With my sherry consumption taking its annual steep upward-curve during the Season of Goodwill, I was reminded of the quaint story outlining the manner in which sherry-making began in South Africa. It involves a thing called flor and a handkerchief. And a Cape wine legend by the name of Charlie Niehaus, a brilliant oenologist known for his scientific approach to wine-making and the guy who also made Roodeberg for the KWV.
There were hundreds of bottles opened and drunk this year. Some were consumed in the company of bevies of energetic like-minded feasters on life. Other bottles were scrutinised in the company of true aficionados, anoraks and influential commentators upon whose every word of vinous intelligence I hung like an abalone to a piece of mossy rock.
In the co-operative wine cellar we trust. Or should trust. Co-operatives are the heartbeat of the South Africa wine industry, some would say the unsung heroes. They produce large volumes of wine, most are situated in locations deemed untrendy by commentators on matters vinous and do not have the sex appeal of single estates or irreverent fashionable brand of hot, hip and happening kind.
A visit to a seaside hotel to devour dead squid is a holistic experience affecting diverse senses of the physical and spiritual kind. Especially if said hotel is the famous Chapmans Peak one at the end of Hout Bay, a congenial building offering an atmosphere that is both cosy and airy. As well as having a tremendous view over the blue bay onto that vast tilted rock that looks like an Afro-Centric and bulkier version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The wine industry tends to change trends and fashions about as regularly as a teenager revamps its Instagram profile, but this one isn’t going anywhere. It’s the one about the South African winelands’ old vine project, conserving decades-old vineyards sunk into the country’s ancient soils, often in far-flung places up on the West Coast and the Citrusdal Mountains. The story is of the vines and their evocative regional identity complemented by the intriguing profiles of the wines made from them; wines bottled and crafted by red-blooded South Africans wanting to express the land, its old vineyards and the provenance of the country’s vinous legacy in a bottle. And to pour it for the world with a straight backbone, rigid with pride.
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Wine in a can is not a new thing, as anyone growing-up in Earl’s Court in the 1970’s can attest to – two-pint cans of rough Australian wine was all the rage, and you still had to puncture the pouring holes in yourself with one of those ubiquitous beer openers. Pull-open cans with tabs had yet to be invented, despite Mankind already having made it to the moon.
The trend did not last. Poor quality tin made the wine taste like sweaty pennies after a few months in tin. A lack of science in the wine-making process saw the stuff canned overly sulphured and as unstable as ’70s rock-groupie on bad acid.
With more wine competitions taking place than ever, opinions on the merits and value of these awards events have never been as divided. Danielle le Roux (photo) from the Institute of Cape Wine Masters and a winemaker with 20 years’ experience says that the positives outweigh the negatives.
Just when I think the debates surrounding wine awards, scores and competitions are reaching saturation point, the hyperbole intensifies. Especially in this era of constant digital communication on wine – which is mostly a positive – the talk on the nature and relevance of ratings and wine judging is more frenetic than ever.
Because it is greater than that, true art is immune to the voice of the critic. Here South Africa has one red wine that transcends ratings, stars and the court of self-important opinion: Meerlust Rubicon.
Together with Vin de Constance, Rubicon is South Africa’s most valuable wine brand and if any sort of respect for national heritage still existed, both would deserve protected status. Their brows exceed the height of any new wave, they command a presence and gravitas sterner, more decisive than the noisiest hip alternative gaggle and its sycophantic hordes.
People provenance leads me to wine. For as that old sage Duimpie Bayly, former production head of Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, likes to state: “I suppose they can say that wine is made in the vineyard. But I’ve never seen a horse win the Grand National without a jockey.”
For me, the minds, hands and hearts of people play as important a role in a wine’s attractiveness as terroir, cellar skills and perfectly grown grapes.
A new French-South Africa wine venture focussing exclusively on the making of classic rosé wines on the slopes of Stellenbosch’s renowned Helderberg wine region was launched this week with the first vintage of Pink Valley Rosé 2019. The Pink Valley property incorporates nine hectares of vines, the Pink Valley Restaurant and a winery, the only in South Africa built and used exclusively for the making of rosé wines.
Pink Valley is owned by Oddo Vins & Domaines, a French wine company belonging to father and daughter Pascal and Lorraine Oddo, with wine ventures in Provence and Sancerre (France), Rioja in Spain and in Sicily. In investing in Pink Valley, the Oddos partnered with their compatriot and wine investor Bertrand Otto, whose knowledge of the global wine industry and special love of the Cape winelands encouraged them to invest in South Africa.