South African Parliament Gets Own Wine Cellar

A small gathering at Parliament for a wine-tasting.
A small gathering at Parliament for a wine-tasting.

If the Speaker succumbs to a blinding thirst, he builds a parliamentary wine cellar. However, the decision of the Speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu, to set up a wine cellar in Parliament was not so much motivated by his own love of a glass of Chardonnay or Merlot, but rather because a parliament without a wine cellar is almost as unheard of as a politician without an agenda.

“Parliament is situated in Cape Town, around the corner from the South African winelands which rank among the world’s most famous and form part of a wine industry that is a true national treasure,”  Sisulu said recently at the opening of the Speaker’s Parliamentary Wine Cellar.

“I have always told delegations from abroad about our wine industry and I often give South African wine to official visitors as a souvenir to remember their stay in the country. With a collection of leading South African wines in our own cellar, Parliament is now better equipped to show how dearly we hold the wine industry. Or should hold.”

“The Dutch East India Company planted some of the first vines in the country in the Company’s Gardens next to where Parliament stands today, thus the location of a cellar here is most definitely fitting.”

Cope MP and well-known figure in Cape wine circles, Nick Koornhof, was tasked with contructing the wine cellar. “Cape Wine Master Bennie Howard was asked to compile a list of the country’s best wines, and the cellar now boasts about 3000 bottles of these prestigious wines,” according to Koornhof. “It is an excellent opportunity to remind everyone in Parliament of the importance of the wine industry in South Africa, and to be proud of our wine and unique wine culture which is a real showpiece for the country.”

The Speaker's Choice range.

The opening of the cellar was attended by parliamentarians, media and the winemakers whose wines are proudly displayed on the shelves. A map of South Africa’s wine regions hangs on one wall, while tasting sessions are held at tables fitted with spittoons should serious wine aficionados make an appearance at the cellar. Villiera, Vriesenhof, Boplaas, Neil Ellis, Boschendal and De Wetshof are some of the wineries whose products can be found in the cellar. 

At the opening, Danie de Wet, cellarmaster and owner of De Wetshof Estate in Robertson, remarked that the establishment of a Parliamentary wine cellar signified an important gesture. “Actually I would like to suggest that the cellar be named the Max Sisulu Wine Cellar, as the Speaker was the driving force behind this initiative,” said De Wet.

“Being a cultural product, the wine industry carries the image of a country and specifically the agricultural sector of that country. Therefore it is reassuring to see Parliament recognising the positive image of the South African wine industry and also the quality of our wines by showcasing our product in this seat of government,” he said. “This represents the wine industry’s desire to ensure that all South Africans embrace the quality and unique values of their country’s wine.” 

Parliament’s own wine was also unveiled at the event. The Speaker’s Choice brand consists of a Sauvignon Blanc and a Shiraz made by Stellenbosch wine farms Delheim and Hartenberg respectively. The Speaker’s Choice will be served at official functions, and is also available to former members.

However, whether the Speaker’s familiar words of “Order in the House” will be replaced by a toast of “Bottoms up!” remains to be seen.

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