South African wine should be re-branded as “Cape Wine”. Despite being a fervent follower of the “I’m Staying” campaign, I feel that associating wine with Africa is pretty much akin to having Donald Trump head-up a global conference on Morality, Ethics and Decorum.
Call Europe, America and the Far East as ignorant or closed-minded as you like. But the average world consumer does not foster a fair positive image of Africa, south or otherwise. The reasons are too lengthy and ponderous for this modest missive, but start with corruption and civil war, and end with famine and genital mutilation. Think of the in-betweens at your own peril.
The fruit exporters have for decades known about this Africa conundrum in the marketing of consumables. Spurred by brands such as Capespan and Tru-Cape, the fruiters have created the reputation for quality and service – and value – which they deserve as much as the wine industry does.
An example of the value of the Cape brand is to be seen in the success of wines marketed under the Wine of Origin Cape Town banner that was formed in 2017 after the Wine and Spirits Board approved the establishing of a new district. Wineries using fruit from Durbanville, Constantia, Hout Bay, Cape Point and Philadelphia have since then been able to use the Wine of Origin Cape Town, benefitting from the association with one of the world’s great tourism brands. One which is, despite the restless pinko lefty murmuring from UCT and Stellenbosch Universities as well as the Scarborough Mindfulness Meander, far removed from the general global image and impression left by Africa.
The Durbanville addresses of Diemersdal Estate and Durbanville Hills have been especially eager and keen to use Wine of Origin Cape Town, as has become their right, and by all accounts this brand has resulted in marked successes for said wineries. What a different a slight tinkering to a name makes.
Hosting a number of American wine-buyers recently who were specifically seeking Cape Sauvignon Blanc, it was Diemersdal’s Eight Rows Sauvignon Blanc that elicited the most attention. With the Wine of Origin Cape Town standing-out clearly on the label, two of the party actually asked me whether this was a South African wine at all. (Forgive them, they were from Minnesota.)
In any event, it did appear as if the Diemersdal Eight Rows 2019 is currently one of the leaders in the Cape’s quality offering of the country’s number one-selling varietal wine, locally as well as internationally.
Thys Louw, proprietor and winemaker, is known to be restless in his quest to pursue the full gambit of Sauvignon Blanc offerings. Diemersdal, thus, has over the past four years seen the release of a skin-contact and wild ferment Sauvignon Blanc, an exotic tropical wine made from frozen juice as well as a unique number vinified in Marlborough, New Zealand under the Diemersdal label.
But among all this excitement and diversity, it is the Diemersdal Eight Rows Sauvignon Blanc that captures the true essence of this white grape as expressed from the Wine of Origin Cape Town terroir.
And ironically, this was the first wine Thys made when settling down on Diemersdal as winemaker in 2005. His father Tienie wasn’t going to give his son the full run of the farm immediately, initially permitting the kid to only make wine from eight rows of one specific Sauvignon Blanc vineyard. This is the same vineyard the wine is made from until this day, and why Eight Rows can only be produced in limited volumes.
The Eight Rows 2019 is, to my mind, one of the best yet released, possibly due to a relatively cool ripening season after a few hot days in early spring. Like all of Diemersdal’s Sauvignon Blanc – and wines, in fact – Eight Rows is made from dryland grapes.
The grapes were night harvested at 23.5ºB, crushed and de-stemmed reductively. Skin contact of 24 hours was given where after the juice was pressed and settled for 36 hours. Fermentation took place over three weeks at temperature controlled to 12-14ºC.
The style is determined by Thys in the cellar. Post-fermentation lees contact of five months is given, the lees stirred up once a week. And herein lies the magic of Sauvignon Blanc, that space wherein the verve and vivacious fruit-driven nature of the wine is corralled into a thing of textural beauty.
Eight Rows 2019 slides onto the palate like a razor slicing through fatty wild salmon. It greets the mouth with a stroke of glycerol waxiness, charming its way into the dense never-land of tongue and gum and sensory receptors. The fruit is white, and it is pear and green apple, with a whack of those crisp sour plums grown in northern Portugal, the ones stewed with pork and clams. There is an unashamed sense of luxury in the wine as the sensation of wild-flowers come to the fore, lifting the senses, creating a glimpse of the exotic before the burst of maritime exuberance takes over, allowing you to gulp and swallow an enormously satisfying cool white wine.
Arguably one of the best examples of a uniquely Cape Sauvignon Blanc, one that leaves the rest of Africa in its wake.
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