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.
When my hero died, I hit the freezer seeking a bag of dead sheep stomach. Jim Harrison, the last of the great red-blooded male American writers, passed over Easter. And with Jim having been a bit of a gourmand, I decided to make a big pot of something meaty, hearty and comforting, something the great man would have approved of. Remember, this is the guy who once wrote: “Men were not born to eat small portions.”
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.
The busty blonde school-teacher points to the red carnation on the jacket-lapel next to a voluminous breast and asks Johnny at the back of the science class, “Tell me what this flower lives from,?” Johnny chirps, “Milk, Miss!” The class is hosing with laughter.
Thinus Krüger might be one of South Africa’s wine rock-stars. But he still has my DVD of the Martin Scorsese classic The Last Waltz, which I loaned him about five years ago, not able to stomach the thought of any young music aficionado being oblivious of the existence of the mother of all rock films.
Public Holiday Nation, this has been South Africa over the past few weeks. Good Friday. Bad Friday. Workers Day. Freedom Day. Election. I am just waiting for a public holiday honouring the date on which Simon van der Stel stopped beating his first slave on 7 September 1689 after said slave, Pielkopius Witman, discovered how to make the original Vin de Constance.
The paradox is typical of South Africa. On the one hand, holding a glass of supremely elegant, noble and classical white wine made from one of the world’s finest grapes, a thing called Chardonnay. The other hand is grasping dry red rocky Karoo soil, the very same soil from which the fine wine originates.
Stellenbosch, the Swartland and Hemel-en-Aarde lost out as the Breederivier wine region kicked some serious butt in the world’s leading region-focussed wine competition. The passionate, terroir-driven producers in the Robertson district made an indelible mark at the 2013 Novare SA Terroir Wine Awards, with two wines in the selected SA Terroir Top 5 Estate Wines as well as five National Winners from all submissions.