Shortly after Nelson Mandela was inaugurated, his office had a request from within the South African wine industry. The asking was that consideration be given to a national department of wine affairs overseen by a Minister of Wine. Today just the thought of a ministry with broad statutory powers sends shivers down the spine of the local wine arena – as it would have 23 years ago.
Seeing his penchant for the Saxonwold Shebeen, Brian Molefe might be chairing Wines of South Africa, with Hlaudi Motsoeneng running Vinpro and Julius Malema appointed to replace Duimpie Bayly as head of the wine industry’s wineland demarcation board.
The request to erect such a ministry was – politely, I believe – declined. And with the socio economic challenges facing a new democracy, no-one could blame the Presidency for canning the idea of a full-time department to look after the South African wine industry.
But regulation is not necessarily a bad thing. Lately I’ve been thinking of a couple of areas where South Africa’s accepted wine laws and regulations could receive a bit of forced change:
So, why not skip all this and add some pure water in the winery where the dilution can be managed and controlled?
In today’s age, this seems preposterous and makes no sense at all. We in the industry are attempting to convince consumers of the magic of individual wines crafted from a diversity of grape varieties; to embrace the merits of terroir and the unique characteristics of Chardonnay and Pinotage and Riesling grown on mountain vineyards from specially selected clones. Ocean breezes optional. So how do I explain to an average wine consumer that this great bottle of Syrah with provenance and from a very special wine region might contain 15% of, say, Merlot or Ruby Cabernet?
I doubt if a reputable restaurant chef would allow his renowned coq au vin to include 15% pork. Or how about some Gouda cheese in your Roquefort salad?
What further astounds me is that when talking to winemakers about their blended wines, they are quick to note the profound influence of 8% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot in their blends. These 15% addition of “others” can thus not be laughed off as having a negligable influence on the final bottle.
So why we are allowed to have a label that sells itself as Cabernet Franc or Sémillon, while the content of the bottle is bastardised, is something even a non-purist such as myself finds hard to swallow.
The brand Cap Classique reflects a few regulations in terms of lees-time on the bottle and bottle pressure. But I honestly think it is time to draw a line as to the grapes permitted in making a wine under the Cap Classique brand.
Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier are the grapes that have shown to produce the best Cap Classiques by a country mile. Take the Amorim Cap Classique Challenge as a guide-line where the non-Champagne varieties just don’t succeed in reaching the level of elegance and purity and depth of the classic grapes.
If South Africa wants to further the excellence of this category, sparkling wines made from other varieties should create their own brand and class. All grapes are created equal, however…….
If the minister was there, I’d back him on amending the above, and the drinks at the Saxonwold Shebeen would be on me – for now.
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