Diemersdal wine maker Thys Louw had just finished the first stage of the world’s toughest mountain-bike race, the Cape Epic, when he heard that he’d won two gold medals. Not on the bike, but at the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon 2018, the world’s premier international showcase for Sauvignon Blanc wine. Diemersdal took gold for the MM Louw 2016 and Eight Rows 2017, two of the wines from this Durbanville estate renowned for its interpretations of South Africa’s and one of the world’s most popular white wine varieties.
In general, players in the modern South African wine industry have been relatively slow to recognise the importance of brand-building, preferring the micro approach of marketing centuries-old buildings, terroir-driven vineyard sites and finely-tuned artists working among a few rows of barrels lined-up in a dank cellar. With the importance of economy of scale in driving a successful business coming increasingly to the fore as a non-negotiable part of the business model, Brand Building in Wine 101 is now all the rage, and one of the names popping up on the case-study list is Stellenbosch’s Kleine Zalze.
Switchbitch – My Journey of Transformation from Sour to Sweet, by Chris von Ulmenstein. Tandym Press. 2018.
The problem with the internet and the permissive blogging this encourages is not so much it giving anybody with a pulse and a keyboard a platform on which to write. More disconcerting is that participation in the on-line space actually gives some people the belief that they can write, when there should be a universal law prohibiting their ambitions of stepping outside the temporary blogosphere wherein the viewer can be rescued by the delete button.
That one-dimensional slogan once used by a beer company was totally off-the mark. Because real men – and women – do, in fact, drink pink drinks. And a hell of a lot of it when it comes to matters wine.
Anyone who has spent a spring or summer in the South of France would know that rosé wine is not so much drunk there as inhaled. And here, further South, Africans have reconnected with rosé now that more producers are creating wines of a less syrupy sweet nature than those that were so hip, hot and happening in the bygone era of bell-bottoms, tie-dye, Monkey Gland steaks and Ford Cortinas.
So here we are, the first discussion of a wine from the 2018 vintage. That’s right, this is the Dry Year characterised by the worst domestic water shortages in the history of Cape Town, black-bass having to learn the leopard crawl due to empty dams and Premier Helen Zille sporting a water-saving, unwashed hair-do resembling a wombat that had gotten hold of a tub of Vaseline.
Like Simba’s tomato sauce-flavoured chips, fresh abalone, Iron Brew and red Vienna sausages, the taste of wine made from the Tempranillo grape still sticks to me, conjuring memories of an ill-spent – yet well-fed – youth. Anyone back-packing through Europe in his or her late teens during the 1980’s and finding yourself holed down in Spain, will attest to consuming Spanish Tempranillo – mainly from Rioja – by the bucket-load. It was plentiful, ubiquitous and available in cheap flagons. A burst of berries, that wanted comforting alcoholic hit and then a plush finish, the result of Rioja makers’ love of using American oak.
Andrew Marais, who died last Monday aged 80, might have had a stern, sullen presence that could bring a room temperature down by 10 degrees, but he was arguably the best Afrikaans wine writer the industry has known.
It has only been three decades since attending my last university class, but I can’t remember any of my teachers being quite this engaging and enthusiastic about their subject. But then again, Professor Sanette Ferreira from Stellenbosch University’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, is at the coal-face of arguably the South African wine industry’s hottest topic, namely wine tourism.
Quietly, the new category of Super Pinotages is causing a ripple through the incoming tide of things offered by Brand South Africa. Not everyone – present company excluded – is convinced that Pinotage can bear the torch as the nation’s grape: that sought-after focused ray of light, in clarity unmatched by any wine country, that cuts through the wad of global vinous offerings and makes universal consumers sit up and say, “Oh, that is South Africa in a glass, and we all like it. What a great piece of the wine world that neck of the woods must be.”
Tourism remains the wine industry’s brightest star. This is where South Africa has showed tangible growth and added value. Those who have experienced tourist offerings in the winelands over the past two decades can attest to this: a while back a wine-tasting tourist was lucky to be offered a Cream Cracker to accompany a pouring done in the tractor shed.