For those of a similar vintage as myself, Ronnie O’Sullivan’s victory in the World Snooker Championship earlier this year was a godsend. Directing us away from the siren call of inevitability, his was a triumph against the slings and arrows of outrageous middle age.
At 46 he has just equalled Stephen Hendry’s record of 7 world titles at the Crucible. This in an era where more technically gifted players are playing snooker than at any time in the past, and standards have arguably never been higher. He is the oldest ever world champion, lost only one session in the whole tournament and most worryingly for his rivals, is only getting better. Bar the initial 3 frames of his first match, at no point in the tournament did he even look like losing.
He is the most naturally gifted star the sport has produced. But for those who believe that success can be manifested, John Parrot in the commentary box after the final made a telling point. Ronnie’s cup overflows with natural talent yet he still has the hunger and continues to spend countless hours on the practice tables in solitary defiance, when he could easily retire with his legacy already assured.
By his own admission, he went through a difficult period in his 30s. The proverbial angel with a broken wing, he struggled to live up to his potential, much like Bordeaux in the 70s. (Finally, a reference to wine – Ed)
Fast forward to now, he continues to strive to be at his very best. 30 years into his professional career, this is surely his greatest achievement.
“Vieilles Vignes” or “old vines” are terms we see more and more of on wine labels. While not legally defined, a reasonable starting point is any vine over 35 years old. Like many of us, old vines start to lose productivity at this point. Australia is home to the largest collection, its oldest being a Mourvèdre at over 170 years old in the Barossa valley. There’s even a specially designated “Ancestor” category for those that are over 125 years old such is their proliferation. This is positively adolescent compared to the world’s oldest in Slovenia, still producing the goods at over 400 years of age.
Recent recipient of the Decanter Hall of Fame award, Rosa Kruger, created the Old Vine Project for South Africa in 2016. The first of its kind, it uses detailed planting data and approved wines can retain a ‘Certified Heritage’ seal on the bottle to inform the buyer. An innovative union of Science with tradition
One advantage old vines have is that their roots go deeper. This has the benefit of enabling the vine to be more resistant to climate change, diseases and extreme weather events. Even as productivity dwindles, a more concentrated quality can develop. Properly managed in the winery to get the right balance, they generally represent excellent value.
The journey to old age is also a journey of knowledge to wisdom. Ronnie had all the knowledge and skill to win the UK championship aged just 17. At 46 he has turned this knowledge into deep-rooted wisdom and is now more formidable than ever.
So here’s to old vines; resilient, adaptive and still producing the goods.
- Shane Golden