Changing of the Guard

Tourism is “a nice little earner” for the United Kingdom and one of the biggest drawcards is anything to do with the Monarchy. Kings, Queens, Princes and Princesses are so anachronistic nowadays that there is a fascination with the relics of history: Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, the Tower of London, the Crown Jewels are all thronged with eager tourists. One attraction combines pageantry, martial music and precision: the changing of the guard.

In the peak summer months the changing of the guard ceremony is held at the bottom of the splendidly broad Mall, where a haughty marble Queen Victoria glares balefully at the throngs all gathered to catch a glimpse of the guardians of Buckingham Palace as they march, wheel, stomp, present arms, salute and then finally clomp back to barracks.

Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays there is a rigid timetable maintained. 10h43 Old Guard leaves St James Palace; 10h57 New Guard leaves Wellington Barrack; 11h00 is the official start time; 11h10 St James’ Palace relief leaves Buckingham Palace; 11h25 Relieved sentries leave St James’ Palace; 11h40 Old Guard leaves Buckingham Palace; 11h45 St James’ Palace guard leaves Buckingham Palace.

It’s a well co-ordinated thing of beauty, carried out with the accuracy and exactness which the Brits are renowned for. Yet when there is a changeover at wine farms in South Africa, it’s usually of the revolving door type; as one cellar jockey leaves, another takes his or her place.

There is seldom – if ever – any fanfare, other than that of a prosaic welcoming the newcomer taking up the reins. Which is why the recent winemaker switch at Stellenbosch’s De Morgenzon (DMZ) property has been so unusual. Winemaker since inception Carl van der Merwe is off to pastures new, the Okanagan valley in British Columbia. Stepping into his shoes is Adam Mason, formerly of Mulderbosch.

The two men got to spend a month in each others’ company, with Mason admitting in a touching Zoom meeting facilitated by Van der Merwe and DMZ owner Wendy Appelbaum at the end of May, that it was the first time in his long career that he’d ever had a handover. “It’s been a rare privilege to walk the vineyards and taste the barrels with Carl. He’s tried to synthesise and stuff 10 years of accumulated knowledge into me in a month! My brain is blown,” he quipped.

Carl van der Merwe and Adam Mason toast to a new era at De Morgenzon

In fact Appelbaum shared how, after a few seasons of having had their wine produced by a few consultant winemakers, that the time came to appoint a permanent winemaker to take charge of the new winery.

“It came down to a final two choices once the whole process had been maintained – and I finally get to give the other guy on the shortlist his chance!” she admitted, while jokingly apologising for keeping Mason in the waiting room for 10 years.
Van der Merwe spoke graciously about how much he’d appreciated the opportunity to establish De Morgenzon’s reputation, something he has done with aplomb. Few would argue that this Stellenboschkloof showpiece does not deserve its place in the front rank of South African wineries, renowned worldwide for the quality of its Chenin Blanc primarily but also for Chardonnay and Shiraz.

The pressure was squarely on Van der Merwe’s shoulders from the get-go because DMZ announced its presence with a Platter 5-star Chenin Blanc in its first vintage! And the same holds true for Adam Mason – not that he’s any stranger to stepping into large shoes having taken over from Ross Gower at Klein Constantia and Mike Dobrovic at Mulderbosch.

His answer to my question about plotting a trajectory at DMZ was suitably pragmatic, of the ‘steady as she goes’type but he did admit that he intends to refine the property’s terroir-focussed offerings, something he accomplished with success at Mulderbosch.
The final words from the departing winemaker were obviously heartfelt gratitude and genuine affection for the Appelbaum family but also advice to his successor: “I once had the pleasure and privilege of working for an old Italian man who told me that you never work FOR people, you work WITH them – and that has been my experience at De Morgenzon.”

Adam Mason taking over the reins

Fiona McDonald