The colonisation of the South African wine landscape by foreign powers continues, with French group AdVini doing most of the running of late. L’Avenir was first to fall in the hands of France’s fourth largest wine business, based in the village of St Félix de Lodez in the Languedoc, followed by Le Bonheur and a majority holding in Ken Forrester in 2016.
The deal cementing AdVini’s acquisition of Stellenbosch Vineyards has just dried, and I’d say the future for this bunch looks so bright they’d better get another set of Vuarnets.
It is that time of the year when the wine industry’s report card for 2017 hits the mail-box. And if corporal punishment was still legal it would be just the time to dust-off the cane, roll-up the sleeve and prepare to dish-out a bit of pain. For what’s going on with the poor showing of South African wine exports?
I looked at the Swiss-German as if he had just curdled the cheese fondue. Before me, a glass of red wine stood next to a bottle he had made from vineyards grown on a piece of earth as suited to Cabernet Sauvignon as the Israeli desert is to un-detonated missiles.
With every second Cape Town restaurants now priding itself on having the services of a sommelier, it has become evident that some laying claim to this title were created more equal than others – with respect to George Orwell, who also knew a thing or two about restaurants as well as dictatorial pigs. I am no demanding ponce when it comes to wine service, but if one wishes to be identified as a sommelier, having the following skills-set is advisable:
I hadn’t killed a marlin for some time now, so I decided to go out and eat one. Not a whole thousand pound fish, mind you. At least, not in one sitting.
This lust for game-fish lead me to Miller’s Thumb, the restaurant that has for over two decades been a local institution to those residing in the Cape Town City Bowl. It does fish and some meat, as well as having the kind of casual homely atmosphere that makes one tend to frequent the joint often, if only to hang at the small bar talking to other locals about killing fish with surface lures, tools with which to trim beards and the current tattoo fashions.
If American authors Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski had shown more interest in visiting wine farms than drinking themselves into painfully advanced stages of cirrhosis, my guess is that Bottelary would have been their favourite parts of the Stellenbosch Wine Route. For this is still real farmer country, here along the Bottelary Road. Where wineries and houses and sheds look like they are lived and worked in, perched on hills covered in low-level bush-vines, industrial looking bulk wine dealers jostling for attention with hard-drinking houses known around here as Bush Pubs or Divorce Activators.
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.