6 May 2020

Leave Mother Nature in Charge | Old Vines in South Africa

As the world faces completely unprecedented times and learns to overcome new challenges, we at Bellingham commit to continually crafting exceptional wines while prioritizing the well-being and safety of our entire team. As we find ourselves spending more and more time indoors and sharing wine with our nearest and dearest, we want to discuss the value of being patient and leaving Mother Nature in charge.

When it comes to the vineyards, nowhere is it more clear in allowing nature to run its course than with Old Vines. If you haven’t heard the term ‘Old Vines’ yet, best prepare to start hearing it more and more as the conservational concept burgeons in popularity across South African wineries. This month, we explore the roots of this novel concept, why it matters and how you can support the concept.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

To bring you up to speed, a South African Old Vine Wine qualifies for this auspicious title if the wine is from a vineyard that is 35 years or older. At the moment, less than 4% of South Africa’s total vineyard area (85% of which are tied up in the co-op system) qualify for ‘Old Vine status’.

Besides looking gnarly and rather weather-worn (a sight of beauty in our eyes!), the real reason these older vineyards are worthy of preservation is due to their established root systems, which require far less irrigation (a massive benefit for the drought-ridden Winelands). In truth, the vines have made themselves at home in the vineyard, and are typically all in far greater natural balance than younger vines. For example, the vines are much hardier, and comfortably withstand years of hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters. They are actually best left to their own devices and don’t require much vineyard maintenance. Yet, amazingly enough, they still produce fruit that has great structure, concentrated flavours and beautifully developed aromas. Put simply, old vines make fantastic wines and honour our viticultural heritage.

It is important to note that “Old Vines” wines are not necessarily better than wines from young vines. Rather, they are different – in everything from texture and complexity to clarity, palate weight and length. In fact, it has been said that they tend to reflect the site where the vines have been for decades, and not necessarily the variety.

Of course, growing and producing Old Vines doesn’t come without its downsides. Since the vines are older, they produce less fruit e.g. have a lower yield. Therefore, the price is more likely going to be higher, as it is an expertly crafted wine available in much smaller quantities. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the premiumisation of South African wine is helping establish a better market perception locally and abroad, showcasing, for the first time, that South Africa is capable of producing excellent quality wine and knows their value.

THE OLD VINE PROJECT

While not new to the world of wine, the concept of ‘Old Vines’ is relatively new to the local wine industry, having grown in prominence thanks to the efforts of respected viticulturist Rosa Kruger and project manager André Morgenthal, who created the Old Vine Project (OVP). As all good things worth exploring, the Old Vine Project started with a question: “Where are the old vines in South Africa?”

While Rosa worked on the project for almost two decades, the Old Vine Project formally launched in 2016. Today, there are over 70 members, with the shared mandate to save and preserve South African vineyards.

Importantly, in 2018, the Certified Heritage Vineyard seal was created, a seal which certifies that the wine is made from vineyards of 35 years and older. The seal is creating a new “Old Vine” marketing category and causing a welcome wave of interest from wine producers and drinkers alike.

The aim of the Old Vine Project is to better preserve old vines by creating awareness around them and introducing people to their heritage.

For more info visit: https://oldvineproject.co.za/

A TASTE OF HISTORY

As always, the best way to support the OVP project is by purchasing a wine that carries the OVP seal.  At Bellingham, we are proud that our Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2007 was one of the first wines to refer to ‘Old Vines’ primarily on the front label. This was well before the now established seal, and continues Bellingham’s long history of innovation and celebrates what our brand has become famous for.

With Autumn in full swing, we are indulging in fuller-bodied white wines that are able to stand-up next to richer fare. One such fine example is our most food-friendly Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc wine.

The grapes for this celebrated wine are from 3 exceptional Chenin Blanc vineyards aged between 35 and 47 years. These low yielding old bush vines grow in soils that are predominately weathered granite, and produce fruit with rare complexity, stellar acidity and balance.

Once the grapes arrive in the cellar, they are carefully hand-harvested at 24°Balling and are pressed in whole bunches before single-lot fermentation. In order to capture that sought-after rounder and smoother mouthfeel, the wine is wood matured for 12 months in 50% new French oak and 50% second fill barrels with extended lees contact and regular batonnage for richness and added depth and dimension.

According to Bellingham’s Head Winemaker, Richard Duckitt, the 2020 Vintage of Chenin Blanc is already looking very promising. “We have been experimenting with natural ferments in our Chenin Blanc this harvest. In fact, we have moved over in quite a big way by fermenting everything naturally. This is great, as we have seen in previous years that the best wines were from our natural ferments. So this year, we decided to do this on a much larger scale, using no yeast for any of our Old Vine wines. I have to say that the wines just have the most amazing mouthfeel and roundness. It is a very slow fermentation, I still have some lots fermenting now, but the benefit on the palate is worth it,” shares Richard.

This May, we invite you to indulge in our special Bellingham Old Vine Chenin Blanc 3-Pack. Thanks to the wine’s subtle oak spice, natural fruitiness, beautiful minerality and creamy butter undertone, it is a perfect pair with roast chicken, honey glazed ham or a warm slab of cornbread served with Cauliflower Soup.

Bellingham Old Vine Chenin Blanc

On the eyes: Luminescent gold wine

On the nose: Fleshy peach, passion fruit, honey melon, papaya and pineapple fruit aromas

On the palate: Powerful yet balanced on the palate with discernible, yet seamless and subtle spicy oak complexity.

Delicious with: Roast chicken, ham, soup, duck or even pasta dishes

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