Our virus bad, their virus good?

Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet, from California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, is one of the grandest, most celebrated of New World wines. In the latest edition of the World of Fine Wine there’s a report on the wine, with tasting notes on various vintages from 1964 to 2006, with very few scoring lower than 17. There’s also a photograph of long-time Ridge winemaker Paul Draper “with an old, low-yielding Cabernet Sauvignon vine in the Monte Bello vineyard”, from which I took the accompanying scan.

Can you imagine André van Rensburg, scourge of virus, looking as proud and happy as Paul Draper with a vine this colour before  harvest? Or any South African winemaker? Are there any vines in the Cape as obviously virus-ridden as this? Yet the article and the tasting notes make no allusion to it – let alone to burnt rubber! Can you imagine that happening if this were a report on a Cape wine?

I’m not doubting the problems of virus in South Africa. But why the difference? I’m seriously asking, and I hope someone will give me an answer. If Monte Bello can produce great wine from vines like this, and not have anyone accusing the stuff of tasting like rhubarb juice, why do we need to sneer at even slightly virused vines? Monte Bello’s alcohol levels are lower than those of most top Californians (certainly before they’ve passed through the reverse osmosic machine as so many of them do), but at typically 13-13.5 they’re not exactly advertising unripeness – nor, insofar as I can remember from when I last drank Monte Bello five years ago, do they have a combination of greenness and over-ripeness.

Why can’t we have heavily virused vines producing wines like Monte Bello?

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