5 Grande Dames of Cape Wine Marketing

I have never known what to make of a month dedicated to honouring and paying tribute to women. This is just such a natural thing to do, it would appear, and for various reasons. One being that I come from a family of formidable women, including a half-Irish mother who was the first wine magazine editor in the country and is the only person I know who could recite five pages from James Joyce’s Ulysses without blinking. There were, too, the two grand-mothers with whom I would go into battle knowing that not only will I be on the winning side, but that a damn fine dish of tomato-bredie or a melktert will be prepared in victory.

Still, this August month of women allows me to pay tribute to special ladies in various fields of expertise with which I claim to be modestly familiar. Such as the South African wine industry.

No, this is not a selection of lady winemakers of which there is also an excellent grouping. I am talking of those in the marketing engine of South African wine. Women driving sales and building image for various vinous entities with insight, style, vision, flair, intelligence and personality. Experience has taken me far and wide in an industry where I have been fortunate to spend time watching some amazing woman in the marketing of South Africa’s wineries and its gorgeous, varied elixirs. So, in no special order, these are my Grand Dames of Marketing Cape Wine:

Carina Gous, Klein Zalze Wine Estate

In a profile I wrote on Carina a couple of years back, she stated that the wine industry “is who I am”. This has been forged since first joining Stellenbosch Farmers Winery in the 1990s, and then becoming the face of wine at Distell. Stellenbosch icon Kleine Zalze is currently fortunate to have her heading-up marketing where she is continuing to grow the success of this winery, soon to be under new ownership of French corporate Advini.

Strategy and a formidable approach to brand-building is backed by a statistical mind that helped her begin an initial career as scientific researcher. Carina’s head for figures and the pin-point analysing of local and global trends are complemented by an inspiring manner of turning stats into vision and cutting a clear path ahead, with a constant energetic restlessness to innovate, and keep innovating. Couple this with eloquence, a willingness to listen and share ideas, as well as natural leadership abilities, and this is a woman that can – and does – hold her place in any intelligent wine conversation in the world.

Likes scarves and Chenin Blanc.

Shirley van Wyk, Terre Paisible

The wine brand Terre Paisible that Shirley currently represents is still a bit of an unknown entity, but not for much longer. This ex-advertising professional, who also worked in the Los Angeles movie industry, made a profound effect on the fortunes of Boschendal where she led marketing before heading to her new challenge.

With a background in advertising and film, plus a true sense of what a premium brand needs to attract consumers, Shirley brings gold-sky thinking to a wine brand without losing sight of the core values that makes wine a product of the vine and the soil. She is always on the look-out for ways to present her product to wine audiences with innovation and glamour, and has the chutzpah and ability to negotiate with the direct vehicles through which these audiences are approached. Think top-end fashion as well as launching Terre Paisible at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Incredibly organised and systematic, Shirley challenges those around her with an inner-calm and clear-headedness not conducive to clutter.

Likes Chardonnay and cigars.

Carolyn Martin, Creation Wines

Surprisingly, Neil Young’s brooding hit “You Are Like a Hurricane” was not written for this female half of Creation Wines up Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge way. A product of the Cape’s legendary Finlayson family of wine was instrumental in under 15 years turning a run-down sheep farm into one of the world’s top wine places to visit. While husband Jean-Claude handles the wines and vineyards, Carolyn runs the farm’s extraordinary hospitality offering, controls the overarching brand-map with a chic eagle eye and liaises with local and international fine wine customers. Two things about this lady: No is not an option. And there is always a better and more exciting way of doing something.

You want a Creation Chardonnay tasting while committing yoga with 65 friends on Hermanus beach, with a different Riedel glass used to accompany each position… well, it shall be done. A vegan wine-pairing while open shark-cage diving at Gansbaai? Of course.

This commitment to getting things done and reaching for the seemingly impossible is backed by Carolyn’s true understanding of customer-service, something she entrenches into her staff and at a level most Cape hospitality establishments can learn from.

Likes tai chi sessions and Pinot Noir.

Deidre Taylor, Kanonkop Estate

The adage states you get talkers, and you get doers. But then there are the talkers that do. This is Deidre. Never a quiet moment with this one around. Her boss, Kanonkop-owner Johann Krige, says that if they are flying together and he is not chatting to his marketing director, Deidre has been known to turn around, plonk her knees on the airplane seat and talk to the people in the row behind. More than likely getting the new friends onto the Kanonkop allocation list.

This marketing-sales dynamo allocates and shuffles over two million bottles of Kanonkop wine annually, having an encyclopaedic knowledge of the South African and international wine markets, as well as keeping tabs – almost daily – on the perception of Kanonkop and local wine in general. Her bustling energy is backed by superior organisational skills and an ability to juggle sixteen things at once – the latter being a feature of most of these wine ladies in question. Fiercely loyal to Kanonkop, Deidre prides relationships above all else, knowing she has the product to back-up her confident sales talk.

Likes lunches and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Steffi Layer, Diemersdal Estate

The first exceptional trait characterising Steffi is that she is German and actually does have a sense of humour. Handling the international marketing for one of the Cape’s most successful brands, Steffi eases into European sales channels where she is seen as not only an ambassador for Diemersdal, but for South African wine in general. Extremely organised with one of the most uncluttered desks known to man- or human-kind, Steffi’s professional demeanour features a calmness that makes a Buddhist monk appear like a candidate for Ritalin. And her eye for detail when it comes to aspects such as labels, capsules and other things in the ubiquitous dry-goods department is as unrelenting as one could expect from German DNA.

An extremely competent wine-taster, Steffi is also a driver of Diemersdal’s sustainability ethos and another of those people for whom nothing appears too much to ask of and accepts nothing but a view purporting half-full glasses and eternal optimism about South African wine.

Likes afval and Sauvignon Blanc.

 

Cheers ladies. You’re worth it.

Five Chicken Take-aways Checked Out

When it comes to fast-food, South Africa stands united in an all-consuming preference for chicken. Abattoirs operate 24/7 killing, plucking and chopping-up millions of birds annually to meet the demands of a nation besotted with chicken meat, organs, limbs and protrusions. And when it comes to eating on the trot, chicken joints rule the roost from Klapmuts to Kroonstad, Bloemfontein to Bellville.

In the relentless pursuit of thorough culinary investigative journalism, we took a look at a few of the products on offer at a chicken takeaway near you.

KFC

The world’s most famous brand in two-winged take-out offerings sees its fame resting on that secret spice mixture which Colonel Sanders, the bespectacled goatee-donning, white-suited Southern Gent and founder of KFC, invented for use on his deep-fried chicken. And at KFC it is all about this doughy, spicy, salty and ubiquitous crust that coats the cooked pieces of bird.

Thing is, chicken plays second Hillbilly fiddle at KFC as the Colonel’s heavy and palate-cloying batter rules the roost. You can serve deep-fried seal flipper or wind-dried zebra scrotum under that batter and it will taste like a piece of KFC. But it does the job, giving the chicken an agreeable crunch and a hit of savoury fattiness that satisfies primary urges of the sustenance-seeking kind.

Scrape off the greasy crumb-coating, however, and the chicken itself is blandly cooked revealing an innocuous pale, uninspiring colour exuding a greasy and artery-clogging sheen. Stick to the surface, and make it count.

Muchachos

This local brand purports to offer a Mexican nuance in its range, in which flame-grilled chicken dons the main sombrero. Despite the corny name and some terrible television advertising, Muchahos gives good bird. The chicken is obviously not grilled from scratch, as this is a time-consuming procedure requiring skill and care, elements that are not recognised as characteristics of fast-food restaurants.

But the flesh is accurately cooked – probably boiled – before given a lick of flame over the grill and some interesting umami-sh spices. Stripping the meat down to the bone, I found it hotly cooked through with the meat being succulent without having the spongy over-brined texture found in lung-tissue during ’flu season which characterises some chicken I have had from places of inferior standards.

Nando’s

This would probably have been better if the Nando’s culinary department had the same professionalism and creativity for which the marketing section is known. Smart-ass advertising is one thing, but getting the product offered to the same standard is another.

The brand message implies flavour and spice, coupled with a flame-grilled core. The result is a good-looking piece of chicken on the outside, but once exposed to culinary review is about as bland as a Cyril Ramaphosa speech on hand-built wind-farming equipment. Dull and greasy, the meat has a mysterious texture making it not only taste not like chicken but look unlike chicken flesh, too. Too wet due to, well, excess moisture exposure somewhere along the processing line. Fortunately, you can douse the bird in a tasty Nando’s peri-peri sauce to add a bit of flavourful satisfaction, both aspects being foreign to the chicken itself.

Hungry Lion

The Lion goes the KFC deep-fried route, including the batter-coating. Yet home-grown Hungry Lion kicks serious KFC drumstick through a superior execution of Southern Style chook.

The batter is finer and more delicate, with a golden-brown texture that makes for a helluva appealing piece of bird to the eye. Beneath this delectable layer, the chicken is perfectly cooked without excessive juices, oils and secretions to disturb the presence of firm, white chicken flesh. The batter does not dominate the show, simply forming a crunchy cloak that holds the meat together while sparking-off subtle hints of herb, pimento and salt.

McDonald’s

The Big Mac has for years now not been the only show in town performed by the behemoth take-out that is McDonald’s. Its chicken McNuggets take centre stage, too, with many folks admitting to an addiction to these crispy coated and chicken morsels rivalling crack, cocaine and vintage Swedish porn.

And if superstar athlete Usain Bolt can become the fastest human on the planet while following a Chicken McNugget diet, what’s not to like?

Yes, these are devilishly delicious. Lightly battered – no greasiness – the coating reveals the simple pleasure of clean white chicken meat uncluttered by excessive spice mixture, heart-stopping salt or skin-glowing MSG. Dipped in ketchup, barbecue sauce or mayonnaise from where they are popped into the mouth whole, McNuggets offer that live-the-moment feeling of well-earned self-indulgence with the quality of the chicken assuaging most of the guilt.

Kleine Zalze: An Ode to Nature’s Style

The only thing I know about style is that true style never goes out of fashion. In wine terms, I’ve always drawn a blank when writers, makers and opinion-formers go off about a “certain style” in which a wine is made. For how does making wine to a definite style agree with said commentators’ gospel stating that terroir plays the overriding role in the final outcome? If you make to a style, terroir must surely be massaged, manipulated or mangled, the mystical influences of ocean breezes, gentle slopes and gritty, gravelly clods of earth ungraciously shunned through inoculation, malolactic fermentation and exposure to a diverse selection of toasted barrel options.

Style in wine is, unlike mullets, moustaches and the music of Roger Whittaker, not entirely dead. But especially in white wine, it appears to be becoming irrelevant as more-and-more winemakers search for true expression of site and clarity, fruit purity being the only constant in their endeavours. The result of this quest, be it in Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc or Sémillon, is largely the reason for the brilliance of the Cape’s white wine offering.

Although the stylistic approach of leaner, fresher and brighter is shared, the result is definitely not homogenous. Because this way of viniculture has given the palette of Cape wine an array of diversity and excitement, now more so than ever, as the quest for lucidity and understated eloquence has resulted in wines expressing the awesomely varied geographical footprint of what truly is the most exciting wine country in the world.

Kleine Zalze, the dynamic Stellenbosch winery, illustrated this to me recently during a conversation with cellarmaster RJ Botha. The occasion was chatting about the Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2013 which won the Museum Class Trophy at this year’s Trophy Wine Show, with the winning wine illustrating just how much things have changed in the winemaking mindset.

“This is what makes Museum Class wines so interesting,” said RJ, “it gives one a look back at how wines have changed, as well as the approach to winemaking. A decade and more back, there was a tendency in making Chenin Blanc to pick riper, even giving it a botrytis component for some fruit-bomb woema. Big, blousy wines – this awarded Family Reserve 2013 had some of that element.”

Tasting it, I see where RJ is going. The wine, holding up excellently after nine years, is dense and profound on the palate with drifting elements of spice and a shrivelled-raisin fruitiness. Truly delectable, but about as close to anything relating to minerality as Cyril Ramaphosa is to coming clean on the hidden dollar millions. The wine’s Firgrove origin, that windswept parcel of slaty Stellenbosch earth near False Bay, has hardly had the opportunity of showing through the ripe concentration and wood.

Kleine Zalze’s current Chenin Blancs, which have been at the top-end of the awards outings for the past few years, display a different winemaking approach – style, yes? – to that found in those earlier wines.

RJ reasons this to earlier picking and harvesting a block at various ripeness levels. Old wood. And a portion of the wine kept off the oak and in the terracotta clay pots for which he and his team are so fond.

RJ Botha

Take the Kleine Zalze Reserve Chenin Blanc 2021, made from the same vineyards that gave the 2013, where the wood has gotten older and terracotta-aging is done on certain portions. The initial impression is of zest and restless, edgy – and not because it is a young wine. There is a keen respect for vineyard that has combined with the practicalities of lesser intervention and a supressed will to impose style on the wine. Grapes are talking here, grapes proud to carry the name Chenin Blanc.

The result is a wine layered with green and yellow citrus, a pungent breeze of low-tide ocean and a gentle layer of fynbos and creamy white arum lilies. A gentle crunch of green apples lies on the mid-palate, aided by a slight – yet heady – morse of sourdough. It tastes of sun and roaring waves, coloured by an endless crisp blue sky.

For this is the art where nature never goes out of stye.

A Steak-house Named Desire

As far as the evolution of things culinary go, steak and chips will outlive caviar, deconstructed Beef Wellington and hand-dived scallops cooked sous vide. The combination of char-grilled bloody beef and golden-crisp, perfectly fried slivers of hand-cut potato appeals to a basic need for happy sustenance, one unmatched by other food offerings.

The need for a good steak sneaks up on one like a former lover with closure issues. Once attached to your being, it has you edgily seeking the nearest place to satisfy this visceral pang, a combination of hunger and a headily nervous need for fulfilled satisfaction. Like a National Sea Rescue volunteer, the call of the steak sees you stop and drop everything you are doing, leaving these now-senseless tasks in mid-flow to hunt down an eatery with the potential of sating your animal appetite.

In Stellenbosch, the Fat Butcher is willing to accommodate such a spontaneous meat yearning. Set in a charming old building in Plein Street, opposite Decameron – the famous Italian eatery that also serves as Stellenbosch Mafia HQ – Fat Butcher is nirvana for a steak seeker. The cosy comfort of the interior, complemented by quaintly creaking old wooden floors, exudes a busy, yet welcoming, atmosphere. Upon entering you are met, usually, by a charming Stellenbosch student moonlighting as front-of-house, walls of wine and piles of meat. What is there not to like?

Obviously, the menu is meat, meat and more meat, including interesting bits, such as lamb-tails. Oxtail, too, and lamb chops ready to hit the grill. Calamari and steak tartare and fish, if you want, plus generous piles of salad. But for a true carnivore, the menu does not need looking at.

Before asking about the day’s steak recommendations, myself and the guest order starters to prepare the stomach for that beefy onslaught. She has a beef cheek drifting lazily in an aromatic, savoury broth. Always the one for kitsch and timeless steakhouse classics, I opt for the snails.

The escargots are presented removed from the shells and drenched with a creamy wine sauce with the desired amount of garlic, the steam of which rises and latches itself onto your contact lenses and painting your vision the tricolores of the French flag. But, oh, they are delicious morsels, firm to the bite yet creepily sensual in the firmed gooey-ness. Bread is dunked in the tasty sauce and a Damascene Sémillon, drier than a joke at a wedding between two fertiliser-salespeople, is sipped.

I procure a piece of the guest’s beef-cheek which has a lucid, herbaceous flavour in the clean streaks of facial flesh.

Fat Butcher offers a diverse selection of steaks. Wishing to know more, I make an interested-sounding enquiry to the charming lady serving us. The offering includes tomahawk, trendily showy with that formidable XXX-rated bone sticking sideways, as well as rib-eye, T-bone, picanha and sirloin still fondly attached to bone.

The guest and I opt for the latter, believing that a hot bone adds to the flavour of the meat. French fries. And béarnaise sauce, seeing as I have dined at the Fat Butcher before and know the béarnaise is prepared in-house and with the skill and respect this necessity deserves.

We opt to stick with drinking the Sémillon, its complexity not needing any conforming to convention by having red wine with the meat.

My steak is medium-rare, accurately grilled to this level. The char is deep and welcoming, and as the knife breaks the slight surface crust and slices downwards, one is met with the sight of meat dancing effortlessly between shades of deep pink and a red, bloody purpleness. As per habit, I carve the steak from the bone, scrapping those delectable crusty bits of burnt fat onto the slivers of meat.

Doused with béarnaise, the meat is eaten with gusto and relish. And it hits the spot. That irony-savoury meatiness is lifted to lofty heights by the sauce’s bright, palate-alerting combination of tarragon, vinegar, egg and butter, this dreamily creamy concoction adding further to the comfort the meat is providing.

After every second bite of meat, I pause, put down knife and fork, and grab one of the golden chips from the nest assembled in a miniature metal bucket. The chips offer a harmonious eat, crisp surfaces giving way to wholesome white potatoey pleasure. Now and again, a chip is dragged through some béarnaise to brighten the earthy neutrality of a good potato.

All good things come to an end, and before you can say “vegan”, 600 grams of live-giving, vital and nutritious grilled cow has entered your inner sanctum, the sanctum for now happy and satisfied and fulfilled. Until next time, which after a meal like this, cannot come soon enough. A desire that will outlive humankind itself.

Wine and the Restaurant Rip-Off

Along with leaf-roll virus, mealy-bugs and over-extracted Cabernet Sauvignon, listing fees count among the most dreaded two words faced by wine producers. And it would appear that, unlike leaf-roll, the occurrence of listing fees is growing in abundance as this becomes assumed standard practice among many trading as restaurants in the hospitality industry.

For the uninitiated, a listing fee is an amount of money the restaurant deems fit to charge a winery for the winery’s privilege of seeing one or more of its offerings appearing on that specific restaurant’s wine-list. So instead of eloquently and strategically marketing one’s wine as a potential complement to the restaurant’s culinary offering, as well as to the eatery’s general individual ambience, all the winery’s marketer has to do is hand over a wad of cash and bingo, your wine is accepted for re-selling by the dining establishment.

Annual amounts may vary from R3 000 to R26 000 charged to get your wine onto the restaurant list.

Now I am no enemy of free-market capitalist business practices. But that a growing number of restaurants here in the Western Cape are partaking in this mild extortion leaves a bad taste. The main reason for this is that wine is already a healthy and easy contributor to an eatery’s bottom-line. So why squeeze the producer even more?

Restaurants will buy at a 30% trade discount. This means the bottle of Chateau RippedOff you and I pay R100 for in retail will be sold to the restaurant for R70. But if you think said establishment is going to charge us R100 to enjoy the wine at the table and be happy with a 30% profit, cloud cuckoo is waiting. For said restaurant will place a substantial mark-up on the price at which the wine was bought. Think 300% to 500% on trade price. This means by the time it appears on the wine-list, Chateau RippedOff will carry a tag of between R210 to R350. Minus R70 from those two sums, and the restaurant is sitting with a substantial return.

What makes this profit tastier is that wine is an easy part of the restaurant value-chain. It does not have to be cooked to perfection and sauced by a trained chef. It does not need a uniform, nor does it require the paying of UIF benefits and taxi-fare. The wine only has to be stored and poured, in return giving love, pleasure and profit.

Which begs the question: why, with the restaurant already gaining a happy profit from the reselling of wine, do certain elements in the sector see the need to bump-up the wine-related income by slapping on an added listing fee?

If blatant greed is not the answer, then I do not know the difference between a steak tartare and a Beef Wellington.

The other nasty issue with a restaurant relying on a pay-for-play wine-list, is that the diner is blissfully unaware of this sleazy underhandedness. Many of us frequent a restaurant assuming the same amount of care and the same spirit of hospitality that goes into the food preparation and the service will apply to the selecting of the wine-list. Chardonnay from limestone soils to accompany the seafood dishes. Elegant Cabernet Sauvignons to partner the accurately grilled beef. Bright cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc for those spicy Asian dishes. Wine and food offered with an holistic approach towards customer satisfaction, one would expect.

When the restaurant relies on listing-fees, it displays a crude disrespect to its culinary offering by using money as the sole criteria for making its wine selection. Lack of respect for the diner, coupled with ignorance. Not exactly conducive to adding integrity to your hospitality offering, is it?

Of course, as long as wineries are willing to fall for this scam, it will go ahead unabated. The only party that can have a say is the customer. And for this, the wined-and-dined foodie media have a role to play by alerting the public to restaurants entertaining unethical wine-lists. Restaurant guides such as Eat Out should, along with a restaurant’s wheel-chair friendly status and the offering of vegan options, state whether the establishments listed play the listing-fee game.

Those provincial bodies who oversee the hospitality industry should force guilty restaurants to blatantly state – on the wine-list – that this list is based on wineries who have paid to see their products offered for sale, and that the selection was not the personal choice of the restaurant and is about as democratic as a parliamentary election in Rwanda.

Of this we don’t need to know, we must know. For the choice is ours.

Paul Clüver Chardonnay Named Best White Wine at Prestigious Trophy Wine Show

Pioneering Elgin producer Paul Clüver Family Wines confirmed its reputation as one of South Africa’s leading Chardonnay producers in winning two trophies at this year’s prestigious Trophy Wine Show with the Paul Clüver Estate Chardonnay 2020. The wine not only took the Trophy for Best Chardonnay, but also for Best White Wine on this year’s Trophy Show, as decided by the esteemed panel of local and international judges.

Known as South Africa’s most stringently judged wine competition, the Trophy Show – now in its 21st year – attracted 673 entries, with 20 Trophies and 29 Gold medals awarded by the esteemed judging panel.

Being named Best White Wine at this year’s Trophy Show follows on the international recognition Paul Clüver received at the recent Decanter World Wine Awards where its Seven Flags Chardonnay 2020 was one of only five South African wines to win a Platinum Award.

Andries Burger, Paul Clüver Family Wines cellarmaster, says the recognition for the winery’s Estate Chardonnay 2020 at the Trophy Show underscores the winery’s commitment to this Burgundian variety since pioneering Chardonnay in the cool-climate Elgin region in 1987.

“The result of this earlier work done by Dr Paul Clüver in establishing Chardonnay on our Elgin farm is that the cellar team has access to a broad spectrum of vines varying in age between five and 35 years,” says Burger. “Planted to Bokkeveld Shale soils with cool, water-retaining clay beds at between 280m and 350m above sea-level, our Chardonnay is a visceral expression of the unique Elgin geography. Being the basis of the making of any fine wine, the spectacular terroir allows Paul Clüver to present an individual offering to the South African Chardonnay palette.

“The fact that the Paul Clüver offering is one of distinction and quality has been underscored by this year’s showing at the Trophy Show with Trophies for Best Chardonnay and Best White Wine on show. These accolades are a true honour, coming at a time where South Africa is stepping to the fore as one of the world’s leading Chardonnay producers and as a Trophy Show entrant, Paul Clüver found ourselves in the company of brilliant wines. To rise to the top in this sector is very special and I accept this honour on behalf of our teams in the cellar and the vineyards, as well as the Clüver family who played such as vital role in getting Elgin onto the global wine map.”

In making the wine, the Chardonnay underwent a spontaneous wild ferment in French oak, of which 25% was new. After fermentation the wine remained on the lees for nine months, being stirred regularly to allow texture and palate-weight that complements the refined expression of Chardonnay fruit.

Burger says that the Paul Clüver Estate Chardonnay 2020 is classic Elgin terroir expression. “Although bone-dry with a residual sugar of 2g/l, the wine has enticing fruit notes which latch onto the lean minerality of a bright, fresh and life-affirming Chardonnay,” he says. “Site-specific fruit such as Elgin Chardonnay does not allow the winemaker to have a profound influence of style. Style is driven by terroir, which is immortal and has the final say.”

Kanonkop Paul Sauer Makes a Raquet

Lafras Huguenet

Novak eventually beat the Italian, and I left Wimbledon before the next match wishing to avoid the hysteria meeting Cameron Norrie’s appearance before the home crowd. The tube was quiet and getting off at High Street Kensington, I noticed the traffic stiller than usual, too. Even the Londoners are feeling the fuel prices, it would appear, although the diesel-scent from the black cabs was as evident as the tattooed arms of the hipsters strolling towards Kensington Market.

I walked past the Armenian church in-haling the heavy, slow air oxygenated by the elms and the horse-chestnuts and the oaks further down my road. The Abingdon Villas flat was cool, I opened the windows before switching on the television for the Norrie-Geffin match. The crowd was crazy, and only three games had been played.

The bell rang and Julia arrived having trotted down from the third-floor. She bore a bottle of cool Chablis. Before sitting down, I had another idea concerning the drinks. Me, I had been drinking Pol Roger all day at Wimbledon and needed some sterner stuff.

My wine fridge contained a bottle of the recent vintage of Paul Sauer, the great red wine from Kanonkop in Stellenbosch, this one from the 2019 vintage. Far too young, sure, but as I told Julia, one is never too old to go through an experimental phase.

She parked the Chablis and watched as I opened the Paul Sauer. It spilled purple and brooding into the decanter, filling the living-room with a heady aroma of crushed grapes, fermenting wine cellar and mossy autumnal forest. The wine was given 30 mins to open-up and draw in air and to get to know the world it had left behind during the 24mths in casks of new French oak.

Julia and I nibbled on the strawberries and she took of her shoes, tucking her feet next to her lap, as women of casual grace and confident elegance tend to do.

I poured the wine into two glasses and handed her one. She loves claret and noticed a Margaux element on the Paul Sauer’s nose. I told her she was correct: it is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, the balance made up with Cabernet France and Merlot. Structure, she said marvelling. Yes, those decomposed granite soils on the Simonsberg Mountain slopes, and the constant air-flow, and the geographical and historical provenance of Kanonkop, that all adds to the immensity of the wine.

This was my first sip of the Paul Sauer 2019, so I asked her to allow me some time to do a bit of reflecting and assessing of my own.

It is a sharper, cooler wine than Kanonkop produced in 2017 and 2018, more in line with the magnificent Paul Sauer 1997, which is still in as fine a shape as Julia’s calves, although I did not tell her that. The 2019 is already remarkably approachable. Decanting has whisked away most of the oak, only a brief bacon-kip stroke remaining. But apart from that, it is all wine purity; juicy and alert, corralling loads of classic Bordeaux-styled tastes. There is mulberry and crab-apple, a crunchy wet and sappy pomegranate. This deliciousness leads to sour-cherry and a load of plum, the showiness ending as the stern, sombre drama of pedigree and class takes over. Long, sleek tannins, more sinewy than dry. Gum-prickling, edgy energy and an firm, severe palate weight commanding as much attention as respect.

My chest swelled with pride at having the opportunity of entertaining Julia with such a splendid wine from my home country. She took out her phone to call her wine merchant to place an order, and before putting down the phone, she took a photograph of me as we both smiled and watched the tennis. Norrie had just played a stunning half-volley.

Vegans threaten to Up-root Wine Industry

South Africa’s growing vegan community is taking the local wine industry to task, accusing it of discriminatory marketing material in wineries’ media releases and tasting notes. According to Petunia Worteldy, president of the South African Association for Vegan Rights (Saaver), wineries continue to promote their products as suitable partners for meat, poultry and fish, hardly ever recommending the wines be enjoyed with vegan dishes.

“Despite the progressive move towards vegan wines shown by an increasing number of producers, when it comes to recommending wine pairings it is meat, flesh, and more meat,” says Worteldy. “These tasting notes are soaked with the blood of innocent animals, press releases dampened by the tears of bleating lambs. Especially with the new vintages hitting the market, consumers are advised to drink Cabernet Sauvignon with ‘hearty beef stews’, Pinotage with ‘braaied lamb-chops’ and Chardonnay with ‘roast chicken’.

“It truly is ghastly and does the wines a disservice – instead of anticipating a glass of crisp, bright Sauvignon Blanc, myself and other vegans shudder in horror upon reading the bottle’s back-label suggesting the wine be enjoyed with a raw, bloody slice of murdered tuna.”

According to Worteldy this lack of respect for the vegan community also shows the paucity of creativity in wine marketing. “It is just cut-and-paste stuff where every vintage of Shiraz gets associated with steak or osso buco,” she says. “So the wine might be made to vegan methods, but what does that help when you suggest I drink it with a ox-tail plucked from the corpse of a dead cow? Talk about shooting yourself in the foot, which is probably covered by a leather boot as well.”

Saaver, based in the coastal suburb of Glencairn outside Cape Town, is a not-for-profit organisation that is, says Worteldy, more than willing to consult to wineries who wish for their marketing material and wine recommendations to be more inclusive.

“A Cabernet Franc wine, for example, is a delicious accompaniment to grilled tofu with an organic lemon and parsley dressing,” she says. “Pinot Noir goes tremendously well with a delicious loaf of chopped mushrooms. And if you are into Riesling or Gewurztraminer, how about lentil and cauliflower curry served on a bed whole-grain rice. White wine afficionados will have no reason to deprive the ocean of its fish population when they taste the winning combination of an unwooded Chardonnay served with stewed kelp leaves and sea-grass consommé – delicious, especially when enjoyed while burning incense and listening to boot-leg Chrissie Hynde tunes.”

A delicious-looking vegan burger.

Worteldy says that while Saaver follows a friendly, peace-loving approach, but being wine-lovers, vegans demand to be included in the wine industry’s promotional and marketing narratives.

“Ignore vegans at your peril – if you haven’t realised this you should stop making wine and open organic open-air butcheries to show where your mind really lies,” she says. “Our community is growing, our community is strong and we are united in ensuring that vegans are no-longer seen as a fringe sector but a mainstream force to be reckoned with. But before a change of mind-set can occur, there must be change in heart. Thus, we implore on wineries to look into their hearts by dropping the pork wontons for some tofu pot-sticks so that we can unite as one.

“And remember – in vegan veritas.”

Seriously Old Dirt: A Wine Journey of Geological Curiosity

Look at that wine bottle reading “Seriously Old Dirt”, and right there certain conventional wine terms are thrown out of the window, plunging into a broken heap below. In a competitive environment seeking to sell premium wine to fashion-conscious wine drinkers, “Serious” and “old” are not the first descriptors that come to mind. Not to mention “dirt”. I mean, who uses dirt in any reference to an item meant for human consumption, not to mention enjoyment?

But for Mike Ratcliffe, owner and CEO of iconic wine entity Vilafonté and his team honesty, belief and commitment on a wine label are more important than the norm. Especially if that belief revolves around the ethos of creating wine from vineyards planted in some of the oldest soils on earth.

“Seriously Old Dirt underscores our conviction that we South African wine-growers have something truly unique in the ancient soils characterising the Cape winelands,” he says. “It is actually a bold story, visceral and tangible in these old clods of earth in which the country’s vineyards are set. The geology of our wine regions presents the industry with an incredible opportunity to emphasise an aspect that make our wine offerings totally original and captivating. Diversity of soil, dating back 700 million years to the beginning of planet earth. If that is not a USP, what is? Like fellow winemakers Eben Sadie and Chris and Andrea Mullineux, we deem it a privilege to honour these soils through our wines.”

Mike Ratcliffe

And not just old soils, but, like, seriously old.

“I cannot for the life of me remember when exactly the name Seriously Old Dirt cropped-up,” says Ratcliffe. “The term was being bandied about in the Vilafonté winery long before the wine was even thought of. At the beginning of our journey, Phil Freese, Vilafonté co-founder and previous partner, introduced the Vilafonté project by stating it evolved with a quest of discovery in which the team took the classic grape varieties of the world and planted them in the oldest soils on earth. The rest is history.”

And yes, it is all about the “dirt”. As Ratcliffe says, Seriously Old Dirt the wine is ”regionally agnostic, but soil specific”.  Classic winemaking from vineyards selected through various journeys of discovery throughout the ancient geologies that make-up the Cape winelands.

“Together with legendary soil scientist Dawid Saayman and viticulturist Marco Roux we have discovered, identified and profiled some of the oldest soil sites in the Cape,” says Ratcliffe. “From the decomposed granite of Stellenbosch, layered vilafontes soils in Paarl and the rich limestone fossil-beds of the Wandsbeck Valley 160km east of Cape Town, vines are bedded in growing matter harking back to the beginning of the earth, over 700 million years ago. As a wine, Seriously Old Dirt’s roots are anchored in these soils – both in terms of the quality of fruit vines growing here give us, as well as our geological curiosity in honouring this cardinal feature of South African wine.”

Arlene Mains, Seriously Old Dirt’s seriously smart and youthful Head-winemaker, confirms Ratcliffe’s commitment to soil as the principal building-block of the wine. “Soil is the foundation, the life-blood of a vineyard,” says Mains, “and it is the earth that determines the personality, the character and the varietal expression of the grapes the vineyards are going to give me to make wine from. The search for vines planted on these old, pre-historic soils has been a voyage of wonder for all of us involved with Seriously Old Dirt. Exploring the South African winelands with the focus on finding ancient geology and to see how unique geography has created an extraordinary symbiosis with the vineyard has been mind-shifting and gives the wine a new dimension.”

With an MSc in Wine Microbiology from Stellenbosch University, Mains has worked at Château Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux as well as multiple vintages at Opus One, the cult Californian brand that began as a collaboration between the Rothschilds and Robert Mondavi. It was spending time in the vineyards at Opus One that gave her these insights into the importance of viticulture and soils.

“I am not interested in farming a vineyard that to the eye looks all pretty, healthy and manicured,” she says. “For me, it is about taking all the steps needed in farming a vineyard that produces fruit of the quality and expressive profile we need for growing Seriously Old Dirt.”

Cabernet Sauvignon will always drive the blend, something Ratcliffe is adamant about. “Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Bordeaux blends from South Africa are my loves – I am going to have Cabernet Sauvignon on my gravestone, I hope,” he says.

The 2020 vintage of Seriously Old Dirt has 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc. And in composing the blend is one of the area’s where true craftmanship comes into winemaking.

“As head winemaker for Seriously Old Dirt by Vilafonté, and being focussed on one wine only, there is no space for even one drop of wine not meeting the criteria we demand in the final bottle,” says Mains. “If a barrel of any other component is not performing, I have authority to remove it from the process.”

The young wines, on completing malolactic fermentation, gives Arlene and her team an idea of the percentages of that vintage’s blending components. “Different varieties and vineyards are, however, aged separately in old French barriques (225l),” she says. “After six months the barrels will be assessed, and the final blend brought together. The wine is then sent back to barrel as a complete whole to integrate and mature further for six months.”

All this talk of quality and criteria and selection poses the question: what does Seriously Old Dirt aim to be as a wine?

Mains smiles. “Well, it probably isn’t recognised as official wine terminology, but ‘yummy!’ is the first thing that comes to mind,” she says. “Classical red grape varieties led by Cabernet Sauvignon, a variety made for growing in the ancient soils of the Cape, aged in old barrels to soften-out the edges and provide sumptuous fruit-flavours found in a find dry red wine….it can only be delicious and that is why one would want to drink it.”

Seriously…

Chardonnay and the Best Fish in the Sea

Lafras Huguenet

Then the storms came, gloomy dark clouds ejecting sheets of icy rain sent blowing horizontal by the raging north-westerly wind. The sea off the Cape was massive, with mountainous swells building steadily before their crests ripped apart, the breaks sending mountains of angry white water smashing into the shoreline.

Two days later, days short and dark, the weather raw and unsettled, the sun came out, and the wind departed as quickly as it had come. Still the ocean groaned, but the waves were calmer and the colour back to its blue-hued beauty, as it should.

Underneath its surface, a wonderful thing had happened. The power of the stormy sea had flushed out the gullies, loosening the sand to expose the banks of mussels, red-bait and worms, presenting a veritable marine buffet to the schools of hungry fish that had moved closer to the shore in a search for safety from the vicious surges of the deeper winter ocean.

The galjoen.

My quarry had arrived, so I packed my fishing tackle, heading for Macassar on False Bay. Standing on one of the rocky beds exposed by the low tide, I did not have to cast my bait far, did not have to be too smart or show a paranormal degree of angling skill. My rod dipped, and soon I had a mighty galjoen on my line, carefully reeling it in through the rock-lined gully, holding the 3kg fish in my hands and feeling the familiar roughness of its layer of protective scales. Its muscular tail flapped, the mouth gaped, the desperate gape of one knowing it had succumbed to fate.

I killed it lovingly, and with respect.

The galjoen (Dichistius capensis), endemic to the coastline of Namibia and South Africa, is the most distinctive tasting fish in the sea. That is, when prepared in the correct manner of braaiing it over hot coals, the fat dripping from the fish’s blue-grey flesh and the skin blistered by the heat of the fire and the meat scented and flavoured by the wood coals.

Being too large a fish to consume by myself, I let my editor of this website know that a fresh galjoen was being prepared under open skies, and he was over to my place faster than one could say “tight-lines”.

I was butterflying the fish and removing the innards when he arrived bearing great things. Two bottles of Chardonnay to accompany the flesh of the fish and to pay worthy respect to it having offered its life and soul for our culinary pleasure.

The wines were two stunners that had just been awarded Platinum gongs at the Decanter World Wine Awards, namely the Paul Clüver Seven Flags 2020 from Elgin and De Wetshof’s Bateleur, address Robertson, and of the same vintage as the Seven Flags. Both wines come with staggering reputations, being the only South African Chardonnays to hit the high Platinum Decanter note.

Galjoen on the braai.

The fish was placed in a grid and set over the red-hot coals, and the first Chardonnay was opened, this the De Wetshof Bateleur. A calmness had fallen over the Cape skies, the still air allowing the smoke from the coals to rise in a slow aromatic frond. The grilling fish sent goblets of fat hissing onto the goals. We looked at this in silence, sipping a wine showing a formidable presence in this ideal environment of two friends under open skies next to a fire cooking a magnificent fish. I tasted bitter almond and lime-peel, with just a hit of honey-suckle to harness and tame the exuberant vividness of what the De Wetshof Bateleur was presenting. Aged in new oak, the wine is built on firm, immovable foundations showing solidity and balance, poise and that wish for immortality.

My pondering ended abruptly when my editor noted the fish was ready, causing my mind to engage the gear of practicality. I removed the fish, plated two portions and we sat at the kitchen table with wine and galjoen, splashed with the juice from fresh lemon slices.

The fish’s flavour is one of wild ocean, of coves filled with seagrass unsettled by the current, and of mussels and clams and sea-snails bashed against rough-edged rocks. It is deep and intimate, a feral damp, and the meat has a sensual marine flavour, and is extraordinarily delicious. With the fish, the Bateleur showed a sleekier, brisk personality, fine and poised. The bottle ended too soon.

Second portions of galjoen were served, for we are men of good appetite, the editor and I. Here I plated portions from the fish’s belly, there where the fish’s layers of fat lie waiting to find fire and the warmth that releases the oily goodness into that slice of stomach flesh.

The Paul Clüver Seven Flags Chardonnay was open now, and I sipped it after wiping off the fish fat from my lips so as not to leave an oil slick on the wine’s surface. This is a cool-climate wine, typical of Elgin, a region Paul Clüver pioneered. And it is a wine showing the distinct differentiation between Elgin and Robertson terroir, clear signs that Cape Chardonnay is terroir-driven, bearing the unique fingerprint of geographical origin.

In the Seven Flags there was more fruit, more perfume, all very welcome to off-set the dense flavours of fulfilment provided by the galjoen stomach. This Chardonnay brought quince and cut apple, some brilliant green fig and winter melon to accompany the fine eating the fish was providing. By now we were drinking heartily, seeking freshness and cool, lingering wine laced with spurts of citrus and the extended linearity of exquisitely made Chardonnay to make this gastronomical decadence last longer.

Which it did, well into the night, as the two empty bottles stood next to fish-bones eaten bare and white, the two of us puffing on MonteCristo cigars in the special language of two men very lucky to experience one fish and a duo of wonderful wines, made for us and having created a memory that will not pass any time soon.