Just when the fun seemed to have started, Cape Wine 2018 came to an abrupt halt. The largest and the best wine show in the southern hemisphere just appears to be going from strength-to-strength. Some 3 000 people converged on the Cape Town Convention Centre for three days of exposure to the South African wine industry for this showcase, held every three years. Best feet put forward, I’d say.
Days were filled with tastings, business, hustling, seminars and talk-shops. Attendees included almost the entire local wine industry, media and trade from around the globe and walk-in folks wishing to check what’s going on. After sunset the show split up into various parties and private events throughout Cape Town and beyond, proving that along with our wines, natural hospitality and the ability to entertain are also 100pt material.
It was big, vast, noisy and visceral. While I can still remember, herewith some highlights and, obviously a few lows – otherwise the highs would not be so elevated:
• Energy: Now I’ve been to some exhibition gigs, from food shows in Paris to textile conventions in Las Vegas and spirits showcases in Greece. No-one comes close to the South Africans in terms of spirit, camaraderie and making people feel welcome and at home. We call it “gees”. Whether it was at the ’70s porno-inspired stand of the Zoo Cru, the ooms from the Orange River region handing-out biltong and muscadel or the more formal offerings of Cabernet Sauvignon from Simonsberg, the hosts were friendly, enthusiastic and forthcoming. And knowledgeable, too. All this was, of course, inspired by a sense of pride in the wines and the experience they were offering. South African wine people lacking confidence… Who the hell said that?
• White wine: The quality of white wines was simply awe-inspiring, in the words of many of the foreigners I spoke to. Leanly expressive Chardonnays honouring Burgundy roots, bracing and complex Sauvignon Blancs, broad and complex Chenin Blancs and white blends to be quaffed with joy. Brilliant stuff.
• Old Vines Project: They are rapidly becoming the Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson of the wine world. Yet the Rosa Kruger and André Morgenthal show keeps going from strength-to-strength in promoting South Africa’s old vine heritage, the fine wines made from the gnarled plants and the organisation itself, which kicks limestone and shale in the rest of the world’s old vine countries. From Chile to Sancerre, Napa to Rioja we bloody well own this category. The Cape Wine delegates went nuts for it and Old Vines Project has in a few short years become a vital and leading foundation of South African wine.
• Pinotage: Cometh the hour, cometh the grape. This is the first Cape Wine where the promoters of South Africa’s home-grown red grape truly grabbed the imagination. Two reasons: first-up, the diversity of wines being made by Pinotage producers who are broadening their horizons in terms of their approach to the grape’s vinification and the terroir-driven sourcing of fruit. Then there is, justifiably so, the confidence being shown in the class of wines being made and the direction in which Pinotage is going. In the past the Pinotage pundits were reactionary and trying too hard to convince the world about their own abilities and the commitment to the variety – but now it is all coming together as the wines do the talking, and splendidly so.
• Kanonkop Paul Sauer 100pts: Talk of the town on the first day of Cape Wine was the 2015 of this South African classic being given a full century by Tim Atkin in his annual report – a first. Timing was perfect as the news flooded the twitter-sphere, underscoring the credibility of Atkin’s report – now in its seventh year – as well as the fact that the first wine to do so was one of the Cape’s traditionally great wines made from ubiquitous grape varieties growing in South Africa’s finest wine region of Stellenbosch. The full score added to the swagger of the event as the whole wine industry shared in this achievement – barring the usual sourpusses, their criticism of the 100 score largely driven by envy at Atkin’s undisputed profile as Big Chief Opinion on wine South Africa.
• Organisation: Wines of South Africa (Wosa) showed superhuman organisational skills in getting this thing together. I dealt with some of the behind-the-scenes logistics which were seamlessly efficient. The show itself was a visual feast, bringing old school presence alongside attention-grabbing irreverence. Winemaker supremo Duncan Savage in pink tights next to La Motte’s business tycoon Hein Koegelenberg. Laid-back country gentleman Anthony Hamilton Russell sharing a space with uptown-funker Adam Mason in kitsch track-suit. Enough wine, clean glasses, emptied spittoons. Well-done.
• Seminars: Each day saw a set of talks on various interesting aspects. I attended quite a few, the highlight being a seminar on white wine ageability. Keen young speakers in Thys Louw (Diemersdal), Corlea Fourie (Bosman), Johann de Wet (De Wetshof), Sebastien Beaumont (Beaumont) and Miguel Chan from Tsogo Sun. Informed opinions during a tasting of old and modern white wines that opened the door to the potential these can hold. Talks on sweet wines of South Africa and Site-Specific Wines also spot on. Lots of emotional take-out the industry can do more of and not only during Cape Wine.
• Party-poopers: A few winery owners – mostly new to the industry – moaned about the colour, noise and zany outfits emanating from some of the hip producing bodies, deeming this irreverence as not befitting the country’s wine industry. I mean really. Go and buy a daffodil farm or build a croquet lawn if you do not like a bit of personality and spirit with your wine. Just what would this event be without Trizanne Barnard dressed as an extra on Debbie Does Dallas?
• Convention Centre Food: This was a lowlight from the previous Cape Wine, yet repeated with astonishing success in presenting the worst catering possible to the assembled bigwigs from the international wine world. Tepid sushi, stale bread and insect-like, luke-warm calamari served at a pre-eminent wine event is not something one would expect in South Africa’s culinary capital. No wonder everyone wanted to get out of there by mid-afternoon.
• Repetitive messages: As much as one tried, you just could not escape the boring line of “South African wine is too cheap”. This message surfaced at the opening address and continued to be asked almost on the hour by social media pundits climbing onto #capewine2018. They even made a video to please ask the foreign buyers present to have a heart and be prepared to pay more. (Bring on violins.) Yet, not once was an example given of a wine that was too cheap. Nor was anyone willing to name the role played by that vital cog in the equation determining price, namely the consumer and what he or she is prepared to pay.
You have three years to think about this.