As in all art, nothing can ever be perfect in the wine world. But Alto Estate does come impossibly close.
Location, yes. Alto lies on the slopes of Stellenbosch’s Helderberg, one of the patches of God’s earth that manages to combine spine-tinglingly magnificent scenery with geography and geology that is ideal for the growing of grapevines. It is mountain granite from the Cape’s Fold belt that has been ground down over the past 1,5 million years, iron-rich and red and rocky, and lovely soil for wine vines to get stuck in. Continue reading →
A startling statistic was stashed away in the recent Vinpro State of the Industry report for 2018. With regards to the South African wine market, 85% of all wine sold in the country – retail – was flogged at price-tags of below R48 a litre. Sure, here in the ivory tower of wine writing, competitions, shows, twitter-missives and reams of informed opining there are howls of collective laughter at any wine daring to command below R45 a bottle. Showing just how out of touch industry commentators are with what is actually happening in the market.
Just in time for the revived focus on Stellenbosch’s deserved reputation as one of the world’s great addresses for Cabernet Sauvignon, that formidable piece of wineland real estate Vergelegen comes-up with two wines underscoring the region’s status as Cabernet Kingdom in the industry’s Game of Thrones. And vying for the ultimate throne, along with Abrie “Jon Snow” Beeslaar from Kanonkop and Neil “Jaime Lannister” Ellis, must surely be the Night King, also known as André van Rensburg of Vergelegen. He’s just released a new range of single vineyard wines, led by two Cabernet Sauvignons, and they are truly worth taming dragons, tossing dwarfs and beheading neighbours for.
Burgundy breaks you, and I am broken. Slowly, though, just beginning to pick-up the pieces after a head-on collision with the power and the beauty, totally seduced by the devilish-angelic allure of one of the greatest producers from the world’s most revered wine region.
The Cape Winelands’ Indian summer has been heated-up by some frenetic political activity, this being an election year and all. We have had Black First Land First (BLF) folk attempting to occupy Durbanville wine farms, apparently wishing to contribute to the thiol compounds in the Sauvignon Blanc. Those charming ladies from Women on Farms (WOF) marched outside Paarl to object to the eviction of a former cellar worker who had been legally booted-out from an abode that was not his.
This was followed by the WOFs staging a sort of protest at the Stellenbosch Wine Festival which was held at the Waterfront, although this demonstration could more than likely have been fuelled by the nearby KFC having run-out of Chutney Crunch Rounders.
And then this week President Cyril Ramaphosa rolled into Stellenbosch to schmooze a selected array of local farmers, winemakers, businessmen and retired golfers. He had obviously been watching reruns of the Ridley Scott epic move Gladiator where Maximus was told to get the crowd on his side to prevent things going awry, thus the Pres turned on the kind of charm one normally finds pasted on PR consultants wishing to be #hashtagged during wine events.
No land-grabs. Yes, the ANC recognises the importance of the wine industry as a part of South African agriculture ensuring food-security (kudos, Sir) and I, Cyril, personally know the bureaucratic frustrations you guys go through, because I am, too, a farmer. Cape buffalo and long-horned cattle, that is.
The audience clapped, smiled, cheered and beat on empty spittoons.
Neither myself nor my editorial staff were present, but if so the President would have been asked to address the following wine industry related issues:
·Bring Your Own wine to restaurants should be classified a Basic Human Right. This will not only democratise the wine-selection process by ending dictatorial down-speak to customers, but will reinvigorate the vinous retail sector. This is shrinking as in 15% annually. And by not having to fork out another 350% on the inflated wine-list price, restaurant diners will have more to spend on culinary sustenance, leading to an all-round improvement on nutrition and health, which is also a basic human right.
·Make Pinotage the national plant of South Africa. Look, we all like the sight of a protea growing in the wild. But due to the fact that taking a walk among the Cape Winelands’ floral kingdom is these-days about as safe as going to buy a Gatsby in Lentegeur after midnight, most of us can no longer relate to a protea or any other flower growing in the wild. Everyone knows Pinotage, it is a plant created by a proud South Africa in Izak Perold and its multi-edged leaf and tight grape-bunch is aesthetically pleasing. Also, our national cricket team can seamlessly be converted from Proteas to The Red Leafs, while the lady hockey players could be called The Bushvines. The time is now, Mister President.
·Make it mandatory for a national minister of agriculture to learn where the Cape Winelands are, what a grape looks like and that wine is a product of soil, tenure and human endeavour deserving of understanding and support. It provides employment to 300 000 people and is of even more economic benefit to the Western Cape than the Botox, spray-tan and Italian motor-car industries – combined. The superior quality of this thing called wine has endeared South Africa to the international world (outside of Lesotho and Swaziland, even) and wine is a fine thing with which to promote the image of a country and its people. Upon learning this and other valuable insights, a minister of agriculture could at least recognise this part of the South African sector over which he, currently, presides.
·Go wild in promoting a Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon campaign in the United Kingdom, as in now. Fly all relevant winemakers out on your government jet, transport them from the Hebrides to Cornwall to introduce the UK to the brilliance of our Cabernets. This indoctrination will ensure that, come October and Brexit happens, the Brits will be less traumatised, not having to pay 30% more for Bordeaux than they are currently doing. The knowledge that Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon has the depth, complexity and personality to compete with the Left Bank’s best – at 20% of the price – will lead to a stratospheric demand for South African wine, as well as calming the folk from Blighty after the hysteria of Brexit they have been exposed to.
·State Capture is all the buzz, but you are now requested to deploy some Cellar Capture. Former president Jacob Zuma has, apparently, installed an enviable wine cellar in his Nkandla compound, just above the vault used to hide Gaddafi’s cash and to the left of Big Dadda’s Underground Love Room. With the help of those Indian bon vivants The Guptas, this cellar has been well-stocked with thousands of bottles including old Constantia sweet wines, an array of vintages from Meerlust, Kanonkop, Thelema and Le Riche, as well as a mint case of GS Cabernet 1968 and a few bottles of KWV Muscadel 1953. It is vital to relieve Nkandla of these treasures, and bring them back to where they belong, namely the Parliament Wine Cellar.
And then, Mister President, through regular visits to this Parliament Cellar you will realise of what you are sitting in the South African wine industry, and that is a national treasure.
Despite being in the profession of having to write copious tasting notes and other wine marketing material, I have always considered wine and food recommendations to be patronisingly prepared with just a hint of arrogance. For who am I, or a winery or a food and wine writer to suggest that a certain dish should be “paired” (Christ, I hate that word) with a glass of something that apparently forms a perfect match?
The Barraida region of Portugal is rugged in its desolate greenness, knots of pine-trees perched on hill-tops overlooking vineyards snaking down the slopes. During the wet winters and warm summers hardy, broad-faced people farm the vines and the cabbages, the beans and the pigs – the latter generating Barraida’s status as suckling-pig capital of the world. Offering crispy-skinned and sweet-fleshed sustenance to the hungry and tired travellers crossing the province during the long trip north from Lisbon.
The late Chris Hellinger was about as colourful a character as one could hope to find among the wine-farm owners in the Cape Winelands. Among his life’s achievements, about which one could write an impressive, vivid and action-packed book, was the overseeing of Chamonix – a farm he purchased in the mountainside of the Franschhoek Valley – becoming a piece of premier wine turf.
A culinary disaster in one of Germany’s major cities has been laid at the door of representatives of the South African wine industry. The north-western city of Düsseldorf has for the first time in its history experienced a chronic shortage of schweinshaxe, a local staple dish of roasted pork ham hock – and now city fathers are fingering the South African delegation to the city’s annual Prowein International Wine Exhibition.
According to Manfred Varkvölen, owner of the restaurant Das Essen in downtown Düsseldorf, extra supplies of schweinshaxe are brought into the city for Prowëin, as the thousands of visitors from over 120 wine countries have shown a particular liking for this roasted piece of pig’s foot, a pinnacle of German gastronomy.
“This year, however, I and the whole street of restaurants around me was cleaned out of schweinshaxe by Monday afternoon, the second day of Prowein,” a distraught Varkvölen told the WineGoggle News. “And it was the South African party who showed relentless destruction of our schweinshaxe stocks, at Das Essen as well as in the whole region. Usually the Georgians and Ukrainians clear us out, but never to this extent.”
Varkvölen said the pork-hungry South Africans had cleared out two days’ stock in a matter of hours, resulting in fury among his local German clientele popping-in for the traditional 2-for-1 Monday Night schweinshaxe special.
“Don’t they have pork in South Africa?” he asked. “It was a sight of culinary devastation. All eating and drinking, and waving green shirts with signs of the springbok on them. Singing some songs, too and laying into the haxe. I had winemakers from a region of Robertson ordering three haxes a piece and a party from Stellenbosch took home take-way hocks after devouring one each. It was crazy, not even the German army who survived the Siege of Stalingrad were this hungry. After the South Africans, all that remains in my restaurant are two half-full jars of mustard, a cabbage and two empty bottles of pear schnapps.”
Bettina Wulpskuchen, president of the Düsseldorf Culinary Society, said that the city looks forward to welcoming the wine world to Prowëin each year.
“But like all our foreign visitors we have a number of requests, ja: Do not laugh at the lederhosen or make jokes about Angela Merkel’s hair-style. No mentioning of Brexit. And don’t eat all the schweinshaxe,” she said. “Those familiar with German cuisine will know that we don’t have much exciting to choose from, with the haxe being a favourite among locals as it is among those visitors to Prowein. Now that the South Africans have cleared out the haxes and we are waiting for more pork, I and the rest of the city have to live on currywürst and sauerkraut until next week. Think about that for a while.”
A representative from Grapes of South Africa (Gosa) defended his countrymen and women at complaints dissing their appetite for haxe.
“Prowein is a highlight on the international wine calendar, and our industry supports this show with great enthusiasm,” he said. “We have always appreciated the warm hospitality and generous humour of the local inhabitants of Düsseldorf, with the offerings of schweinshaxe being an integral part of it all. We can, however, in no ways be held accountable for the shortage of roasted ham hocks, however, and this is one aspect about which the South African industry is not prepared to show any guilt or remorse.
“We have a go-big or go-home approach, and in this instance it was just big man, just big.”
At an urgent EU meeting yesterday to discuss the unfolding situation in Düsseldorf, it was decided that France and Portugal will be air-lifting emergency supplies of pork hams to Germany to offer some relief.
“This while the South Africans go home to their lamb and beef barbecues,” said Varkvölen. “They left us in crisis, but I’d admit they also left behind some very good wine. But what is all this Pinotage without a schweinshaxe to enjoy it with? Nein, nichts.”
There was a collective groan from certain wine industry insiders in January when South African liquor behemoth Distell announced the formation of an affiliate to take care of the upper-end of its wine business. Under the name of Libertas Vineyards and Estates, a stand-alone company has been put in-place to corral ubiquitous Distell brands such as Alto, Pongrácz, Nederburg, Chateau Libertas, Durbanville Hills, Zonnebloem and Plaisir de Merle into an entity tasked with focussing on the corporation’s premium wine offering.
But as the true vision of the new Libertas entity begins to take shape, it appears as if Distell’s wine strategy has reached a maturity and inclusivity sorely missed over the past few years.