After an exhilarating first day at the Cape Wine 2012, Professor Alain Deloire from the Department of Viticulture and Oenology at the University of Stellenbosch, kicked off a fascinating seminar on “A passion for old vines”.
On a academic level an old vine could be defined as an old woody structure consisting of roots, a trunk and arms. The aspect that distinguished it as an old vine however, is the fact that such a vine is “full of memory”.
On a genetic level, the old organs on such a vine, are not only able to annually give birth to new leafs and berries, but miraculously also pass on its “memory” to these new organs.
It is this “memory’ that makes old vines so precious. In a sense, old vines will after years of being cultivated in a specific site, become at home that environment. They will adapt themselves to a specific climate, soil and people. This will then be stored in their “memory”.
European producers and even consumers have been aware of this for centuries and because of this a strong relationship exists between the perceived quality of a wine and the age of the vines. Older vines are simply seen as producing better quality wine and are equally true for both red and white varieties. This quality aspect is founded on the fact that an old vine has an established root system.
The European producers are also in the habit of isolating buds containing the “memory” when and where ever old vines are discovered. This genetic material are then used to transfer the “stored” memory to new vines.
In a country where vineyards are being planted for production “runs” off between 20 and 25 years only, such an approach to old vines asked for a serious mind-shift.
Can this be to tall an order and to big a dilemma for an industry so focused on just keeping the boat afloat on an ever changing global economic ocean?