There was so much about our trip to South Africa last year that was unexpected, and which I will explore a bit in upcoming posts. But one of the most unlikely encounters was with the grapevine in the central court of our hotel in Cape Town.
We stayed at the stellar Cape Heritage Hotel, which is part of the renovated 18th-century Heritage Square complex. Up against the wall of the hotel’s inner courtyard, a slender vine emerges from the ground and winds its way up to a pergola above a walkway.
Planted in the late 18th century, this just happens to be the oldest known producing grape vine in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a white wine variety, a Crouchen Blanc that originated in the French Pyrenees. The varietal is all but extinct in France due to its susceptibility to disease, but this old vine takes care of its own needs in the courtyard in the middle of Cape Town. And it still produces enough grapes for the hotel owners to produce wine.
Let me say that we have a wonderful grapevine in our own garden in France. It was planted long before we arrived – it’s at least forty years old, and until recently, it produced more delicious red muscat grapes than we could possibly eat in a year. Unlike the vines of our village neighbors, the garden vine never suffered disease and always seemed supremely content to sit alone against our garden wall.
That was right up until a worker dug too close to the roots of the vine and poured concrete before I could stop him. Quelle catastrophe!
I waited for a season, and when the vine didn’t leaf out or prosper, I planted a new vine a short distance away. I didn’t pull the old one, however. You know. Just in case.
Still, much to our astonishment, a year later the old vine regrouped and produced leaves. No grapes yet, but it’s working hard. I’m hoping it can make friends with the new vine down the wall.
All this is to say: Left to their own devices, grapevines are robust, determined, and a joy to behold, not just because of what they produce in the end.
As for the heroic vine of the Cape Heritage Hotel, I toast its tenacity, and the respect given to it by those who helped it survive for 240 years and counting.