Yes, the World Cup is just days away. And as you gather with friends to watch the games, you likely will be inspired to do some tastings of the very reputable S. African wines. After all, their vineyards are some of the oldest under cultivation.
A novelty that hasn't been lost on the nation's baboon population!
Taking the notion of "critter" wines to an altogether new level, South African vineyard managers have to outsmart and outmaneuver a pest of the monkey variety...turns out baboons find the sugar and starch of grapes altogether irresistible! They particularly go in for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
Here's what's been reported in the popular press:
Baboons, it seems, prefer pinot noir. They also like a nice chardonnay. Largely undeterred by electric fences, hundreds of wild baboons in South Africa's prized winelands are feasting on ripe, succulent grapes, forcing winemakers to use noisemakers and rubber snakes to try to drive them off during this harvest season.
"The poor baboons are driven to distraction," said Justin O'Riain, who works in the Baboon Research Unit of the University of Cape Town. "As far as baboons are concerned, the combination of starch and sugar is very attractive – and that's your basic grape."
Growers say the picky primates are partial to sweet pinot noir grapes, adding to the winemakers' woe, for pinot noir sells for more than the average merlot or cabernet sauvignon.
Wine Spectator's Harvey Steiman has even gone so far as to report that South African vineyards are now training baboons to harvest the grapes. So if you plan on lending a hand during crush, you might just find yourself harvesting side-by-side with a few brethren baboons...
It turns out that the baboons are actually being trained to harvest the grapes themselves (the trick is keeping them well-fed so that they don’t do any on-the-job snacking). It’s all part of the latest viticultural movement known as FaunaDynamics, in which human labor is all but eliminated in the vineyard. Zoologists at the San Diego Zoo claim their 100 percent FaunaDynamic teaching vineyard will be online by 2014 (rhesus monkey-directed draft horses have just completed plowing a 4.1-acre parcel). Peregrine falcon nests surround the vineyard to protect it from grape-hungry starlings, and several of the zoo’s primates have been sent to the Cape to learn harvest methods from Stellenbosch’s simians. Not surprisingly, PETA has already announced plans to protest the first harvest.
If you'd like to drink some of the wines made from the grapes the baboons go in for, we suggest starting with these:
Quoin Rock [Excerpted from The Wine Doctor]
The Quoin Rock winery is located in Stellenbosch where the climate is continental (warm and dry summers, cool winters), although Carl van de Merwe was keen to stress that the summer temperatures are hot rather than merely warm. He clearly has no problems with ripeness of fruit, although he has had challenges protecting the sugar-rich fruit from the local baboon population prior to harvest; the marauding monkeys have a habit of responding to the sweet aromas of ripeness with a pillaging of the vineyard. The solution has been to install electric fences to protect the harvest and vines.
There were three wines on show from Quoin Rock, including recent vintages of the estate's Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The Sauvignon Blanc is mostly fermented in steel, with a minor portion fermented in barrel. The wine is left on its lees for six months before bottling, the intention being to engender a fuller, more creamy mouthfeel. The Chardonnay meanwhile is 100% barrel-fermented, with 30% of the oak new in this vintage. The third wine was a 2004 Syrah.