South Africa looks set to become home to the largest urban wine vineyard in the world. This is if President Cyril Ramaphosa’s vision of a brand-new city built in the country is realised. During his recent State of the Nation Address, Pres. Ramaphosa suggested it was time to build such a new modern city in South Africa. But besides featuring shiny skyscrapers and sleek bullet-trains, the new city is also to host a vineyard from which various wines are to be made.
Think cigar and all that thick, aromatic heavenly smoke, and companions such as Cognac, Port and Single Malt Whisky automatically spring to mind. Frankly, with a good Cohiba Robustos or Partagas no 4 from Cuba (where else?) burning in the hand, any of those aforementioned beverages will serve to induce the sought-after transcendental state of the cigar-lover.
Hindsight brings wisdom, so it is only now that I am truly beginning to get what Mike Ratcliffe and his team were on about with Vilafonté. It was in 2005, at a gathering of the Wine Swines – the most famous wine-tasting circle in South Africa – that Mike used the word “luxury brand” to introduce a thing called Vilafonté which he was driving together with Californians Phil Freese and Zelma Long. It was the maiden 2003 vintage of the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Vilafonté “C” and the more Merlot-ish “M”.
Sanity has set in, and it would appear that those voices claiming the South African wine industry only really began to make its mark in the 1990’s are either deciding to shut-up themselves or are being silenced. Sure, when economic sanctions prevailed in the 1980’s it was harder for a South African wine farmer to get a wine listing at Waitrose than a ticket to the Nottinghill Dreadlock Weaving Convention. But just because we were stuffed in the market place, does not mean no good wine was being made here.
I was looking at a stuffed wild cat when the morning’s first sip of vermouth was taken. Like the cat, the vermouth was Adi Badenhorst’s, he of the big hair and short, stocky Swartland swagger. The sun was bright, and a few white spring flowers had appeared in the view from Adi’s Kalmoesfontein spread of farmland, which was broad and wide and green. No “swart” (black) in this land, unless you include beaming faces of the smiling workers ambling past.
To quote my late English teacher, Mister Struthers-Boshoff, “you is what you is, not what’s you thinks you are”. The folk of Wellington in the Western Cape might speak better English – these days – but the fact remains the same: Wellington has long deserved independence as a wine region from neighbour Paarl, to which it was linked via ward status until this year. Because the region knows what it is and knows it can stand on its own two legs.
Although Wellington’s push for independence – carefully actioned by the delicate force of former Springbok rugby player Schalk Burger – may have been egged-on by the general confusion and regional inactivity of Wine of Origin Paarl. As a united regional entity, Paarl is fast becoming about as relevant as a rare foie gras at a vegetarien love-in.
The folks responsible for the demarcation of the Cape Winelands have turned some weird tricks in their time, but non as crazy as in drawing the borders between Stellenbosch and Paarl in the Simonsberg vicinity. Cruising the R44 ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ South Africa’s Golden Highway in wine terms – Wine of Origin Stellenbosch suddenly becomes WO Paarl. Just like that. No warning, no perceptible change in landscape or terroir. One moment things are Le Bonheur and Lievland and Stellenbosch, and then suddenly the origin system turns to Paarl without any logic, rhyme or reason.
South Africa’s oldest ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ and longest surviving ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ wine publication, Wineland, recently celebrated its 80th birthday with a restraint uncharacteristic of the local wine scene. No big splash, tweet-fountain or six course lunch complemented by a few shaky speeches. Wineland editor Cassie du Plessis just got his troops and a few guests together for a braai at the magazine’s Paarl office, sunk a few bottles of wine and knowing Cassie, there would well have been a few words said.