by Lafras Huguenet
Situated en route to my fishing abode at Blombos, I have stopped off at De Wetshof in Robertson since the mid-1990s to stock-up for the coming days’ pulling galjoen, mussel-cracker and Steenbras from the droning white waters on South Africa’s most beautiful piece of coast-line.
I had scarcely mentioned my attendance at the KWV’s recent swanky 100th birthday party in its Cathedral Cellar when I was reminded from some circles of all the bad things the KWV had apparently committed in the South African wine industry. As usual, these comments were devoid of any fact or substance, purely wishing to remind me that the KWV was “a monopoly”, had a “tarnished legacy” and was “broederbond”, the latter being an organisation of which most who throw its name around know about as much as Patricia de Lille is familiar with the domestic water systems of ancient Rome.
Robertson Wine Region supremo Danie de Wet calls him the Salvador Dali of winemakers, but Abrie Bruwer is not that weird. The proprietor and cellar-master of Springfield Estate, just down the road from Danie, is one of those enigmatic silent forces found lurking about the silent depths of the South African wine industry. Abrie’s idea of social media is allowing a neighbour to borrow that day’s copy of Die Burger newspaper. Twitter is something a bird makes before you shoot it. And I quite honestly believe he would rather choose to never go out on the sea to fish again, ever, than to post a selfie of himself smiling next to a bottle of one of his wines or thumbs-upping the harvest.
Despite the pressure placed on my physical and mental stamina, a marathon wine-appreciation session this week-end past has me beating the South African Chardonnay Drum with admirable vigour this Monday morning.
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.
The sixth De Wetshof Celebration of Chardonnay was held last week on De Wetshof Estate in Robertson. Now one of the world’s leading Chardonnay events, this year’s occasion was addressed by American novelist and wine writer Jay McInerney. Herewith his complete speech on Chardonnay, terroir, Marilyn Monroe and Cape wine quality.
Chardonnay is the great chameleon of viticulture, or to put it in a slightly less flattering light, more than a bit of a trollop. It’s the world’s most famous and beloved white wine grape. It’s a superstar, beloved of drinkers and growers, famous all over the world. But it’s also an enigma wrapped in a mystery.
I am having a slight disagreement with Danie de Wet about limestone, that integral soil component needed for the growing of great Chardonnay grapes. And the debate’s gist involves creepy-crawlies and seashells.
Robertson, home to Danie and De Wetshof, also has the highest limestone content of any South African wine-producing region. Like Burgundy and Champagne has shown, Chardonnay comes to the fore in chalky lands. It has to do with pH and balance in the wines; structure and verve and longevity.
I had always struggled to nail my precise feeling towards Pinot Noir when Danie de Wet did it for me. “You find three kinds of wine: red wine… white wine,” the Sage from De Wetshof said, “and then you have Pinot Noir.” This was over a decade ago when De Wet had been busy at playing pioneer again – not Chardonnay, but by making the first Pinot Noir in the Robertson Valley.
The deceptively simple and seemingly innocuous description stuck, and the more Pinots I drink the more on-the-button Danie’s words appear.
At wine marketing school they say a wine needs to tell a story. That’s about all you learn at wine marketing school, mind you. They don’t even tell you it needs to be a good and interesting and compelling story.
If Janet Leigh were a bottle of Pinot Noir in the Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho and Norman Bates was a cumulative representation of terroir, Janet would have screamed her tits off in that shower scene. No grape, besides Chardonnay, reacts with such hysterical abandon to soil, climate and nature’s other vagaries as Pinot Noir.