Oh but would the wine world not be so much the poorer without dreamers, visionaries and the adventurous spirited. Those men and woman shunning convention, their untameable obsession with the growing of grapes and the making of wine taking them to new, uncharted regions of this earth of ours. Exploring, discovering and making wine in new geographical frontiers.
I love them.
Sure, it don’t always work out, but when it does the gamble and the risk pays off with joy to the winemakers as well wine-lovers who get to taste and drink the new and unique.
I was enjoying my view of the oak trees and manicured gardens of a leading Cape wine estate this week when some idiot dropped a wine glass into the ashtray. Kid you not: a pink-vested brunette with a pair of white jeans tight enough to give a camel toe-pain, walked out of the tasting room, finished her glass and dropped it into the sand-filled half-barrel deployed for the extinguishing of cigarette butts.
There was a brief verbal exchange between us, best not repeated outside of a pool-hall in Parow, followed by my retrieving the glass and returning it to its rightful place in the winery’s bustling tasting-room.
One is never too old to fall into the trap of having preconceived ideas shattered to oblivion. For some or other reason I expected New Zealand’s famous Cloudy Bay winery to require donning a waterproof and sturdy, grip-secure boots before venturing a visit.
With all the steely Sauvignon Blanc wine I drank in New Zealand it amazed me that no airport metal-detectors were activated on the long way home. Although there was a tense moment at Dubai International when a surly, garlic-breathed member of the security staff had to twice pass the hand-held scanner over my left kidney to ensure I was not carrying a harmful object aimed at unleashing some glamourous Middle-East terror.
BLENHEIM, New Zealand. – When renowned American wine writer and critic Matt Kramer referred to it as the biggest single success story the modern wine world has seen, he wasn’t kidding. The category known as New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has in 46 years grown from literally zero vines and nada litres to 24 000ha of vineyard planted in the dry alluvial and clay soils on the South Island’s Marlborough region, seeing 340 000 tons of grapes crushed annually and making 255m litres of wine.
Being a notoriously slow up-taker of fashion and mode, I only decided to embark on the eating programme known as “Banting” at the end of 2018. This was about six years after Professor Tim Noakes, South African celebrity sports medicine practitioner, runner and enfant terrible of mainstream academia, began advocating the benefits of a diet devoid of carbohydrates.
Well, not so much advocating as hysterically ranting against the eating of any item that might contain a microbe of carbohydrate or – heaven forbid – trace of sugar. Daring to let these pass thou lips would, according to Noakes, increase the chance of obesity, diabetes and a muddled mind – known as “carb fog” – to befall the eater of a crust of bread, a linguine marinara or ice-cream cone.
The Canadian dropped his 9 weight fly-fishing rod and pointed to the turquoise water. “So now, is this what you guys in South Africa call a wide river?”
Yes, I replied, in Dutch the word “Breede” does refer to a certain wide, broad object, natural or otherwise. (Think of your mother’s behind, for example.) And although the Breede River in the Southern Cape might not be quite as expansive and vast as the waterways of British Columbia, by South African standards this is a pretty wide river.
1. As a result of Britain withdrawing from the European Union at the end of March, France, Germany, Italy and Spain agree on a boycott of wine exports to the UK, resulting in an unheard-of surge in demand for wines from outside the EU. This leads to South Africa scrapping all bulk-wine exports, with its packaged wines experiencing incredible demand and commanding extraordinary prices in Britain – a bottle of Four Cousins Rosé hits the shelves at £49.99, while riots break-out in Leeds as wine-drinkers clamour for a special offering of Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc at £36.95 in Tesco.
Across the globe, a number of unsung heroes are flying the flag for South African wine. Not as part of some personal crusade, but simply because their passion, zeal and personality – coupled with suitable professional environs – create an exciting platform for the country’s wines and wine makers. And they don’t come much more colourful, knowledgeable and engaging than Neleen Strauss, Bloemfontein-born co-owner and manager of High Timber Restaurant in London. We asked her for her own words.
Write something for my blog, he said. Perceptions and impressions of your restaurant customers regarding South African wine, he said. How has things changed during my almost two decades in London, he asked. (I did ask nicely. – Ed)
Oh, and write in English, he said.
“You want me to drink South African wine? Why?!” This was possibly the sentence that became the greatest leveller in my restaurant career. The year was 2003, London’s best weathered summer prior to 2018. As a newcomer to the London restaurant scene, I quickly realised that I might think South Africa can make wine, but the majority of the people that came to the restaurant most certainly didn’t share my enthusiastic views. Thank god this was in London, and it was mostly the English I had to convince in rethinking their opinion on my country’s wine. Imagine trying to do this in Paris or Madrid? Nay.
One of the many colourful stories about Paul Sauer, the first owner of the famour Kanonkop Wine Estate, concerns a train ride. During the 1950’s South Africa had a railway system to be proud of. Sturdy, gleaming steam locomotives transported passengers and goods through the length and breadth of the country. Efficiently and punctually. And as Minister of Railways at that time, Paul Sauer preferred to travel by train whenever possible, loving nothing more than to have his fellow politicians and other high-browed friends on-board to witness the fine state of the trains, tracks and stations he was overseeing. In between bouts of wine-farming at Kanonkop in Stellenbosch, that is.