Lack of grape security ‘a threat to SA wine’

A lack of grape security is the biggest threat to the future of South African wine, a leading estate producer has said.

The Creation Wine cellar in the Hemel en Aarde Valley, Hermanus, was launched in November 2008 (Photo: Creation Wines)

Creation Wines planted its first vineyards in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Hermanus, in 2002. The estate’s winery was opened in November 2008 (Photo: Creation Wines)

Located in the Walker Bay appellation of South Africa’s Hemel-en-Aarde region, Creation Wines is owned by Swiss winemaker Jean-Claude Martin and his wife, Carolyn. All the wines in its portfolio are made from grapes grown on the estate.

The Martins planted 22 hectares of virgin land in Hemel-en-Aarde in 2002, with the total vineyard area currently standing at 40ha. The Martins recently planted a further 16ha in a bid to consolidate their grape security.

Creation released its first vintage in 2006.

Carolyn Martin explained how, despite a marked upturn in the quality of wines being produced in South Africa and growing international attention on the country’s premium wine output, the supply of top quality fruit was still a concern.

Martin’s comments come amid a growing trend for emerging South African winemakers to produce critically acclaimed wine despite not owning vineyards. Their success is largely dependent on establishing strong relationships with farmers and securing long-term leasing of prized vineyard sites.

Such a working model presents its own challenges, however. Not only is there increasing competition for the best vineyard sites in South Africa, but farmers often choose to replant vineyards to produce more profitable crops.

South African viticulturist Rosa Kruger recently spoke to db about the necessity of protecting the country’s old vines and prime vineyard sites. Kruger has been overseeing a preservation project to protect all South African vines over 35 years old.

Speaking to db in April, she said that the fine wine potential of SA had yet too be fulfilled and that “the best sites in SA were yet to be planted”.

Martin said that she believed the only way to ensure the sustainability of South Africa’s success was to “take control” and establish security of grape supply.

“Let’s face it, if you don’t have amazing fruit you’re not going to make amazing wine,” she said.

“For us one of the things that we’ve been very careful to do, and I think maybe it’s the single biggest threat to South Africa, is to make sure that we have grape security.

“It’s all very well buying in grapes from people, but if you do that you may not have the vineyards that you once wanted to have, because, you know what, you could farm with apples and earn 20 or 30 times the income you would with grapes, so people will pull out vineyards and plant other crops there.

“For us it’s been very important that we have our own grape security, that we take control, that we have chosen this place.

“My husband bought that land because he believed that was the place where he was going to make amazing wine, because it had this wonderful coastal influence, these very ancient soils; we had enough water coming down off the mountain, we had all these wonderful slopes – that’s why he bought that land.

“Now we have just bought another 16ha of land close to us because we believe that we need to control our own grape security and we wanted to control our own viticulture so that we know that we have got the quality.”

South Africa had just under 100,000 hectares under vine in 2014, according to Wines of South Africa. Although close to 4,000ha of new vines were planted in 2014, South African growers uprooted just over 2,000 hectares of vines.

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