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.
Having recently flown half-way around the world – literally – it was astounding to see the presence of one specific South African wine label at every stop. From Cape Town International, the frenetic bazaar-like space of Dubai Airport all the way to Auckland, New Zealand a bottle bearing a white label with the words The Chocolate Block was encountered in nearly every wine store.
I am standing 400m up on a mountain overlooking the town of Stellenbosch, Table Mountain lurking in the distance. The steep slopes are covered with vines, as are those on the other side of the Jonkershoek Valley. Directly below, the white-washed old buildings of Lanzerac hotel and winery sparkle in the midday sun. I brace myself for the wine maker’s viticulture insights, notebook poised for words on soil types, harvest yields, vine-spacing and average daytime temperatures.
“Over there,” says the wine maker, Wynand Lategan, pointing away from the vineyards to the town. “That’s where I was born, right there in Stellenbosch Hospital.”
The colonisation of the South African wine landscape by foreign powers continues, with French group AdVini doing most of the running of late. L’Avenir was first to fall in the hands of France’s fourth largest wine business, based in the village of St Félix de Lodez in the Languedoc, followed by Le Bonheur and a majority holding in Ken Forrester in 2016.
The deal cementing AdVini’s acquisition of Stellenbosch Vineyards has just dried, and I’d say the future for this bunch looks so bright they’d better get another set of Vuarnets.
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.
Photo: Black Label Charters, Cairns, Australia
I hadn’t killed a marlin for some time now, so I decided to go out and eat one. Not a whole thousand pound fish, mind you. At least, not in one sitting.
This lust for game-fish lead me to Miller’s Thumb, the restaurant that has for over two decades been a local institution to those residing in the Cape Town City Bowl. It does fish and some meat, as well as having the kind of casual homely atmosphere that makes one tend to frequent the joint often, if only to hang at the small bar talking to other locals about killing fish with surface lures, tools with which to trim beards and the current tattoo fashions.
Quietly, the new category of Super Pinotages is causing a ripple through the incoming tide of things offered by Brand South Africa. Not everyone – present company excluded – is convinced that Pinotage can bear the torch as the nation’s grape: that sought-after focused ray of light, in clarity unmatched by any wine country, that cuts through the wad of global vinous offerings and makes universal consumers sit up and say, “Oh, that is South Africa in a glass, and we all like it. What a great piece of the wine world that neck of the woods must be.”
The one thing I dread about attending any formal wine industry discussion is that corny cliché of “South African wines are too cheap” and producers must therefore simply go ahead and raise their prices. Just like those who encourage the eradication of “boring commercial” grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon and propose replacing them with trendy Trousseau, Cinsault and Verdelho, the urge to raise price is usually made by folk without any real economic dependence on or general clue of the business side of the wine industry.
There’s been a lot of talk about the recorking of old South African wines currently being undertaken by Joaquim Sá of Amorim Cork, but for me the real revelation was the contents of those bottles. It was, indeed, rivetingly exciting watching Jean Vincent Ridon, a world-leader in cork-extraction, prying open the dust-covered antiquities with surgical-like precision and refined expertise.
A return to the White House by the Clintons could be a trump for the South African wine industry which is struggling to make in-roads into the world’s largest wine market. For were President Hillary Clinton to take the keys, husband and former president Bill would be tasked with selecting the wine served at official White House events. Tradition calls on the First Lady to choose wines in conjunction with the White House Sommelier, and with Bill set to become First Husband, Cape wine will find a warm welcome at the most important address in the world.