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It's just a guide,
November 2019
Yeah right! Tell that to the South African wine producers which get 4½ stars... or those which get 3 stars and aspire to the bragging rights that 4 stars would give them. The first week in November saw the release of the 40th annual Platter Guide to South African wines, now published under the Diners Club International banner, as it has been for the past few years.
Last month I visited Groot Constantia and wrote about its illustrious history and its place in the Cape Wine landscape today. Dr Ernest Messina is the chairman of the board which oversees the running of this icon winery, and so I chatted to him to find out more about his role there.
A chance encounter with a French wine in Kimberley gave South Africa one of its most legendary winemakers. Thelema’s cellarmaster and patriarch, Gyles Webb started out his professional life as an accountant. He was an article clerk in the ‘70s, when on a visit home, he popped into the local wine store and got a little closer to his destiny with a bottle of Puligny-Montrachet.
Learners from across the country have been given a sneak peek into the world of winemaking through a partnership between the Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé Programme, Stellenbosch University (SU), Elsenburg College and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF). Over the three-day programme learners were exposed to wine and grape sciences and encouraged to pursue careers in these fields.
Academically inclined,
October 2019
In the 70’s, gaining knowledge was a chore. It required effort. Learning meant opening books – and even visiting a library first to find the book you needed. Nowadays it’s just a mouse click away.
Sommelier. It’s a career discussed in articles and a position found in South African restaurants with increasing frequency. Thanks to South African Sommeliers Association and other educators, there’s greater interest notably from younger people in learning about this profession.
On Sunday the 8th of September WoSA hosted the generic wine tasting “Ontdek Zuid-Afrika” in Amsterdam for both professionals and consumers. We had 31 producers participating in the event, showcasing a broad representation of wines from different regions and distribution channels. In collaboration with Perswijn Magazine, we had close to 250 guests attending with the focus on professionals, mainly on-trade and independents.
Most South African wine estates are family-owned, often having been passed down 5 generations or more. However, this is not the case with Groot Constantia, a jewel in the crown of South Africa’s heritage. This magnificent farm is a national treasure that, by a unique parliamentary ruling, is run for the people, by the people, and has managed to glide smoothly over red tape and bureaucracy to still turn a surplus, produce top quality wines and welcome 450 000 visitors each year.
Vergelegen is no ordinary estate. While many farms can claim 300-years of lineage, this sprawling Somerset West estate has the ancient arbour to prove it. Africa’s oldest oak tree presides here, planted in the early 1700s. Its bark is riddled by time, overlapping like bubbly paper mâché, but its spring leaves are green and newborn. Then there are also the five famed camphor trees, gnarly sentinels outside the homestead, which are also believed to have been planted in 1700.
The name Paul Roos is indelibly associated with both rugby and education. Paul Roos, the rugby legend who captained the first South African rugby team to tour Britain in 1906 and named them Die Springbokken (The Springboks), was also an educator and rector of the Stellenbosch boys’ school later named in his honour, Paul Roos Gymnasium.
Being savvy,
September 2019
In a week or so there will be some titanic battles taking place in rugby stadiums in Japan – with New Zealand being South Africa’s favourite foe between the white lines. But a more low-key battle is being fought on the shelves in retailers locally and abroad, one bottle of Sauvignon Blanc at a time.
The decade-old story of Bosman Adama is well-known: a historic wine farm in Wellington where the workers own a 26% share in the farming operation, still the biggest transformation deal in the wine industry today.
Like lashings of creamy, churned butter the yellow canola fields wash over the hillsides of Bot River aka Butter River. The official story of how the region got its name though dates all the way back to 1672, when the San people traded their butter with merchants along the river.
WHITE RHONE VARIETIES,
August 2019
South African winelovers’ attention is focused on Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc among white varieties; all terrific performers, but are we placing self-imposed limitations of diversity by not looking beyond them? Shouldn’t we be more aware of others which aren’t as well-known but are positively making their presence felt? Rhône reds, Syrah and Grenache, have found favour with consumers, isn’t it time their white counterparts, Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne do so as well?
Gnarled, twisted stumpy little vines stuck out between rows of lush bright green cover crop. Here and there was the odd gap or an obviously younger vine being cultivated. Planted in 1952 this block of Chenin Blanc is just one of South Africa’s vinous treasures and is what creates Bosman’s highly regarded Optenhorst Chenin Blanc.
The romantic view of the winelands inevitably includes lush green vineyards, bubbling brooks, neat white cottages and children playing happily in tree-lined country lanes. But life in a developing African country is often far from this idyllic picture.
Cologne/Baden-Baden, July 2019 – South Africa congratulates Maximilian Wilm on winning the "WoSA Sommelier Germany" title. Wilm won the German semi-final of the prestigious Wines of South Africa Sommelier Cup. In an exciting finale, Maximilian Wilm overtook Angelika Grundler and Marco Gulino to gain first place. The 31-year-old works at Kinfelts Kitchen & Wine and is looking forward to participating in the international finals and to visiting the wine regions of South Africa. The successor to Marc Almert, reigning World Champion (ASI) and WoSA Sommelier Champion 2016, will be decided in Cape Town on 21 September.
In the high-ceilinged interior of Neethlingshof Estate, Bennie Howard rises to greet me. A dusty magnum of the estate’s pinotage sits on a shelf, vintage circa 1986. “The 80s are great,” says Bennie referring to the wine. “They age well. It was a good time; we drank a lot of wine!”
Hardly a day goes by without reference, in one form of media or another, to climate change and its effects. Wine growing is increasingly at the heart of this news.
Merlot, as the market knows, is a consumer favourite, beloved by wine drinkers the world over. Except, of course, by Miles Raymond, the depressed, cynical teacher in the movie Sideways!
Jocelyn van der Ross (54) arrived in Franschhoek 15 years ago. As a single mother of 3 she needed to find a way of making a living and fast.
Where the big guns roar. Kanonkop Estate, on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain, in Stellenbosch has a reputation for quality that precedes itself. Like the cannons of days gone by, the message of this wine estate ricochets across the decades as a signal of quality, and as a front-runner of the fine wine movement in South Africa.
The wine world is awash with competitions of all shapes and sizes. Every producer boasts of the awards won on these events, though some are considered of greater value than others. How helpful to exports are such awards and do both local and international competitions carry equal weight?
On Wednesday June 12th, Wines of South Africa in collaboration with Loire Valley wines, organized a seminar for professionals and media in Restaurant Zoldering in Amsterdam. The timing was in line with the upcoming international #DrinkChenin Day.
The dictionary definition of the word spectrum states that it’s “a band of colours, as seen in a rainbow, produced by separation of the components of light by their different degrees of refraction according to wavelength” – or: “used to classify something in terms of its position on a scale between two extreme points.”
Drive through the villages of the Cape Winelands during autumn and you are bound to spot gardens brimming with head high chrysanthemums. It is a beautiful sight and one that inhabitants have been enjoying for over 100 years.
Anybody asking “where Douglas Green” will be pleased to know that he is alive and well, and living in a retirement village in Somerset West. Douglas Green Jnr, son of the man who in 1942 founded one of South Africa’s most famous wine brands, is himself one of the true living legends of the industry.
“My grandmother was a Cloete,” says Carel Nel, owner and patriarch of Boplaas Family Vineyards. He tells me this fact as a reference to our surroundings, the famed and historic Groot Constantia (the estate was home to the Cloetes for five generations).
South African vineyards have spread into some remarkable areas, way beyond the hub of Stellenbosch, since the quota system was discontinued in 1992. Many are tiny and bravely remote and, like the first four below, high lying with a continental climate.
Reflection,
May 2019
The cliché about absence making the heart grow fonder could possibly be matched by one stating that distance provides clearer perspective.
Across the wine farms of the Western Cape, the Pebbles Project is a significant player in the Early Learning Development (ECD) sector. In just short of 15 years, they have established over 50 ECD centres serving 1 700 children across the Winelands, from Citrusdal at the foot of the Cedarberg mountains in the West, all the way out to the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley near Hermanus in the East.
Training and development have long been a priority of the South African wine industry, because of its ability to improve labour efficiencies, transform lives and boost industry competitiveness.
Above the roof of Villiera’s tasting room is a cluster of demijohns filled with a liquid the colour of café au lait. The contents catch the light intermittently as the sun chases the clouds above, filtering down through the surrounding oaks. Cellarmaster Jeff Grier has colloquially called the rooftop assortment “dakwijn” which translates into ‘roof wine’
The land extending over Schaapenberg and up the slopes of the Hottentots Holland, with the peaks of the Helderberg framing it on the other side, has always been beautiful - even before Governor, Willem Adriaan van der Stel was granted Vergelegen in 1700. Then covering an impressive 30 000 hectares, today, it is ‘just’ 3000 ha, 120 ha of which are devoted to vineyards.
Cycle of life,
April 2019
Almost 20 years ago, the Natural History museum in Cape Town’s Company Gardens was an odd choice for the launch of a new wine brand.
The Cape Wine Auction is the prime fund raising event in the Cape Winelands and this year was no exception, raising a whopping R15 359million, over $US1million.
Down a quiet residential street in Stellenbosch you’ll find ‘Château Naudé’, the home of celebrated winemaker, François Naudé. Modernity—in the forms of offices and apartment blocks—have sprung up around the heritage home, a bona fide national monument. François has lived here for 30 odd years. Like summers trapped in bottles of vintages-past, stepping through the doorway of his home invites you into a nostalgic maelstrom. Photographs of family and friends cover the walls, antique furniture gleams darkly in the low light. There’s wine everywhere; from the subject of art and books as well as bottles piled on every available surface to the subterranean cellar that he built himself.
Coming of age,
March 2019
The remarkable ageing ability of South African red wines from the 1940s to roughly end of 1970s has been recognised by both local and, importantly, international tasters over the course of several years. One of the first old wine tastings, which alerted winelovers and winemakers to their quality, was organised by Michael Fridjhon prior to the Trophy Wine Show; it is now an annual event.
Time in harness,
March 2019
Thelema could never be accused of being flashy or ‘in-your-face’... Their way of doing things is always low-key and very personal – which is something that came up for discussion during a small media gathering at the Helshoogte property recently.
UBUNTU IN ACTION,
March 2019
One would think that a black person with a Master’s degree would easily get a job in South Africa, especially in the agricultural sector. But this is not always the case. It took hard work and a little bit of help from a whole lot of stakeholders for Sibongiseni Silwana to finally land a well-paid, challenging job where he can make a difference.
“We’re bringing in the old vine chenin now,” says managing partner and cellarmaster, Kevin Arnold of Waterford Estate. It’s harvest time in Stellenbosch. The low purr of tractors rumble in the distance; and the scent of fermenting grape juice hangs over the Helderberg region like a ubiquitous summer perfume. It was in fact this aroma that first drew Kevin to his vinous vocation back in his student days.
Harvest 2019,
January 2019
As I write it’s nearly mid-February and Harvest 2019 in the Cape is gathering steam. What will it bring? Taking a break from the cellar, a few winemakers tell me their experience so far.
Real time harvesting,
January 2019
Even just a few weeks in, harvest 2019 has been as challenging and engaging as ever. And probably more real and up to the minute than has ever been possible... because of the social media aspect being played out hour-by-hour and day-by-day on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Recently WOSA had a strong presence at Gothenburg´s most important trade show – Sommelierernas Dag. This was a direct effect of the collaboration between WOSA and The Sommelier Association West following CapeWine 2018.
The world’s best sommeliers, arguably some of the most influential voices in the world of wine, visited Cape Town last week under the flag of the International Association of Sommeliers (Association de la Sommellerie Internationale, or ASI). This visit formed part of this global industry body’s strategic session ahead of the 2019 Best Sommelier of the World competition, which will be taking place in Belgium later this year.
There are many, many NGOs, crèches and outreach programmes throughout the Cape Winelands that are each doing amazing work and collectively contributing to the general upliftment and care of the community. However, one such organisation went a little further, extending their services and expertise to other NGOs and so freeing them up to do what they do best.
“It was a beautiful day,” says Cape Wine Master, Allan Mullins. “Just perfect for a braai with some friends. We went to this spot between Llandudno and Sandy Bay. There was this gully where water rushed in and out. We decided to try and jump in time to the water filling it. A friend of mine timed it perfectly.
A BUBBLY START TO 2019,
January 2019
A tasting of Méthode Cap Classique, international bubblies made in the same traditional manner and Champagne, is a great way to start the year.
Assaulting the senses,
January 2019
Erika Obermeyer was chuffed just to be invited... to the Platter Wine Guide launch in November last year. “Obviously, I had more than a sneaking suspicion that one of my wines had received 5 Stars!”
There's been a lot of talk of late about the potential of buying South Africa's fine wines as investments. This is a completely new development, and it's not without its sceptics. But many think the fact that it is being talked about suggests that South Africa's top wines have come of age.
From the 7th to 9th of January Wines of South Africa participated with a stand at the biggest wine trade show in The Netherlands, Wine Professional, in Amsterdam. The interest for quality wines from South Africa has never been so big. This could not only be seen in the number of importers representing South Africa, but also in the number of South African masterclasses that were presented, ranging from Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch wards, to an organic masterclass, wine & food pairing with Kasteel Engelenburg and Women in Wine.
With Shanghai’s stunning Bund as a backdrop one of China’s most important wine writers shared her impressions of her own discoveries of South African wine in 2018.
Glossy coffee table books on wine usually feature rolling vineyards, spectacular cellars and breath-taking country manors. Not this one. ‘The Colour of Wine’ could sit proudly on your coffee table, and attract a lot of interest. It is a beautiful book, about beautiful people. BUT it is not glossy or glamourous. It tells instead the back story of the South African wine industry, the not-so-pretty account of an industry that grew out of colonialisation, through apartheid BUT today is thriving in a ‘terroir’ of restitution, development, entrepreneurship and a certain infectious gutsy-ness.