Doors opening and closing

“Change is the law of life. And those who look to the past or present are certain to miss the future,” – John F Kennedy

Tectonic plates move very slowly, a few centimetres every decade or so. But the impact the slow, incremental movement has once the pressure and forces of obduction or subduction become too great are massive. Volcanic eruptions such as those experienced in the Ring of Fire, the development of mid-ocean trenches or rifts and the earthquakes which send massive tsunamis barrelling over hundreds of kilometres of open ocean, causing widespread flooding when they make landfall are just a few examples.

In the past few weeks there have been some significant movements in the South African wine scene. Most recently, Steenberg GM John Loubser announced his resignation after nearly 17 years to focus solely on his Silverthorn range of sparkling wines. Similarly Tokara announced that cellarmaster Miles Mossop was vacating his position of the past 18 years – also to focus on his burgeoning own label. The sale of Stellenzicht to Ernie Els Wines co-owner, Baron Hans von Staff-Reitzenstein, for a sum rumoured to not leave much change from $10 million means that Guy Webber’s 19 year tenure at the Golden Triangle property has also come to an end. He will remain within the Schreiber family wine fold, making Hill & Dale wines out of the Neethlingshof cellar.

John & Thena 

It’s often said that it takes between four and six years before a winemaker truly knows the quality that his vineyards are capable of producing, given the vagaries of nature and the seasonality of the raw material they have to deal with. So the collective knowledge built up by these three seasoned winemakers over their 17, 18 and 19 years at their various properties is massive.

The full impact of their departures has yet to be felt. At Tokara, Mossop will be assisting with the 2018 harvest in order to give his successor (who has yet to be named) time to find his or her feet. His focus going forward will be to paddle his own canoe, the Miles Mossop range of wines which began in 2004 with the chenin blanc/viognier blend called Saskia and subsequently expanded to include Max and Kika as well as The Introduction range of a chenin blanc and a red.

TOKARA Winemaker Miles Mossop

Since he made the move to management to ride a desk some years ago, Loubser has had a safe pair of winemaking hands in the shape of JD Pretorius, Diners Club young winemaker of the year in 2014 having taken up the reins very successfully. His Silverthorn bubblies began as a sort of garagiste project in 1998 when he was still making sparkling wine under Pieter Ferreira at Graham Beck’s Robertson cellar. Over the intervening years since its 2004 release, the original Green Man MCC has been joined by The Jewel Box and The Genie rosé – and a nice 5 000 case annual production.

Stellenzicht is going to be an interesting one to watch. There has been no announcement yet on what is planned but Webber, who has a deep love for the property and its wines said he genuinely hoped that it flourished under “the new broom effect”.

“I hope that whatever plans they have for Stellenzicht, the winemaker is able to have the same opportunities to grow and learn what these vineyards are capable of as I had. It’s been great for me. I love the place and always will. I just hope that whoever has the privilege of making wine at Stellenzicht loves and cherishes it as much.”

One thing is certain, there will be changes in the respective wineries. Seismic changes such as those wrought by tectonic plates are unlikely but there will definitely be fresh impetus. But isn’t that a reflection of the current state of the South African wine industry, where small and large changes are taking place all the time – to the vineyard makeup and even the opening up of new and exciting viticultural areas, along with new producers?

As Kennedy stated: “Change is the law of life” – and South Africa’s future looks interesting as a result.

-Fiona McDonald