The Winemakers on a Mission to Protect South Africa’s Oldest Vines

Old Vines in Wellington Basson Vineyard, South Africa
An image of Old Vines in Wellington Basson Vineyard, South Africa. / Photo by: Danie Nel

Old vines are a special kind of wine-world treasure. But with varying global definitions of what constitutes an old vine, it’s not always easy to know a site’s full lifespan and story.

In South Africa, the Old Vine Project (OVP) aims to remedy any confusion through the registration of sites that are 35 years or older as Certified Heritage Vineyard. When a wine is produced from one of these sites, its label carries a seal and lists the year the vineyard was planted.

According to 2020 figures from SA Wine Industry Information and Systems (SAWIS), South Africa has approximately 9,125 acres of vineyards aged 35 years or more across various regions with a variety of soil types. Of the more than 80 Certified Heritage Vineyards in South Africa, 10 are more than 100 years old.

Old Vines Cultivate Pride and Profits at New World Wineries

One such site, Basson Vineyard, in the Wellington Wine of Origin (WO) appellation, is the oldest certified red-wine vineyard in South Africa and one of the original OVP Certified Heritage Vineyards.

Just under a hectare, or less than 2.5 acres, the vineyard was planted to Cinsault in 1900. It was one of the first sites to be replanted after the Phylloxera outbreak. Its gnarly bush vines are rooted deep into the site’s Table Mountain sandstone alluvial soils.

Since 2014, Andrea and Chris Mullineux of Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines take care of this special site.

When they began to work the site, the vineyard was underperforming, even considering its advanced age. However, years of care and rehabilitation by the Mullineuxs proved advantageous. The most recent harvest from the 2021 vintage yielded 3.8 tons, compared to half a ton from their first harvest.

The grapes produce earthy, minerally wines of structure and ample rich-fruit characteristics. The limited harvest was initially used only in the Mullineux’s Leeu Passant Dry Red blend, which was first released from the 2015 vintage, but, since the 2017 vintage, the site now also enjoys its own single-vineyard showcase in the Leeu Passant Basson Vineyard Cinsault bottling.

Published on November 1, 2021
Topics: South Africa