To quote my late English teacher, Mister Struthers-Boshoff, “you is what you is, not what’s you thinks you are”. The folk of Wellington in the Western Cape might speak better English – these days – but the fact remains the same: Wellington has long deserved independence as a wine region from neighbour Paarl, to which it was linked via ward status until this year. Because the region knows what it is and knows it can stand on its own two legs.
Although Wellington’s push for independence – carefully actioned by the delicate force of former Springbok rugby player Schalk Burger – may have been egged-on by the general confusion and regional inactivity of Wine of Origin Paarl. As a united regional entity, Paarl is fast becoming about as relevant as a rare foie gras at a vegetarien love-in.
Wellington has a physical make-up of its own. The searing heat of summer is offset by cold, wet winters with the vineyards exposed to the teeth of the Cold Fronts blowing in from the north-west. Together with the climate, mountain soils and elevated sites, the region offers a diverse and unique spectrum of terrains which clearly show in the wines. You do not have to own insured olfactory sensors to detect a clear distinction between the wines of Wellington and those of neighbouring Paarl and Breedekloof.
Reds offer a scintillating combination of juiciness and firm, tight cores. While the whites – most notably Chenin Blanc – have enough mineral elegance and fruity verve to eschew the need for sideshows such as topping up the tanks with botrytis juice or obscuring character faults via the “oxidative” style excuse.
The quality and the diversity of the wines, plus the region’s tourism offerings, had made regional status of Wellington a shoe-in. And at the official launch last week, the point of differentiation shown by an event oozing originality thanks to a spicy oriental theme devised by Neil Pendock and further implemented by Chinese guest-speaker Tersina Shieh underscored Wellington’s determination to make its mark in a fresh manner.
But the hard yards start now.
Communal buy-in among members and community is there, but it,now needs to extend beyond the initial touchy-feeliness and euphoria that usually characterizes any new form of independence. With many other wine regions sitting in comfort zones – PR speak for plain boring – let’s hope Wellington kicks some butt in energetically emphasizing the importance of regionality within Brand SA. This needs out-of-the box thinking. Proactively marketing the whole product. And thinking as a unit.
As Pendock said at the opening, wine alone ain’t going to cut it. All the attributes of Wellington – food, culture, architecture, heritage and local flesh, blood and grey matter – have to be thrown into the mix to promote this new lovely wine region.
At this stage, all the ingredients are there. And now that the dim-sum steamers have cooled down, I for one am eagerly awaiting the next phase.
In the words of the great Tears for Fears: “Welcome to your life, there’s no turning back.”
Cheers to Wellington. Here’s looking forward to the next chapter.
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