Controversy Brewing over South African Tea Wines

Granted, negotiating the wilderness of the north plus a three-day full-moon trance party has had me off the map for a while. But am I missing something re this week’s Western Cape Provincial press conference concerning the adulterating of South Africa’s vinous heritage through the legal adding of tea to our wines?

This is true. Background: The Western Cape Government this week hosted a talk-shop where the slick marketers of Audacia Wines in Stellenbosch punted their latest gimmick. Following on the Estate’s release two years ago of a Merlot flavoured with rooibos tea, the Audacia Natural Red wine infused with honey-bush was launched with the rapturous support of the Provincial authorities. Minister of Economic Opportunities Alan Winde was on hand to label the tea wine as an example of how “South Africa is constantly breaking new ground in wine innovation,” followed by an embarrassingly incorrect assumption that “we are the only country to produce Pinotage”.

My question is: where are the wine authorities on all this?

Or is the South African wine industry really going to allow and support the production of wines flavoured with things rooibos and honey-bush tea?

My personal experience with the Audacia Merlot Rooibos Tea Wine is that, besides its weedy sickly sweetness, the tea plant completely changes the character of what is expected from a product in the wine category.

In coffee Pinotage, which is not without controversy itself, the mocha flavours at least result from a fermentation process on oak which accentuates flavours already present in a wooded red wine. As is the case with America oak which imparts a tad of vanilla to Tourigas of the Douro as well as Shiraz wines from the Breedekloof.

This is part of wine’s broad and diverse spectrum as we know it.

The tea wines, however, exploit the fact that rooibos and honey-bush plants do, by some weird botanical flexibility, find themselves categorised as “wood”, paving the way for Audacia to add chips of dried tea bushes to wine, essentially creating a new drink in the process.

This shady opportunistic practise is complemented by marketing mumbo-jumbo surrounding the lack of sulphur the tea wines require, as well as containing less kilojoules than regular wine.

It is dangerous territory. Besides opening the gates to all kinds of opportunists under the guise of wine innovators who can now start using olive, orange, lime and avocado trees to legally flavour wines, the image of South African wine is at stake.

We are already sweating to promote the country as one worthy of international perception as a producer of world-class, classical wines based on regional authenticity and ethical practices inside and outside the cellar. By supporting sleazy sideshows such as tea flavoured wines and giving the producers airtime at governmental level is not conducive to efforts in staking our claim in the quality side of the wine world where certain traditional values do and should apply.

The wine authorities, ominously silent on this, have to let the industry know where they stand.

For wine it is not.

– Emile Joubert


Enjoyed this article?

Subscribe and never miss a post again.


4 thoughts on “Controversy Brewing over South African Tea Wines

  1. Interessant. Het die storie in die koerant gelees. Beslis iets wat in Samarie se koerant aangeraak moet word. Ek dink die gevaarlike aspek is dat dit van een plaas af kom – opportunisme, dus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *