Single Hit Parade #1

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Most singletons hanker for a committed relationship yet, not long after entering one, can suddenly find they quite fancied the single life. Ancient in Europe, the notion and practice of single vineyard viticulture is relatively new in the Cape. Twelve years ago, before it was even permitted, there were around 100 practitioners – now there are more than 350 registered single vineyards with a concomitant decline in registered estates.

The estate classification also crumbled as a result of natural use-it-or-lose-it laws (largely self-inflicted) and the many exceptions to estate membership the law allowed. The days of the estate are over, a bit like some traditional marriage vows and conventions. Not too dissimilar to single parenting these days are ‘units for the production of estate wine’ and ‘estate wine’ on the label with reference to the wine rather than the property.

There is no such thing as an estate in terms of the Liquor Products Act. What it does contain is a ‘distinctive’ wines classification, which stipulates that the Wine and Spirit Board (WSB) may approve ‘grapes grown on specified land in a district or ward with a view to the production of a distinctive wine of the district or ward concerned’.

Under section 6 (7) (f) of the Wine of Origin scheme the WSB may, as per producer applications, prescribe requirements like specific varieties, cultivation practices, yield (mass and volume) and an indication of quality to which the wines must comply.

Surprisingly, somebody has yet to apply not least because too many of our demarcations comprise man-made rather than natural borders and boundaries, as do so many of the other obstacles to this classification. However, this classification apparently allows a way out of the single variety and 6 ha limitations applied to the single vineyard classification.

The requirements like yield (above) the WSB may apply appear inspired by France’s AOC, which also doesn’t please everybody. However, it has stood the test of time, probably because of the commercial interests it protects and the delicious wine it can produce.

Successful single vineyards do take time – it can take at least a decade to define the characteristics of a vineyard and then another decade to establish how best to interpret them. However, the upside can be worth the wait.

The South African wine industry is having to work very hard at selling more wine to higher price points and single vineyard wines can provide a good few rungs in the ladder to higher profit and sustainability. Outstanding single vineyard wines are a valuable tool in creating a point of difference in an increasingly competitive market.

In Single Hit Parade #2 we talk to some of those who have registered single vineyards to assess how it is working for them and which varieties have preference.

– Jonathan Snashall