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As much as fizz is fun to drink, so it is a highly technical wine to make; Champagne, or Méthode Cap Classique as the style is known in South Africa, is the most intricate. Producing quality MCC, like the bubbles themselves, is a challenge accepted by a never-ending stream of producers; some make nothing else but bubbles. One of the most recent bubbly specialists is Franschhoek-based Le Lude, where super-enthusiastic, fizz fanatic, Paul Gerber (once a maths teacher!) pressed his first chardonnay and pinot noir in 2012.
In praise of longevity,
December 2017
“Nobody ever improved or upped their game because of kind words or praise.”
As a small boy growing up on Simonsig Wine Estate, Denzel was restless. He wanted to see what was out there, he wanted to learn, he wanted to be different and make a difference.
An exciting new Cape wine farm app combines the best of both worlds: convenience and conscience. With GPS-enabled ‘’near me now’’ functionality it shows you nearby ‘’Conservation Champion’’ wine farms.
The clatter of dogs’ paws on polished screed leave an aural wake behind Beyers Truter as he walks to his study on Beyerskloof Wine Farm. It’s a sound that’s followed the Pinotage King most of his life. He can scarcely remember a time when he didn’t have a canine companion. Like characters in an epic tale he tells me all about them from behind his desk.
Highly Recommended,
November 2017
With the excitement of the launch of the 38th edition of Platter’s South African Wine Guide now over, it’s time to have a closer look at what the guide has to offer apart from the five star wines, the individual Wines of the Year as well as Winery of the Year.
Happy travels! Google is your friend... Especially when you can type in: “list of things to do when visiting Cape Town”.
For decades now, South Africa’s wine co-operatives have suffered bad press. They are blamed for fuelling the bulk wine market and lambasted for South Africa’s wines being labelled ‘cheap and cheerful’ by international consumers.
Norma Ratcliffe deftly slices celery in her Cape Town kitchen. She’s just got back from a morning of playing golf, and her pink shirt matches the healthy flush in her cheeks. Norma—founder of Warwick Wine Estate along with her late husband, Stan—is widely known as the ‘First Lady’ of the South African wine industry, as she was one of the first women in the country to make wine. She was also the first woman to become a member of the Cape Winemakers’ Guild and the only one to have served as its chairperson (so far).
Plaudits for improved quality and distinction in South African wine continue to roll in; while specific varieties or blends are most often mentioned, less often are different styles, employing techniques which add to the wines’ individuality.
Comfort zones,
October 2017
If she’d spent her teens in the noughties, Catherine Marshall would have been a skatergirl (or sk8rgurl...) or a dippy hippy chick with flowers in her hair and bells jangling around her ankles if it was in the 60’s!
When looking at the state of education in South Africa it is easy to get overwhelmed by the need and paralysed into inaction. But Partners for Possibility (PfP) has tackled these issues head-on with an ambitious plan that partners business with school principals. Several schools in the Cape Winelands are benefitting from these partnerships.
“I was born on a gold mine,” says wine industry stalwart, David Hughes. The late afternoon sun slides through the blinds of his home study, lighting up the occasional mote of dust as well as the gilded lettering on books in the shelves. Dave has worn many hats throughout his long career—from being a distiller, winemaker, wine auctioneer, international wine and spirit judge to being the founder of the Cape Wine Academy and author of many wine and spirit books.
‘Saturday, 7th September 1985 at 10.00am precisely’ is recorded as the then Cape Independent Winemakers’ Guild first auction of Rare Cape Wines (the ‘Independent’ has since been dropped). Auctioneer. David Molyneux-Berry MW knocked down 17 wines from 13 members at The Rosebank Hotel, Johannesburg. Of those, some have moved to other farms; the only members still on the same farms (all family-owned) are: Jan ‘Boland’ Coetzee (Vriesenhof), Johan Malan (Simonsig) and Jeff Grier (Villiera).
Assessing 5 Stars,
September 2017
Two weeks ago, a group of tasters were standing on the veranda of a Cape Dutch manor house on a Stellenbosch wine farm watching much-needed rain fall while waiting for their next flight of wines to be poured at the annual Platter Five Star tasting.
I arrive at P. C. Peterson Primary School during break. A group of boys is playing a raucous game of soccer and a gaggle of girls is giggling mischievously on a bench. Set amidst towering mountains and lush vineyards, at first glance this scene seems idyllic.
“I could drive a tractor by age six,” says Gerhard “Hempies” du Toit. He’s sitting with his back to the fireplace in the tasting room, his boerboel, Doc, lies at his feet. “It was never a choice. It was the most natural thing in the world for me to go into farming; our family’s roots run deep in agriculture.”
Analysis of success,
August 2017
In this modern age of venture capitalists and support for innovative tech startups, the notion of one person driving from wine farm to wine farm in a VW Caddy, pitching up unannounced and without an appointment, personally asking strangers to pledge R10 000 to start her business seems somewhat far-fetched and homespun if not impudent.
Way back when, cellars would be lined with forbidding rows of tall cement tanks, a walkway with drainage breaking the line; nothing much to inspire thoughts of great wine.
Price me nice ,
August 2017
Is South Africa succeeding in levering itself out of the “cheap and cheerful” bracket with several high-priced super premium wines?
It’s been a year of positive changes happening in the winelands community. With three key arenas for transformation identified; Harm Reduction, Early Childhood Development, and Leadership and Skills, it feels like great strides forward are inevitable. In our previous post, we learnt about how the WTSA skills development programme is elevating the lives and livelihoods of some hardworking individuals. Today, we check out developments at another skills academy; the Pinotage Youth Development Academy (PYDA), as well as paying a visit to an organisation that takes Early Childhood Development to new heights…
If Stellenbosch is the Kingdom of Cabernet, Elgin the Epicentre of Chardonnay–then is Franschhoek the Stronghold of Sémillon? Well, kind of. According to many well-learned palates Franschoek is making South Africa’s best examples. What we do know for a fact is that it’s the region with the oldest sémillon vineyards, with the oldest clocking in at 1902.
Mandela Day 2017,
July 2017
Nelson Mandela International Day was first celebrated in 2009, after the idea was inspired the year before at his 90th birthday celebrations held in London’s Hyde Park.
The Pebbles Project was started in 2004, to help children and families in the winelands farming communities reaching from Somerset West to Stellenbosch, Paarl, Wellington, Citrusdal and beyond. The organisation emphasises education, despite dedicating itself to 5 respective pillars: health, nutrition, community, protection and education. Children simply cannot develop properly without each of these fundamentals. One Monday, we decided to hitch a ride with Hendrik, one of their fleet’s drivers, to experience an average morning on the frontlines of “Project Pebbles”. Arriving on Villiera Wine Estate to meet Hendrik at his van before 8am, it's a curt greet, a handshake and we're off...
After visiting some bright sparks at the Bosman Family Vineyards primary school (Read about it here in PART 1), our investigation into the farm’s ‘community first’ ethos continues. Rita Andreas, a fifth generation worker, leads us past the vineyards to a warehouse bustling with activity. The workers are doing ‘stokkies’; a non-machine form of vine grafting that means workers have income throughout the year. This was Rita’s very first job, many years ago. Her son also followed in her footsteps, before studying winemaking. We ask her about how the farm manages to maintain such an enjoyable work environment. ‘It’s all about communication. On this farm, there’s nothing the farmworkers can’t ask for and talk about with the family… nobody has anything to hide’.
Social upliftment,
July 2017
There’s nothing like a stirring anthem to make one’s heart swell and beat a little faster, to foster feelings of pride. English children’s novelist Enid Blyton would have written about a member of the Famous Five being “proud to bursting!” It’s cheesy but true. That feeling – warm and fuzzy – is sadly not felt or displayed often enough.
In 2008, Bosman Family Vineyards’ made a landmark move. It shared 430ha of prime farming land with the Adama Trust; a trust belonging to its employees. Many of them were 5th generation workers on the farm. In 2009, the brand received Fairtrade status and in 2015, they were named the top Fairtrade wine label at the International Wine Challenge. Many wine consumers, however, still don’t (care to) know the difference that buying Fairtrade makes to the lives of vulnerable people. Meanwhile, super-cynical consumers often dismiss Fairtrade as fairytale marketing. We decided to visit Bosman Family Vineyards, hoping for insight into their methods of community upliftment, to inspire companies and consumers of the future...
“People come to reception and ask to speak to the manager. When I come out to greet them they usually get a big shock,” laughs Ilse Ruthford, CEO of Compagniesdrift, a black empowerment business funded by the Meerlust owners, the Myburgh Family Trust. It is a bottling and storage facility that at any one time is handling the bottling, labelling and freight forwarding for 42 clients and storage of over 2 million litres of wine.
Outwardly, it’s been a year of positive changes in the winelands community. A number of organisations have been opening doors all over the map and none more so than the Vinpro Foundation. This NPO has identified three transformation target arenas; Harm Reduction, within workers’ lives; Early Childhood Development, for the birthing of a fresh legacy; and Leadership and Skills, a key requirement for the workers of today. Vinpro’s Unathi Mantshongo (pictured), believes that, “The industry has to become inclusive on all levels, in order to be competitive and thrive.” With this in mind, we decide it would be a good idea to connect with some people on the frontline of transformation, to see if they have positive things to say...
Looking at the Cape Winelands from above, it’s clear that the stats on Italian varietal plantings are pretty miniscule. Sangiovese comes out tops with 0, 07% of the total vineyard area, while nebbiolo clocks in at a mere 0,02% (vermentino is the latest Italian varietal to take up root in the national vineyard, but more about that later). Zoom in however, and you’ll find that these numbers are as insignificant as their totals. The part Italy plays in the story of South Africa’s winemaking is much more manifold and complex than something we can tot up on our calculators.
Taking a Long View,
June 2017
Nederburg Auction’s first auctioneer, Patrick Grubb MW, set up a Bursary Initiative to help individuals from previously disadvantaged communities working in the wine industry to gain experience in some of the world’s great wine regions.
“Change is the law of life. And those who look to the past or present are certain to miss the future,” – John F Kennedy
While we sang ‘Gaudeamus igitur’ and the graduates wore the traditional cap and gown, that’s where the Oxbridge allusion ended at the annual Pinotage Youth Development Academy (PYDA) in Stellenbosch.
Importers of South African wines can now collaborate in social development projects in the South African wine producing regions, by sponsoring students from their countries to take part in strategic projects. This will enable the collaborators to become involved in re-addressing and correcting historical relationships instigated by earlier European ancestors. This will yield dramatic dividends in the quality of many worker’s lives on wine farms. Visual- and performance-art are international languages which could aid a process of crossing social barriers to develop the formerly unmined socio-cultural assets of the wine regions.
If, like me, you like your wine as dry as your humour the rising popularity of demi-sec sparkling wines can seem a bit puzzling, but there’s no denying the category’s power in the marketplace. Producers have taken notice and are gamely producing these sweet sparklers—and are battling to keep up with demand.
Ex Africa semper aliquid novi. New things are always coming out of Africa, including new styles of wine from South Africa, even when their ‘newness’ is sparked by wines of times past.
In the dark days of apartheid South African wine was an easy target for consumers to show their displeasure for the abhorrent political policy. They (very effectively) withheld their custom and refused on principle to buy South African products.
In the late 70s, mired in political and geographic isolation thanks to the reigning apartheid government, I can remember my Dad venturing out to Stellenbosch on a Saturday morning and stocking up with cases of the likes of Delheim’s Vin Ordinaire. At a restaurant he would order Bellingham Johannisburger with the frozen fried fish on offer, and perhaps a Nederburg red with the ubiquitous steak and chips. Wine farms were few and wine lists were short.
The story of the Black Cellar Club (BLACC) began over a couple of glasses of wine—at least it’s highly probable that it did. BLACC is a communication and networking platform for African sommeliers throughout the African continent, focusing on black empowerment within the wine industry.
It’s 46 years since the late Frans Malan, owner of Simonsig, made the first commercial sparkling wine in the same method as Champagne, calling it Kaapse Vonkel. Nearly 50 years later the style, since 1992 named Méthode Cap Classique, has proliferated.
American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.”
Vintage experience,
April 2017
The interesting thing about wine is that you only get one chance a year to make it. So for the average winemaker, retiring at a normal age, you might get to make 40 or so vintages in your lifetime, unless of course you switch hemispheres in your winter and go to work somewhere else.
In February this year, Fairview’s Charles Back was awarded the 1659 Wine Industry Medal of Honour. The recipient of this award is selected by a panel of wine industry stalwarts and presented to an individual who has created a legacy and played a profound role in the wine industry.
Harvesting the sun,
March 2017
If 'wine is sunlight, held together by water' then surely we should be harnessing the power of the sun to make it, too? In sunny South Africa it seems quite an obvious solution to help wine farms not only reduce their carbon footprint, but to also create a sustainable energy resource, with the added bonus of not being wholly reliant on the national energy grid.
Pinotage – it’s a word that runs easily off the tongue and, thanks to winemakers’ greater understanding of how to get the best out of it, including planting vines in cooler areas, it’s a wine that today runs more easily down the throat.
Discover Wellington,
March 2017
To the casual visitor, Wellington might seem stuck in a time warp. The main drag still sports tired art deco arcades, men’s outfitters and corner cafes, but look beyond that and you will quickly spot the energy and vitality that makes Wellington a treasure trove for the tourist in search of something extra special.
South Africa’s foremost wine charity auction took place over the weekend of 10 & 11 February 2017. Though this isn’t any ordinary wine auction. All proceeds raised at The Cape Wine Auction (sponsored by Nedbank Private Wealth) with no deduction, will be allocated to 22 beneficiaries, which make a profound impact on education and the lives of children in the Cape Winelands. Now in its third year, the Cape Wine Auction broke their own record by raising a staggering R22.3 million.
One of the most popular seminars at Cape Wine 2015 was ‘Listening to the Landscape, the Typicity of our Terroir’, chaired by viticultural consultant, Rosa Kruger.
Chardonnay Masterclass,
February 2017
The world over, Chardonnay is becoming chic again – and South Africa is no exception.
Somewhere between Tulbagh and Ceres lies a wine farm called Waverley Hills. It’s a winery making, well, waves for various reasons, among them for producing award-winning organic wines as well as being leaders in the recycling of winery waste.
If you want to get something done in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley near Hermanus, best to get Creation’s Carolyn Martin in your corner. This dynamo has moved and shaken much in the valley, and it is her we have to thank for meeting the needs of the local farmworkers’ children this year.
Many winemakers are well known through regularly being quoted or written about, not just because they produce good wines. Other winemakers, producing equally good wines, even enjoying an international reputation, are less in the public eye, but are happy to quietly get on with the job at hand. Ntsiki Biyela fits well into that latter category.
Good, Better, Bosman,
January 2017
If you are a wine farmer, the name Bosman Family Vineyards is synonymous with vine cuttings; if you are a wine consumer, Bosman signifies unusual, award-winning wines AND happy workers; if you are a vineyard worker, Bosman Vineyards seems like the dream place to work and live. I got to see why all these interpretations are true, and more.