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NASA technology plays part in Vilafont launch

Published:  23 July, 2008

Vilafont, the first-ever South African/Californian joint wine venture, has used NASA technology first employed during the Cold War.

As reported in Harpers last autumn, the project harnesses the talents of South African producer Mike Ratcliffe (Warwick Estate) and the husband-and-wife team of Phil Freese (formerly of Robert Mondavi) and Zelma Long (Simi Winery).

Vilafont comprises two first' wines: Series M, a Merlot-led blend which also features Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc; and Series C, a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blend with small amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. The Vilafont site is in the Paarl appellation in South Africa, and the name is derived from the dominant soil type, known as vilafontes'.

Freese said that the launch marked the beginning of a journey', and went on to explain that NASA techniques were used in the vineyard to measure vine stress levels. He said that in the past, US spy planes would fly over the USSR and take pictures of wheat. If the images showed a potentially poor harvest, the US government would use this as a bargaining chip towards nuclear arms concessions. He added that he was keen to experiment with new varieties such as Petit Verdot, Petite Syrah and Aglianico, but admitted that it was unlikely that a third Vilafont wine would be released.

Ratcliffe, who stressed that Vilafont was an international wine project' and not linked to Warwick Estate, added: One of the strengths of South Africa is its diversity. We [as a country] do have the ability to operate at a high level, yet not produce 100 wines that all taste the same.'

The wines will be available from Handford Fine Wines, Playford Ros Fine Wines and online at Series M will retail for 30 a bottle, and 40 for the Series C