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Power of Positivity

Dream it, visualise it, commit to it and you’ll be able to realise it. That’s what many a motivational speaker or a best-selling book will tell you.

The South African wine fraternity has desired and dreamed of not just international acceptance but acclaim and respect for years. And it’s becoming increasingly apparent from the amount of coverage being given to the country’s wines that this is happening.

Marketers and wine makers who attended wine shows and exhibitions such as ProWein and the London Wine Trade Fair recently have returned really bullish about South Africa’s prospects. Make no mistake, there are still plenty of challenges with employment equity, land reform, black ownership, price per litre and the drought holding sway. But the level of interest and appreciation continues to grow apace.

In the past month, the Cape’s winelands have been visited by Tim Atkin and Neal Martin – both extremely influential critics. Their respective reports have yet to be written, let alone published but there have been indications on social media that they have (once again) been impressed by what they’ve seen and tasted. Similarly, South African born Master of Wine Greg Sherwood of Handford’s wine in London has made two or three visits, each time publishing positive tasting reports and notes. And a week or two ago, former Wine Spectator European bureau chief and senior editor James Suckling saw fit to publish an extensive report on the state of South African wine.

Neal Martin - Top international wine critics are consistently rating South African wines with positive feedback

Much of the affirmative sentiment is geared to wines which are made in very small volumes but which are shooting the critics’ lights out! There is still a heap of negativity attached to the volumes of wine shipped offshore in bulk at ridiculously low prices. For the industry to benefit average quality and prices of bulk wine need to improve.

Tim Atkin

Over the course of July and August, as a member of the Platter tasting crew, I get to see a few hundred wines across a range of price points, areas and producers: from lovingly hand-crafted small bottlings to unashamedly commercial, large volume wines. These wines are not tasted blind but sighted – and it’s in that process that the changes subtly reveal themselves.

Obviously, until the 2019 Platter Guide is published the ratings remain secret but one observation I feel needs to be made is how the techniques smaller, voguish producers have adopted are beginning to be seen in large volume commercial bottlings!

Years ago organic farmers were viewed with scepticism because of their belief in natural methods of vine cultivation, soil health, weed and pest control ... only for the sceptics to later adopt the same low-intervention methods once they’d seen how well these methods worked. The same goes for (formerly) ‘edgy’ winemaking.

In the fine print of the scads of paperwork accompanying each wine submitted for Platter19, tasters read about skin contact on white wines, oxidative handling, cold-soaks on fruit pre-fermentation, the use of certain percentages of stems, spontaneous natural fermentations rather than mixing up a convenient packet of commercial yeast for the inoculation...

A scant 15 years ago, Eben Sadie and Tom Lubbe were considered cranky mavericks – out on the lunatic fringe. Now there are almost too many to name – Chris and Andrea Mullineux, Adi Badenhorst, Craig Hawkins, Alex Starey, Jasper Wickens, Tremayne Smith, Chris Alheit, Thinus Kruger, Ryan Mostert, Bruwer Raats, Callie Louw.... the list goes on but it’s not a cult of personality: it’s about the articulation of grape and site which takes precedence.

It’s a point of pride for winemakers to express differences in terroir using a single grape. Witness what’s happening with Chenin Blanc s an example of this. And that’s before considering the fun winemakers are having with old vine fruit or long neglected vineyards of Verdelho, Grenache Blanc and Noir, Cinsaut and Semillon!

All of these techniques and blends have been driven by this new wave of producers – and it’s fantastic to see that the “old dogs” of the local wine fraternity are learning “new tricks”. As an industry, the country benefits from all the upbeat sentiment – something long dreamt and talked about.

Cape Wine 2018 is less than two months away and the anticipation is growing. It’ll be interesting to look back and reflect on what buyers, writers and critics have to say after having attended.

- Fiona McDonald