Thys Louw has a simple answer as to why Sauvignon Blanc is South Africa’s – and one of the world’s – most popular single varietal wines. “The taste of the consumer. At the end of the day, after all that is being written, analysed and debated on the topic of wine, it all boils down to the taste of the consumer for whom wine is made,” says Thys who is cellar master and co-proprietor of Diemersdal Wine Estate in Durbanville, one of South Africa’s leading Sauvignon Blanc producers.
The fact that Sauvignon Blanc has exceptional appeal to consumer taste has made it the most successful white varietal wine in South Africa as a well as in many other countries, including Britain.
“The reason the consumer likes the variety, is because it is easy to understand,” says Thys. “When buying a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, whether it costs R60 or R600, there is going to be an element in that wine to which the wine drinker can relate, something in the flavour profile he or she can understand… freshness, balance between fruit and acidity, a pleasure to drink.”
Does this mean Sauvignon Blanc is one-dimensional?
“This is not what I am saying, no,” he retorts. “As in all wines, there are differences in flavour and structure due to the origin of the grapes and the respective terroir of the vineyards, wine making style, and so forth. In South Africa we see Sauvignon Blancs from Elgin having their own characteristics, as is the case with wines from Durbanville, Darling, Robertson. They all have their own fingerprints – some are more tropical, others greener. But at the end of the day, there is a Sauvignon Blanc sweet-spot the consumer can relate to, and that makes for the success of the variety. People like difference, yes, but familiarity reassures them. This is why Sauvignon Blanc outsells any other South African white grape variety by three to one, and why it achieve the highest average price for white wine grapes.”
Being known as one of South Africa’s Sauvignon Blanc pioneers, Thys has travelled far and wine to look other producing countries.
“We can definitely hold our own in terms of quality,” says Thys. “Our wines are becoming recognised overseas for their ability to express freshness and varietal character, whilst also exuding nuanced complexities.”
With Sauvignon Blanc riding the crest of success, it is not a case of resting on your laurels.
“I believe that dryland farming, such as what Diemersdal and many other farms in Durbanville do, contributes to the quality of the fruit,” he says. “Diemersdal wants to ensure that we consistently improve quality in our range of wines. With that, we also want to introduce the public to the further possibilities of this variety, including skin-fermented wines, those aged in wood and the pleasure found in Sauvignon Blancs that have had a few years to mature in the bottle.
“We may know and love Sauvignon Blanc, but there is a whole new world out there, and it is up to us Sauvignon Blanc producers to further open the doors.”