I join the SA wine industry in mourning the passing of the much-loved and respected viticulturist, Professor Eben Archer. I believe his roots in research paved the way for the very important contribution he made to South African wine and I hope in remembering him, we will again realise the importance of research.
In today’s fast-paced world we want immediate solutions and in an economically-pressured environment, we often have to focus on the day to day, the top priorities. In the process, we seldom have time or money to stop and think, to be inquisitive, to research and to strategise. Are these signs of the times also true for the South African wine industry?
This week, Decanter magazine announced that Bordeaux winemakers have voted to allow for seven new grape varieties. (Read more) Although France’s National Appellation Authority still has to give final approval, this development is based on the reality of climate change and a solution offered by cultivars developed as early as the 1950’s. Early research and experimentation to find wine grape cultivars with better resistance to disease and heat, bring a solution for today’s challenges.
The SA wine industry has also seen a few unique South African wine grape cultivars developed over the years. In the 1920’s, Professor Abraham Izak Perold of Stellenbosch University developed Pinotage. This cross-pollination of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (Hermitage) was created to keep the taste of Pinot Noir combined with the Cinsaut characteristics better suited to the SA environment. (Read more)
While, today, Pinotage is a recognised wine grape cultivar even planted in small volumes in other parts of the world, there are other, lesser-known, varieties of South African origin developed by Professor Chris Orffer: Chenel, Roobernet and Nouvelle. As a disease resistant white, Chenel with its neutral taste is mainly used in white blends for adding acidity. Roobernet is a teinturer variety with red flesh and juice and it is used in blends to add depth of colour. Nouvelle offers a distinct grassy character – even when grown in warmer areas – and is mostly used to add some of this grassy flavour to white blends.
These cultivars were all developed in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In the fight for survival that is today’s economy and the pressured environment of making and selling wine in South Africa, do we remember the importance of research and development? Will we be able to adjust like Bordeaux or will we wake up one day facing new problems, but only having old solutions?
Research is important regardless of the industry. We all expect the medical environment, technology, etc. to continue bringing better options to the table. Somewhere, without us thinking about it, groups of highly trained individuals are doing research – thinking about the future, strategising to find solutions, experimenting with ideas and options.
Some of wine’s romance is in its history and heritage, but without research and realignment, wine might not have a future. The environment brings new challenges, lifestyles are changing, consumer expectations are higher every day and all of this while worldwide, political uncertainty has an effect on the global economy and the spending power of the consumer.
SA Wine realises this. Vititec is doing an exceptional job in vineyard research – testing and evaluating to find better clones, better resistance, more sustainability. Then there is Vinpro and Winetech, organisations with the varied wine industry’s interests at heart, WOSA focusing on establishing sustainable export markets and SAWIS taking care of data and statistics. But are we doing enough?
Much of our success can be attributed to the trials and efforts of people like Professors Perold, Orffer and Archer. I do believe we share the passion and enthusiasm of these pioneers, but do we have the money, energy, time and resources required for proper research and strategising? Yes, we need action. We need to go out and sell our wines. But, I think, it is indispensable that we also allow ample room and resources for research – in all areas of the wine industry.