white blend, Cartology. In Stellenbosch, at Kaapzicht, The 1947 Chenin Blanc is made from grapes from South Africa’s second-oldest Chenin block; and at Kanonkop, fruit from a vineyard planted in 1953 finds its way into the flagship Pinotage Black Label.  
“I urge someone to do some research into old vines. Why did some grow to be over 100 years old when there are 20-year-old blocks that fall apart? Why is there a 114-year-old Cinsault vineyard delivering five tons per hectare of premium quality fruit?” asks Kruger. “I still do not know the answers…” 
“Some of these vineyards are not grafted onto rootstock but instead grow on their own roots. Some are planted at a high density of 8 000 vines per hectare, contrary to what the general belief is today.  We as an industry can learn a lot from answering these questions.”  
 So far there has been a lot of interest generated both locally and overseas, and people are starting to utilise the website. “Please do make use of this list,” urges Kruger. “Old vines often make bright wines that reveal the landscape in which they grow.”
The list is not complete, she continues: “Some farmers never answered the letters that we dispatched.  There are still some vineyards out there that we do not know about.” 
It seems that she is one of the proverbial women whose work is never done. “Thank goodness!” concludes this champion of old vines of her continuing quest to find and restore the Cape’s heritage vineyards.
– Lindsaye Mc Gregor