A winemaker’s confidence comes effortlessly if it is earned. During a recent presentation of the new vintages from David & Nadia, the ease David Sadie showed in his own skin bordered on the edge of audaciousness for such a young man and relative newcomer to the South African wine scene. Firm, steady voice seamlessly jumping between English and Afrikaans. A no-nonsense and pared-down description of the vineyards and earth from which he and wife Nadia make their wines, and how they make it. Not a moment’s hesitation shown during question time, steering curve-balls to fine-leg and without an iota of doubt in his answers.
There may have been a few deviations over the past 340 years, but it is with immense pride, humility and gratitude that I can lay claim to my DNA including South Africa’s oldest wine-farming ancestry.
The Joubert side, which arrived at the Cape on 20 August 1688 in the form of Pierre Joubert from La Motte d’Aigues in the Luberon, saw that part of the forebears leading the way in the French Huguenots’ remarkable contribution to South African wine culture. Oupa Pierre had scarcely walked ashore at Table Bay when he was already scoping out the local terroir, reading the winds and deciding that if he was going to continue the family legacy of vinous excellence, he better get hell out of Cape Town. Head north-east to the mountains and valleys of Franschhoek, where he founded La Motte Estate.
I really thought hell would freeze over before a bunch of rural Breedekloof winemakers would be eating raw fish at an Italian joint in Cape Town while talking about their Chenin Blanc wines. And while hell is still blazing, apparently, it was cold enough to freeze the scrotum on a brass monkey when the Breedekloof Makers – aforementioned group of Chenin Crusaders – hit town to offer their current wares. Raw slices of red roman – Italian style at Riva Restaurant – optional.
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.
It has now been ten-and-something years since the wines of Stellenbosch property Kleine Zalze first passed my parched lips, and to this day I still have to find a wine under this label that fails to hit the spot. Starting at the entry level Cellar Selection range, made from grapes sourced from around the Coastal Region, to the top-tier Family Reserves from Stellenbosch, Klein Zalze just seems to get it right. Always.
Daring to question the praising of old vineyards places one in the same category as those supporting rhino poaching, the clubbing of baby seals and the banning of anything sounding like Leonard Cohen. South Africa has an enthusiastic Support the Old Vines lobby. With the zeal an anti-foie gras activist would be proud of, these lobbyists host emotional wine tastings underscoring the need for seasoned patches of weary vineyards to be conserved. For not only do such geriatric vineyards produce remarkable wines – apparently – they form an integral part of the country’s vinous legacy in terms of cultural and human provenance.
It is the role of a journalist to remain objective in such matters. That is why it is important to also look at reasonable and informed voices holding a different view on this sensitive, yet ubiquitous topic. Bruwer Raats, a highly respected winemaker who usually lets his Raats Family wines do the talking, recently stepped out of the cellar to offer Wineland Magazine his take. Herewith the translation from the original Afrikaans:
Things have been getting quite emotional about the gnarled old vines scattered throughout the Cape Winelands. And yes, they are magnificent plants adding to the brooding atmosphere of some of the more robust and rural wine regions. The sight of an ancient vineyard, dense and obtuse vines pointing their wrinkled shoots at the heavens, set among the rolling hills of Bottelary or Malmesbury, can be mesmerising.
No, please. Don’t tell me I have turned into a wine ponce….not now. Not ever.
One of the features of homo sapiens vino wankerus is his or her preconceived idea that the use of new wood in the fermentation and/or maturation of wine is nearly as big a crime as to imply that South Africa makes decent Merlot and that oxidised white wine from old vines is not brilliant. I have seen this species, noted them sniffing at a glass of Shiraz, almost to inhaling point, until the tiniest whiff of mocha of smoke is detected before putting down the vessel with a shake of the head and a “tut-tut….over-wooded”.
It ain’t over till it’s over. But now that Cape Wine 2015 really is a thing of the past, a few insights are rising out of the vinous haze like the sails of Viking boats appearing through the mists of eastern England.
I could not experience the country’s triannual wine showcase as a true visitor as there were business partners to assist and journalists to appease. Functions to host too. And here, business was excellent.
One of the rules about imbibing states one should never drink alcohol when thirsty. I never got the memo.
Thirst, real throat-scorching, spleen-drying thirst can for me only be quenched by a few healthy slurps of cold booze. Beer, icy and foamy, is an obvious candidate. Novelist Jay McInerney even used beer when reviewing a particularly good batch of cocaine in Bright Lights, Big City. Something about the snort of Bolivian marching powder being as gorgeously satisfying as a “sip of cold beer on a hot summer’s day”.