I had just began smelling the contents of the glasses before me, when the CEO himself took-over. The venue was Delaire Graff, that most magnificent wine estate at the top of Banghoek with views from where, on any kind of day, you can see forever. And Johann Laubser, responsible for running all aspects of this destination’s impressive array of culinary, vinous, hospitality, art and lifestyle offerings, just had to make time to discuss the factor responsible for Delaire Graff’s very existence: wine.
The real-estate adage of Location, Location and Location does not apply to restaurants. Was the offering presented by Blanko, an eatery situated in the splendid environment of the Alphen Boutique Hotel on the rural outskirts of Constantia, comparable to its site I would still be drifting on an orgasmic cloud of culinary-induced ecstasy. This is, not the case.
Attending this year’s Backsberg Postgraduate Vino Varsity Challenge between the MBA students from UCT and Stellenbosch could have one thinking of the 1980s pop music band China Crisis. Both teams were tasked with solving the South African wine industry’s challenge of getting shelf-space, throat-approval and face-time in premium wine markets. And as far as both the UCT Graduate School of Business and the University of Stellenbosch Business School are concerned, China is the place to go.
A recent visit by a delegation of MBA students from California had me thinking that our wine scene has an edge on the American industry. In one voice the Americans told me that back home – the world’s leading wine consuming nation – red blended wines were now becoming the big thing, with producers from sea to shining sea beginning to experiment with blends.
Showing my age I’ll admit that when first meeting the John Martin Sauvignon Blancfrom Backsberg Estate Cellars I assumed the wine was named after the iconic South African yachtsman. This John Martin was to round-the-world sailing what Cristiano Ronaldo is to football, and if ever a sailor needed a wine named after him, it would have to be our John.
Speaking on CapeTalk radio recently, one of the foreign judges flown out for the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show said the quality of the Pinot Noir category surprised her. Especially as the Wine Show’s South African judges were, prior to the tasting, “almost apologetic” about the quality of local Pinot Noir.
Shortly after Nelson Mandela was inaugurated, his office had a request from within the South African wine industry. The asking was that consideration be given to a national department of wine affairs overseen by a Minister of Wine. Today just the thought of a ministry with broad statutory powers sends shivers down the spine of the local wine arena – as it would have 23 years ago.
Anybody doubting whether wine is art should be a fly on the wall when winemakers get together to ascertain the merits and the components for making up a certain blend. I always find this an enriching experience, validating my conviction that wine does and always should stand apart from all other alcoholic elixirs.
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.
Once one stops asking questions in the world of wine, you might as well admit that your time in this most wonderful of cultural, scientific and agricultural arenas is over. It is the continued search for answers pertaining to a plethora of aspects about wine that makes this such a fascinating environment to work in. Oh, allow me to correct myself, one does not work in the wine world: you live there.