BLENHEIM, New Zealand. – When renowned American wine writer and critic Matt Kramer referred to it as the biggest single success story the modern wine world has seen, he wasn’t kidding. The category known as New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has in 46 years grown from literally zero vines and nada litres to 24 000ha of vineyard planted in the dry alluvial and clay soils on the South Island’s Marlborough region, seeing 340 000 tons of grapes crushed annually and making 255m litres of wine.
Alan Parker’s magnificently terrifying film Midnight Express did about as much damage to the Turkish tourism industry as Patricia de Lille’s brain-dead managing of Cape Town’s water crisis has done in eradicating tourist-related income to the Western Cape summer past.
Diemersdal wine maker Thys Louw had just finished the first stage of the world’s toughest mountain-bike race, the Cape Epic, when he heard that he’d won two gold medals. Not on the bike, but at the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon 2018, the world’s premier international showcase for Sauvignon Blanc wine. Diemersdal took gold for the MM Louw 2016 and Eight Rows 2017, two of the wines from this Durbanville estate renowned for its interpretations of South Africa’s and one of the world’s most popular white wine varieties.
So here we are, the first discussion of a wine from the 2018 vintage. That’s right, this is the Dry Year characterised by the worst domestic water shortages in the history of Cape Town, black-bass having to learn the leopard crawl due to empty dams and Premier Helen Zille sporting a water-saving, unwashed hair-do resembling a wombat that had gotten hold of a tub of Vaseline.
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.
The Gauteng propagandists constantly claiming the superiority of Johannesburg and Pretoria in wine -buying terms were dealt a bloody nose recently. A consumer survey commissioned by Caxton Media showed that the region with the highest per capita consumption of wine by value happens to be Cape Town’s Northern Suburbs. That is Durbanville, Bellville, Tygerberg and Parow, otherwise known as the Boerewors Curtain.
Showing my age I’ll admit that when first meeting the John Martin Sauvignon Blancfrom Backsberg Estate Cellars I assumed the wine was named after the iconic South African yachtsman. This John Martin was to round-the-world sailing what Cristiano Ronaldo is to football, and if ever a sailor needed a wine named after him, it would have to be our John.
Thys Louw has a simple answer as to why Sauvignon Blanc is South Africa’s – and one of the world’s – most popular single varietal wines. “The taste of the consumer. At the end of the day, after all that is being written, analysed and debated on the topic of wine, it all boils down to the taste of the consumer for whom wine is made,” says Thys who is cellar master and co-proprietor of Diemersdal Wine Estate in Durbanville, one of South Africa’s leading Sauvignon Blanc producers.
To check out the quality of Cape Harvest 2017, I was assisted by the friendly folk from Diemersdal, out Durbanville way. For here two new vintages, bottle, closed and already being sold are waiting for those like-minded vinous souls who want a sneak preview as to what this vintage holds.