Ageing gracefully

by | Jul 1, 2016 | Production

AgeingAwareness needs to be created around the value of keeping old vines in the ground, but is this sustainable for producers?

Wine made from old vines has recently become a unique South African niche and hot topic among international pundits. Viticulturist Rosa Kruger is regarded as the Mother Theresa for old vines and has devoted the past 10 years to sourcing fruit from and documenting old vines.


Rosa is passionate about her pursuit. “These vines are a part of our heritage and need to be preserved,” she says. “That alone should be creating a huge hype around old vines in terms of adding value.” Rosa’s viticultural journey has taken her to some of the oldest vineyards in the country, like the 1900 Cinsaut from Wellington.

“If producers aren’t paid enough for their grapes, they’ll uproot the vineyards and plant alternative crops that will be more profitable,” Rosa says. Quoting recent statistics, she says the discrepancy in profit margins made by producers in the various regions is a serious concern. “Only 8% of producers in Stellenbosch are making a profit and if the trend continues where producers replace vines with citrus and other fruits, we won’t have any old vines left in 20 years.”

VinPro economist Andries van Zyl says producers are always criticised for uprooting old vineyards, but people don’t realise what it takes to invest in a block that’s not profitable. “Winemakers are all raving about Cinsaut and the quality of grapes, specifically from old vines, but producers will pull it out if it’s not profitable,” he says. If the average trade price is R2 800 per ton, producers won’t make a profit unless they’re pushing out more than 15 tons a hectare to cover their operational costs. The table herewith illustrates two old-vine scenarios, where the price per ton is R2 800, R7 000 and R12 000 based on industry averages.

“When one looks at the dry-land scenario, if a producer gets R12 000 per ton, with the current costs of direct farming on scenario 3, the margins would be positive, but is the winemaker going to pay that much?” Andries asks.

Scenario 1

Price per ton: R2 800

Tons sold: 15

Net farm income: R635

Scenario 2

Price per ton: R7 000

Tons sold: 6

Net farm income: R365

Scenario 3 (Dryland)

Price per ton: R12 000

Tons sold: 3

Net farm income: R6 515


“In California the price of grapes is relative to the price of wine. If a wine cost R100, that number is multiplied by 100 and the winemaker will pay R10 000. This model is not exactly applicable in South Africa, but the fact is price of wine should correspond with price of grape,” Rosa says. With this marketing approach it benefits producers to keep old vines in the ground, especially when you consider the cost of some of wines made from grapes from these vines. “We’re in the process of listing vineyards that are older than 35 years and ensuring that the term “old vines” is marketable and used appropriately by producers on the label of wines made from them.”

To prevent all and sundry from jumping on the bandwagon, Rosa says guidelines need to be in place to justify using the term “old vines”. ”We need to engage the Wine and Spirits Board on the legal aspects of using the term “old vine” on a label or in a marketing campaign. It should be limited to wines made from certified old vines, where age and single vineyard principles are applied in accordance with the “wine of origin” scheme’s dictates.”

The I Am Old project aims to:

  • Locate and document vineyards older than 35 years.
  • Locate and document vineyards older than 35 years.
  • Create a marketing platform for wines made from old vines.
  • Increase awareness of South Africa’s old vines.
  • Produce a certification scheme for old vines.
  •  Ensure the farmer gets paid a fair price for his grapes.

To register your block:


Rosa Kruger



Article Archives


Search for more articles

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

Stay current with our monthly editions

Share This
Shopping cart
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping