For anyone who has visited the magic green island of Madeira, the mere thought of the word Verdelho leads one to stop in your tracks and think of mile-high mountains, an endless flat ocean and cellars filled with ancient barrels of richly scented wine. For it is the cooked wines of the island that have made this grape the stuff of legend. And just like it is difficult to think of a real cigar coming outside of Cuba or a slice of springbok biltong not originating from the dry plains of the Karoo, talking of Verdelho outside of Madeira tends to end in an area of abrupt nowhere-ness.
A winemaker’s confidence comes effortlessly if it is earned. During a recent presentation of the new vintages from David & Nadia, the ease David Sadie showed in his own skin bordered on the edge of audaciousness for such a young man and relative newcomer to the South African wine scene. Firm, steady voice seamlessly jumping between English and Afrikaans. A no-nonsense and pared-down description of the vineyards and earth from which he and wife Nadia make their wines, and how they make it. Not a moment’s hesitation shown during question time, steering curve-balls to fine-leg and without an iota of doubt in his answers.
I first met Frank Meaker in one of the coldest winters Paris has ever experienced. It was 1985, the weather so cold that the Five Nations rugby match between France and Scotland, which had drawn us to meet up in the City of Light, was cancelled as the Parc des Princes’s turf had frozen solid, making play unsafe and not conducive to avoiding cracked skulls and crushed bones.
I had never noticed Org de Rac until a friend made a very good sparkling Cap Classique from grapes growing on this wine farm. For few things alert the senses quite like a beaded glass of bottle-fermented fizz, and it was this that woke me up to this wine estate in the Swartland.
It was good getting some decent wine down the hatch, I tell you that. For the festive season was pretty much a blur of copious amounts of craft beer, ice-cold Black Velvets and too many of my handmade Dry Martinis, the latter of which I happen to be a master in their creating.
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.
I was chasing salted squid, eating baby pigs and talking to jaded fado songstresses when I missed the party. Well, one of them.
The one I was sorry to have slipped-up on was the maiden launch of two wines in the solo portfolio of Duncan Savage, also known as Cape Point Duncan. You know the dude I am referring to: the eternally boyish winemaker, he of the disarming smile and manicured facial hair who single-handedly turned Cape Point Vineyards into a South African icon winery in less than a decade.
The Bride had just sliced the head off her second masked Yakuza gangster when it hit me: what had really just happened over the past few days? Here I was, sprawled on the futon watching Kill Bill Volume 1, lulled by a warm comatose feeling of exhaustion and satisfied post-hectic workweek euphoria.
What a week, I thought looking at the screen as The Bride, aka Uma Thurman, drove a nail through the head of a Japanese schoolgirl.
Stellenbosch is, and always will be, the greatest red wine producing region in South Africa. Why? Same reason that Hawaii has great pipeline, Germans make good cars and Chelsea will win the Champions League: because God intended it that way.
I have been not unwilling, but reluctant, to add my penny to the fortune of riches amassed by the Swartland region over the past few years. The area holds a dear place in my weary heart, as the family farm called Swartboskraal is situated in the Swartland’s sandveld soul. To me the Swartland is a desolate and mysterious place, filled with tales of hardship told by people to whom the term “salt of the earth” does not do justice.