Shock Departure of JP Rossouw Leaves Platter’s Wine Guide Reeling

The popularity of the Platter’s Wine Guide, South Africa’s leading wine-rating publication, is set to plunge after the shock departure of its debonair publisher Jean-Pierre Rossouw. Fondly known as JP in wine circles, Rossouw had been at the helm of the Platter’s Wine Guide since 2013, growing the book’s popularity with his wine knowledge, management skills and charming personality off-set by a suave sense of style and disarming good-looks.

JP Rossouw

A spokesperson for Diner’s Club, owners of Platter’s, confirmed Rossouw’s departure, adding that this has left a void, not only in the day-to-day running of the guide, but also in the publication’s marketing division.

“With that ice-white smile, piercing dark gaze and well-coiffed fringe, JP added a dangerously sexiness to the guide,” said the spokesperson who was speaking on condition of anonymity. “Here he definitely gave Platter’s an edge in the wine world, elevating the appeal of a book with not much more to offer than a few thousand wine-ratings. For years, the most – only – exciting aspect of the guide was the annual revealing of the book’s cover colour. This was until JP came along to personally present the top wine-performers at the book’s annual launch. One smile and a nonchalant flick of the fringe, and he brought a cult following to a normally staid formal occasion.”

JP Rossouw and Erika Obermeyer.

Beth Dinglestrat, a media and image consultant for various South African wineries, says Rossouw’s departure is an “insurmountable” loss for the Platter’s Guide.

“JP took the cobwebs out of wine, his involvement with this publication adding a dynamic and stylish metrosexual appeal to a book which has been a part of the South African wine land-scape for four decades,” says Dinglestrat. “Besides charm and coolness that makes Richard Gere seem neurotic, JP had a terrific work-ethic. Commitment to the edge of tenacity, it was. Each year we were astounded by his ability to pose with every single individual Platter’s Five Star winner without dropping his intense come-hither gaze or dulling that dazzling, even white smile. I just don’t know how Platter’s is going to come back from this.”

JP Rossouw and Craig Wessels.

Donna van Tetvallen, an assistant winemaker in Stellenbosch, says that JP’s leaving the Platter’s Guide has made her question her professional aspirations. “Every girl makes wine with the hope of getting to pose with Mister JP and a Platter’s Five Star certificate,” says Van Tetvallen. “I and my friends – girls and boys – were miffed to learn of JP’s leaving the guide as our chances of an appearance alongside him are now going nowhere. I want to appeal to Mr JP and the whole lot at Team Platter’s to bring back our publisher man. You don’t know how much he means to us. Since hearing the news of his going my Chardonnay has tasted dull and my Cabernet all bretty. There is just not much to look forward to. Thus, Platter’s, save South African wine and bring back JP.”

JP Rossouw with Nadia and Gordon Newton Johnson.

Dinglestrat says JP will be a hard act to follow for Platter’s. “While vanity is not much of a problem in wine media circles, good-looks and style are,” she says. “Wine writer Malu Lambert would be a good call as replacement, although her stamina for incessant smiling has yet to be tested. French wine expert, pioneer, selfie-king, visionary and best-at-everything Jean Vincent Ridon is another possibility, but we have yet to see what he really looks like when photographed by someone who is not himself.

“The thing is, talent like JP does not grow on trees – or vines.”

Stellenbosch Wine Routes: The Second Wave that Saved the Day

The evolution of the Stellenbosch Wine Routes included two important phases, its initial founding in 1971 by Frans Malan, Niel Joubert and Spatz Sperling being the first and most significant. With the advent of the new millennium and said Wine Routes now finding itself at a crossroads, the second chapter for Stellenbosch began in 1999.

The catalyst was Pietman Retief, well-known Stellenbosch personality, Tourism Association stalwart and former director of the South African Brandy Foundation, a body committed to the generic promotion of brandy and brandy culture. Retief had been invited to address local wine industry dignitaries and attendees at the Stellenbosch Food and Wine Festival in the spring of 1999, at that time the region’s premier social event.

Here Pietman took the opportunity to raise certain issues of concern at the road the Stellenbosch Wine Routes and the general tourism community had embarked upon. For although the organisation was founded in 1971 as an inclusive body representing all Stellenbosch wine cellars, the character of Stellenbosch wine tourism had over 28 years morphed into a disjointed and disparate entity. Due to the proliferation of wine cellars and confident individual voices, Stellenbosch had been broken into a number of wine routes each wishing to promote their specific regions. Where cellars in Helderberg, Bottelary and Simonsberg – all blue-chip Stellenbosch wine regions – had once happily settled under the umbrella body of the Stellenbosch Wine Routes, by 1999 these areas were running their own wine tourism gigs.

What was left of the original Stellenbosch Wine Routes comprised only some 40 of the then 100 cellars, the balance eschewing a bond with Stellenbosch preferring to fall under one of the aforementioned sub-regions.

As a seasoned tourism industry specialist and a respected part of the Stellenbosch community, Retief took to the podium and let rip with a stirring speech demanding, more than encouraging, Stellenbosch to get its act together by ensuring all the region’s producers work together under one banner. And that banner is to be Stellenbosch.

“How could we have allowed this venerable institution of Stellenbosch Wine Routes, founded in 1971 by people united in promoting this wonderful wine region, to break up into suchnsoulless, disjointed fragments?” asked Retief. “South Africa is at the cusp of becoming a major player in international and local wine tourism, the potential benefits of which are enormous to a community such as Stellenbosch which has its soul immersed in wine.

Pietman Retief, Mr Stellenbosch.

“If Stellenbosch is to be South Africa’s leading wine tourism body and wine region, which it deserves to be through historical reasons as well as the fact the nation’s best wines are made here, we must get off of our petty individual pedestals and have one united Wine Route – Stellenbosch Wine Routes.”

The sentiments of many in the Stellenbosch wine world were now out in the open thanks to Retief’s impassioned speech, causing local wine figures to act on the scenario sketched in the Stellenbosch Town Hall on that warm spring night of 1999.

Bennie Howard, then communications director of Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, set-up a brainstorming session attended by some of local wine industry heavyweights including Ken Forrester, Johann Krige of Kanonkop and grape-grower Johan Gerber.

Nicolette Waterford, first CEO of the American Express Stellenbosch Wine Routes.

Before he knew it, Krige was tasked with chairing the movement towards a greater, inclusive Stellenbosch Wine Routes.

“Initially this was a job that I was not particularly looking forward to,” recalls Krige. “The break-way groupings who had formed wine routes in Helderberg, Simonsberg and Bottelary were quite rightly protective over what they had established and were doing a good job. I expected the job of uniting the more than 100 wineries from various of Stellenbosch’s sub-regions to be like herding cats.”

But once the various groupings got together to thrash out synergies and opportunities, as well as re-connecting with the importance of the Wine of Origins Stellenbosch certification, the ball towards unification began rolling. The whole is, after all, greater than the sum of its parts.

Krige had two trump-cards to discourage any wineries from sticking to a sub-region instead of being corralled together with greater Stellenbosch. Firstly, Krige managed to convince the more than 200 grape farmers who grow grapes for selling to wineries making Wine of Origin Stellenbosch products to become wine route members, thereby ensuring a substantial boost to the Wine Routes kitty through the collection of these extra levies.

The second play saw Krige ensuring a sponsorship from American Express, making Stellenbosch the first local wine route to benefit from any form of commercial partnering.

At the official launch of the new Stellenbosch Wine Routes in 2002, Krige said: “The formation of the new, all-inclusive wine route is a leap of faith by the entire region’s wine industry players to promote their area and their product unilaterally.”

Johann Krige, at the helm of the New Stellenbosch Wine Routes.

What he didn’t add, was that South African wine tourism had now entered a new era with a tourism powerhouse called the Stellenbosch American Express Wine Routes comprising over 300 wineries and grape growers, a full time CEO in the form of Nicolette Waterford and a lucrative sponsorship from an established brand synonymous with local and international tourism.

This new face of wine tourism in South Africa’s wine capital showed the way in a dynamic and important part of the wine industry. A new, larger Stellenbosch Wine Festival was held. Proactive actions targeting the wine drinkers in Gauteng with Stellenbosch wine were embarked upon with great success, ensuring a greater awareness of the Stellenbosch brand and its status as the centre of wine excellence. Media campaigns aimed at connecting Stellenbosch with fine wine to local and global audiences saw this region leapfrogging other regional wine routes and taking its place as the country’s leading wine tourism exponent, a position held until this day.

And in the current climate where focus is on premiumisation of wine and excellence in tourism offerings, the adage created during the Wine Routes’ second phase is more relevant than ever. Simply: “Think quality, drink Stellenbosch.”

  • Emile Joubert for Stellenbosch VISIO

Wines from the Great Wilderness

It is location, geography and a sense of place that makes wine the most diverse and interesting beverage in the world. No-one really cares from where the hops come that is used to brew a cold beer, nor do we ponder over the origin of the maize milled to distil the base-spirits for gin or vodka. But wine is on its own planet in terms of defining and emphasising provenance and specificity of vineyards from where it is made.

Here, our address counts. No other wine producing country can compete with South Africa when it comes to the diversity, natural heritage and spectacular beauty of its wine regions. The oldest soils in the world and a location slap-bang in the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom with its thousands of species of fauna and flora makes Cape wine’s address, the place we call home, just incredible.

In this era’s emphasis on sustainability, conservation and preservation of natural areas so as to sequester those nasty carbon emissions, South Africa can become a world-leader in promoting its wines as far in-tune with the natural environment as humanly possible.

This aspect of the local wine industry has drawn the support of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the most recognised and important conservation body in the world, especially known through its panda-logo. Through the WWF, the Conservation Champions project has harnessed some 50 Cape wineries who each have shown an extraordinary commitment to protect and nurture the natural habitats of their respective farms whilst at the same time continuing to produce wines of which South African can be proud. In synch with nature through conservation, these wines sport the WWF Conservation Champions logo and validate the various members’ conservation actions – as well as helping promote the Cape wine industry’s overall commitment to its natural living environment.

Among these 50 WWF Conservation Champion members are found some of the country’s leading producers. Which makes it easier still – and logical – to pursue these wines in my purchases. As the following serve to illustrate.

Creation Viognier 2020

Situated in in the beautiful Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge area of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley outside Hermanus, Creation seamlessly incorporates it gorgeous physical location with the making of an extensive range of superb wines. These have not only sent Creation to the top of the Cape wine offering, but with its restaurant and tasting centre perched between two wilderness edges and the scent of fynbos in air, this has become one of the country’s most visited wineries.

Winemaker and owner JC Martin is a sure hand at Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, two varieties that excel in Hemel-en-Aarde. But I find Creation’s Viognier to be one of the other exciting wines in the range. This white variety, origins being in the Rhône Valley of France, seems to flourish in cool maritime Hemel-en-Aarde.

In its making, the wine is fermented and matured in stainless steel, thus keeping the perky freshness of the grape which so often turns into a glass of mushy apricot-driven juice when kept in wood. Creation Viognier is brisk to the edge of raciness, yet on the mid-palate shows a calm and cool creaminess with a broad, floral finish. Fruit and minerals come together for a delicious white wine of the kind of easy complexity one finds in the acting of Steve McQueen.

Neethlingshof 1802 Collection Pinotage 2017

This is one of Stellenbosch’s oldest wine estates, with a history traced back to 1692. Not only has the natural environment been kept in-tact, but so too has Neethlingshof done a great job in preserving its traditional buildings. Such as the old wine cellar that was completed in 1802, the date chosen to name Neethlingshof’s new range of premium wines.

The 1802 Collection sports a Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon, both great wines from vintage 2017. But there is something about the Pinotage that makes me want to traipse around Neethlingshof’s fynbos patches whispering good things to the caracal and owls who live there.

Made from a single Pinotage vineyard planted in 1997, this wine was crafted from hand-selected berries. Fermentation was done in barrel, after which the wine spent a mighty 26 months maturing in 300l vessels of French oak. The three finest barrels were selected for the 1802 Pinotage, and this focus is evident in the wine.

A sweet-fruited core drives this polished, immaculate red wine, the beauty of which lies in its completeness. No specific flavours leap to the fore, nor any notable hooks in the form of tannins or alert acidity. It is just a long, pure and refined wine of beauty and elegance. After finishing one bottle just to ensure that my assumption was correct for the whole journey, I ordered another few bottles as this classic Pinotage is going to mature beautifully over the next decade or two.

Boschendal Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Boschendal, together with Groot Constantia being South Africa’s oldest wine estate, circa 1685, is a powerhouse when it comes to conservation with the protection of its natural surroundings complemented by incredible eco-projects incorporating, among others, solar energy and waste-water management. Of course, the wines are fantastic and despite its rich, long wine-tradition Boschendal continues to innovate. Such as its Appellation Range of wines made from grapes grown in specific areas identified as bringing out the best in the various varieties concerned.

Stellenbosch is Ground Zero for Cabernet Sauvignon, thus Boschendal has introduced its maiden Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon, made from the comet 2017 vintage.

The grapes are grown on the Helderberg, along with Simonsberg Stellenbosch’s two finest regions for Cabernet Sauvignon as a result of the decomposed granite soils, afternoon sunlight radiation and consistent air-flows. Trucked to Boschendal’s Simondium winery, the grapes are fermented for over two weeks, pump-overs drawing maximum flavour, structure and character from the skins. Maturation is for 16 months in French oak, and the result is wine made very well from South Africa’s finest red wine variety grown in the best region for it.

Immediate aromas of pine-needle, dark fruit and fynbos waft from the glass. From the first sip, the wine is enormously satisfying in a sit-back-and-wonder kind of way. Ripe plums, dried figs and sun-kissed herbs come to the fore, with muscular tannins giving it a broody presence which, in the world of great Cabernet Sauvignon, is only natural.

Covid Vaccine and Your Wine Taste

The anti-Corona virus vaccinations are apparently doing more to the human body than preventing an infection from China’s finest biological experiment. Since the rolling-out of the Covid-vaccinations in South Africa two weeks back, recipients of the jab have noted a definite and marked changing in their abilities to taste and perceive wine.

Improved flavour profiles, heightened freshness and overall increased deliciousness of the drinking experience, these are some of the experiences wine-lovers have noted after receiving the Pfizer or Johnson&Johnson vaccinations.

Dawes Cotterill, a retired high-school teacher from Kenilworth in Cape Town, is adamant that the vaccination has had a profound effect on his daily wine-drinking.

“I used to belong to a wine club, collecting wine and all that, but since retiring in 2004 I’ve had to rein in the splurging and am mostly drinking box wine or supermarket own-label stuff,” says Cotterill. “Three days after getting my jab at Lentegeur on the Cape flats I was sitting down to a glass of cheap Drostdy-Hof white when I noticed something peculiar. Upon the sniff, I was smelling pure Montrachet white Burgundy in my glass. This gift kept on giving when I sipped the wine. Usually, I just put it away to get a buzz going so that I can handle the television news in a slightly sozzled state. But now, from that glass of cheap plonk Drostdy-Hof I was tasting white flowers, marzipan, sun-kissed citrus and char-grilled organic hazelnuts – features I remember from the days I could afford Burgundy with the wine club.”

Cotterrill’s experience proved not to be a one-off, as the next day’s experience with a bottle of Tassenberg showed. “God knock me down if the Tassenberg did not have a nose of Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1995, all petrichor, pine-needle and crushed mulberry. The wine was still light in colour, as Tas usually is, but in the mouth it had firm tannins, depth and dense dark fruit with an aftertaste far longer than my school-teacher’s pension is going to last.”

His conclusion? “It could only be the vaccination. The jab has made tastes and smells more pleasurable, I am sure,” he says. “Since the Covid vaccination I can even eat my wife’s rhubarb sponge-pudding, and whenever Banger, my Dachshund, rips with one of his farts I only smell Chanel No 5.”

Vector illustration old man drinking wine

According to Clitana Boshoff, a retired viticulturist who still consults to the South African bulk-wine industry, her post-vaccination experience has been equally remarkable. “I was concerned about the Pfizer-jab’s potential side-effects, such as cellulite, decreased sex-drive and an increase in facial hair,” she says. “But I had never considered the potentially positive influences of this vaccination. Which are amazing in that wine now just tastes better. I am tasting tropical fruits, minerality and freshness in the lowliest of bulk wines from Worcester and the Breedekloof. Since I had the jab, even Ruby Cabernet is hitting my palate with the same complexity and purity as a Bordeaux 2nd Growth. And when I tasted a Paarl Shiraz without any Brettanomyces on it, I finally knew that my sensorial abilities had been affected by the vaccination.”

Prof Joseph Nellekin, a renowned wine collector and professor in Sensorial Science at the University of Cape Winelands, says he has heard of similar experiences from members of the wine industry who have received the vaccination, but cannot validate this as he is not yet of vaxxer-age.

“I have alerted Johnson&Johnson and Pfizer to these instances of increased pleasure in wine-drinking, and the researchers are looking into it,” he says. “It is early days yet, but if this is the case, the wine industry stands to benefit in droves. No more hipsters complaining about mouth-puckering red wine tannins or bowl-sensitive middle-aged wine drinkers eschewing the acidity of Sauvignon Blanc or unwooded Chardonnay. If everybody who has been vaccinated against Covid finds nothing but pleasure in the wine-drinking experience, beer and gin will fall by the wayside. And wine will rule the world.”

Marissa Parradine, a daily columnist for various wine blogs, says she is not surprised to hear these post-vaccination stories concerning more enjoyable wine drinking. “This is just another ploy by China, this time to promote their own substandard wine industry,” she says.

“No doubt Beijing fiddled with the Covid-vaccines so that all wine tastes acceptably good, which will include those appalling Chardonnays, Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots made in China and with which they plan world-domination. Once everybody is vaccinated and everyone is loving the joy of any wine before them, China will flood the market with its rotgut stuff knowing that this grog will, at last, be palatable. Their last resort and the only way. And as with everything to do with Covid, China will have the final say.”

Youthful Beauty in Chamonix’s Early Wines

The proof is in the pudding. So, with all the hype surrounding the quality of the Cape 2021 wine vintage and the fostering of a focused sense of duty, I ventured into the Chamonix winery in Franschhoek to check-out this year’s young wines.

From the outside, things are looking good for vintage 2021. Producers’ organization Vinpro recently issued a media release underscoring the health of this new vintage, both in terms of grape volume and early signs of wine quality. The latter resulted from a cold 2020 winter and a cool, mild summer which led to slow ripening of grapes, something winemakers deem favourable to ensuring balanced chemistry in the fruit as well as completeness of flavour development.

Truth be told, a cellar filled with young wines in tank and barrel, just-fermented and some still going through malolactic fermentation, daunts me. Only wine professionals, mostly winemakers, have the tasting equipment to cut through the aggressive young acids and the meaty clods of dying yeast cells which prevail in these raw, underdone wines. The promise and fulfilment are distant, unattainable to the average casual drinker used to imbibing finished wines.

But there is nothing quite as vividly stimulating to one’s olfactory tools than a winery just after harvest. Aromas are heady and intense, sour-wild fermented skins combining with wet oak barrel and a feral, musky smell. Barrels are lined-up like worshippers in a cathedral, and the full tanks glisten with the film of condensation set-off by their cool vinous contents.

Neil Bruwer, Chamonix winemaker, ushered me to the tanks of white wine to align the palate. Actually, these tanks of unwooded Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were finished wines, awaiting bottling. But they would set the tone for what was to follow, the two un-barrelled varieties having no place to hide any unagreeable characters.

Sauvignon Blanc, this was tropical, accurate and with just the right amount of green on the rim. A finished, full mouth-feel ending crisply with a flurry of cymbals. The unwooded Chardonnay, well, this is going to be a stunner. Green apple and lemon-peel abound, with a blousy, floral presence that I found truly striking. From a wine of only a few months old.

Bruwer watched my nods of approval. “That’s the vintage you are tasting,” he said. “Everything was in the grapes this year. Perfect ripeness, bracing acids and everything in balance.”

Neil Bruwer, Chamonix winemaker.

With his wine-thief in hand, Bruwer marched myself and Stefan van Rooyen, Chamonix CEO, to the first row of barriques. He drew a 2021 Pinot Noir into the glasses. The surprise was all mine, as while obviously presenting a woody toastiness, that characteristic whack of red cherry juice and tobacco leaf was coming right through the barrel’s timber limbs. Fresh, zippy and tart, the three-month old Pinot Noir was already showing a developed fruit core of blackcurrant and slight hit of Turkish delight. Mouthfeel was lovely and already charming, coaxing the palate with fruit and forest. If I closed my eyes and forgot about where I was standing, I would have thought that this was a young vintage Pinot Noir poured out of bottle.

Onto the Chamonix Chardonnay 2021, and with the unwooded version having provided a glimpse into the quality of this year’s offering, it was no surprise that the wine out of barrel lit the place up with the glow of great things to come. Power and grace had already drowned the wood, leaving one with a young Chardonnay audaciously showing a ridiculous maturity, development and a mark of the classic. Citrus of all sorts ride on a tide of fresh, brisk acidity while white flowers and nuts stand on the side-line, waiting to climb onto the wave over the next few months in barrel. Extraordinary, really, and what a privilege.

Onto the last barrel of yet-nameless wine, and I would have flattered myself with my tasting-skills if it had not been so obvious. The wine was white, its scent rose from the glass like a snake-charmer’s pet and flooded me with quince, salt, kelp and lime-peel. On the mouth the stuff stomped over all the senses, gripping onto the inner-jowls with a tartness that was eye-watering, yet pleasant.

It had to be…..and I called it….the Chamonix Old Vine Chenin Blanc. Stern, complex, loud and attention-demanding. Released for the first time last year, the 2021 offering will undoubtedly further this wine’s reputation that has already reached lofty heights.

Various other young works-in-progress were tasted, including a juicy, sensually warm Pinotage and a densely classic Cabernet Franc, but nothing changed the opinion that this, 2021, is going to be a very special year for Cape wine. The good are going to be better, the better will become classics and the classics shall show greatness. As I once knew, there is beauty in youth.

  • Lafras Huguenet

Bumper Cape Wine Harvest, with Top Quality to Boot

Wine lovers from across the globe can enjoy outstanding wines from a much cooler and later 2021 wine grape season in South Africa. This according to the annual South African Wine Harvest Report 2021.

“It seems as though the vines really took their time to prepare this year’s harvest,” says Conrad Schutte, consultation service manager of the wine industry body Vinpro. “Moderate weather throughout the season, and specifically during harvest time, resulted in grapes ripening slower, while developing exceptional colour and flavour.”

The 2021 wine grape crop is estimated at 1 461 599 tonnes, according to the latest estimate of industry body SAWIS (South African Wine Industry Information & Systems) on 19 May 2021. It is 8.9% larger than the 2020 harvest.

The harvest kicked off around two weeks later than normal due to unusually cool weather conditions throughout the season, which persisted throughout harvest time and resulted in some wine grape producers harvesting their last grapes in May. Water resources were also replenished in most regions following the recent drought, which contributed to good vine growth, bunch numbers and berry sizes.

“Although these are general observations, it is always important to take the South Africa wine industry’s diversity over ten wine grape growing regions into account,” Conrad says.

Remarkable wines

“The late and slow harvest was definitely worth the wait. Wine lovers can really look forward to remarkable wines from the 2021 crop,” Conrad says. “The cooler weather enabled producers to harvest their grapes at exactly the right time, and viticulturists and winemakers are especially excited about good colour extraction, low pH levels and high natural acidity in cases where vineyards were managed effectively, which all point to exceptional quality wines.

The 2021 wine harvest – including juice and concentrate for non-alcoholic purposes, wine for brandy and distilling wine – is expected to amount to 1 136.4 million litres at an average recovery of 778 litres per ton of grapes.

“We are delighted that harvest 2021 has proven to be somewhat of a silver lining for the South African wine industry, which will no doubt further bolster our international positioning,” says Siobhan Thompson, CEO of Wines of South Africa (WoSA). “What stands out above all else is the consistency in quality that we have come to see over recent years. This will go a long way to convincing those who may still have been on the fence and reinforce our overall standing alongside our international competitors. It is also very promising to note that the volume and value of wine exports from South Africa are higher compared to the year on year figures in 2020 and 2019.” 

South Africa is the ninth biggest wine producer world-wide and produces about 4% of the world’s wine. The wine industry contributes more than R55 billion to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 269 069 people throughout the value-chain, of which 80 183 work on farms and in cellars. 

Strike a balance

Intermittent restrictions on the export and local sale of alcohol in South Africa from March 2020 to February 2021 as part of the country’s national state of disaster resulted in 650 million litres of wine stock at the end of 2020, of which a large portion was not yet contracted.

“With so much stock still in the tanks at the beginning of harvest time, producers and wineries were concerned about processing and storage capacity when taking in the new harvest, many of whom rented additional storage space or restored old tanks,” says Rico Basson, Vinpro MD. “However, the fact that sales reopened, along with the harvest starting later than normal, helped ease the pressure to some extent.” A number of wineries were also able to secure contracts with grape juice manufacturers, which helped work away some of the stock. 

“The larger wine grape crop will require careful planning from producers and wineries to sell the current wine stock in a responsible and sustainable way. This situation will, however, also create the opportunity for innovation and growth of existing and new markets,” Rico says. 

2020/21 Growing season

The weather was moderate in most regions during the post-harvest period, which led to leaves falling later than normal and vines building up good reserves. Producers also had access to sufficient water for post-harvest irrigation.

Winter was colder than the previous season, with much higher rainfall, which replenished water resources and led to sufficient cold accumulation to break dormancy.

The cold and wet weather continued into spring, which contributed to homogenous, but delayed bud-break and initial growth. In the coastal region, however, the wetter conditions made the timing of disease control more challenging.

Frost damage occurred in some irrigation areas and it was expected that significant frost damage in the lower lying areas of the Northern Cape and strong winds in the Cape South Coast region would have a notable effect on these crops. Fortunately, the frost and wind occurred at an early enough developmental stage for vines to recover.

Flowering and set was mostly efficient and even, while shoot and leaf growth picked up the pace by the start of November, which necessitated additional inputs from producers to manage the fast and vigorous growth.

Temperatures remained moderate during the summer, which slowed down ripening and resulted in harvest time starting out around two weeks later than normal. Although most wine regions experienced little rainfall during harvest time, there were also almost no characteristic heat-waves, and the lower day and night temperatures throughout the season led to producers waiting patiently for grapes to reach optimum ripeness.

  • VinPro Press Release

Administrative Mess with SA Wine Regions

Old habits die hard. And if they don’t want to, best one puts them out of their misery with a quick, decisive whack to the head.

A whole thesis of moaning and ridiculing can be committed on the way in which the relevant authorities have carved-up South Africa’s wine regions and decided which parcels of land are designated under various official banners. Some of these will confuse a fourth-grade geography pupil, but it is what it is.

However, when strong regional brands are concerned and where South African wine ridicules itself in the eyes of anybody interested in our country’s wine – locally as well as internationally – the dimmer side of wine officialdom has to be noted.

Recently my indicators were switched on by a very nifty infographic from the Sauvignon Blanc Interest Group. This communication indicated that Stellenbosch has the most turf under Sauvignon Blanc vineyards, some 27%. Of course, my bull-shit detector went on immediately. Stellenbosch produces fine Sauvignon Blanc, but stating the region being the country’s most heavily populated in terms of this variety’s vines is a bit of a stretch.

A quick look down the infographic indicated where the misinformation lies, a bit of inconceivable stupidity I thought the industry had gotten rid of with together with KWV quotas, grey shoes at wine shows and the infamous dop system. For in terms of wine production districts, the wine bodies still corral Stellenbosch together with Durbanville and Constantia.

Far-fetched as it may sound, the South African Wine Industry Systems (Sawis) lists the country’s wine producing areas as follows: Northern Cape, Olifant’s River, Swartland, Little Karoo, Paarl, Robertson, Stellenbosch, Worcester, Breedekloof and Cape South Coast. Obviously one can pick this apart, such as there being no Franschhoek -this falls under Paarl.

But it is the appearance of Stellenbosch officially representing Durbanville and Contantia that underscores this ludicrous system to the fullest. Constantia is, arguably, South Africa’s most famous regional brand name, with Durbanville itself being an established power-house in terms of area under vine and wine quality. So, to have these two regions disappear under the very individual Stellenbosch umbrella, probably for ease of administration and because this is how the KWV once wanted the landscape to look, is a jarring error and an embarrassment.

Take that aforementioned infographic from the Sauvignon Blanc producers, which has probably been viewed around the world by those interested in South Africa wine. The information presented there is faulty and incorrect, and further hazes the understanding of the Cape winelands at the very time the industry is trying to have the country seen as a patchwork of terroir individuality.

I know for a fact that this situation has been queried with Sawis and Vinpro, the producers organisation. Yet to date no attempts have been made by the authorities to address these stark and glaring misrepresentations.

If I had a hammer……

How to Make an Instant Wine Classic in Stellenbosch

The Stellenbosch wine region is rapidly being defined by the tale of two Cabernets: Sauvignon and Franc. At this stage Sir Sauvignon is still way ahead in terms of offering wines showing recognised splendour and magnificence, obviously due to the fact that it is more widely planted in Stellenbosch than Monsieur Franc. Being associated with iconic wine brands such as Kanonkop, Rustenberg, Rust en Vrede, Meerlust, Waterford and Le Riche – to name a few – has, too, made Cabernet Sauvignon a no-brainer in attracting traction in the mind of the wine consumer searching for the big red stuff.

It was Uva Mira winemaker Christiaan Coetzee who, during a long conversation atop one of his sky-hugging vineyards 600m up the Helderberg, planted this thinking that Cabernet Franc is fast becoming a serious Cape wineland offering, capable of garnering as much star-struck attention as the wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon. Especially in the Helderberg where sunlight radiation runs to 5000 watts, air-flow is indeterminably constant and the 80 million year-old soils of decomposed granite offer growing matter of the kind the Cabernet Franc variety tends to find as likeable as its more famous Sauvignon off-spring does.

The much-hyped release earlier this year of Taaibosch Crescendo definitely adds to the excitement around the potential Cabernet Franc has to make and contribute to magnificence wines. There is no turning back now. The variety is a player. And the best and most is yet to come.

Taaibosch is the premier result of the France-based Oddo family’s foray into Stellenbosch. It began with Pink Valley Rosé lower down the Helderberg slope from the Taaibosch vineyards and winery. Now, after a relatively short period of cellar-building, soil-ripping, vineyard-planting and rejuvenation of established plants, the Taaibosch Crescendo 2018 has been released. To loud acclaim and hype, the rapturous welcoming of Taaibosch largely resting on the reputation the same farm had achieved under previous owners as Cordoba. Cordoba had a huge reputation in the 1990s and early 2000s, so much so that the current owners milked the name of Cordoba’s flagship red wine Crescendo.

Taaibosch winery.

Comparisons, however, stop there. Besides new owners, the sherriff is Schalk-Willem Joubert. The Taaibosch wine is a different animal all together than Crescendos of old. Different winemaker. Different vineyard and cellar. Different style.

In the Taaibosch Crescendo Cabernet Franc dominates the blend with a 65% component, followed Merlot (30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (5%) making-up the balance.

The currently established vineyards comprise 18 year-old bushvines farmed without irrigation. And to organic principles, but without the bunny-hugger ethos which South African organic producers still struggle to shake. “Organic is about soil-health, which makes for healthier vines and better wine,” says Joubert. “This is quite a simple equation, and one we follow rigorously on Taaibosch. But it is not a marketing tool – this is not organic wine, but great wine that happens to result from organic farming.”

The one thing that struck me about the visit to Taaibosch was that although the accent is on the spectacular terroir, the health of the soils and the personal attention each vine is given, there is none of this “wine is made in the vineyard” bullshit. That spectacular Taaibosch cellar, technologically as advanced as any other in the Cape, was not built just to coax grapes from berries wine. It is about timing, precision and focussed aspiration.

Schalk-Willem Joubert

Grapes are hand-picked and cooled-down in a cold-room before given a cold-soaking. After inoculated fermentation, the Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon components are matured separately for 14 months in French oak barriques, of which 35% are new.

Then comes the blending, something Joubert and his team does with the attention to detail and mastered intuitiveness of a symphony conductor.

The wines are removed for blending, whereafter the total blend is moved to two different sets of containers – 70% to wood foudré and the rest to concrete eggs. Here the blend lies for a year, before being drawn off and placed in concrete for three months to finish-off the maturation. The wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered, spending three to six months in bottle before release.

The maiden Taaibosch Crescendo 2018, already deemed a cult wine despite its modest R300 price-tag, easily and confidently slips into the very top offering of South Africa’s classic wine offering. There is something very accurate, immaculate and polished about the wine – that nothing-out-of-place, tuning-fork clarity one gets when experiencing a Charlie Parker saxophone riff or reading a JM Coetzee paragraph of precisely placed sentences constructed from perfectly chosen words.

An initial fresh, juicy entry onto the palate leads to the wine exposing firmly weighted flavours of blueberry, cherry and dried pomegranate, with a slight hit of fennel and fynbos, the latter also being a pronounced feature of Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon. Reflecting its ethos, the wine’s run is precise and clear. From entry to finish, this is complete red wine glory which can be studied and analysed, or just experienced for the very deliciousness thereof. The Cabernet Franc component gives brightness and grace in structure, while the dab of Merlot weighs-in with a turn of fruity succulence with Cabernet Sauvignon ensuring a firm, brooding finish.

Whatever the tale holds in-store, it is being told very well.

Boschendal adds Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon to Acclaimed Appellation Series

Boschendal Estate, founded in 1685 in Groot Drakenstein between Paarl and Franschhoek, is known for going that extra mile in search of vineyards from which to make the best wines possible for its extensive range. In its “Appellation Series” Boschendal seeks to bottle grape varieties that have become associated with parcels of Cape winelands terroir recognised as offering distinctive characteristics to cultivars especially suited to these regions. And when it came to extending this series to include Cabernet Sauvignon, known as the King of Red wines, Boschendal looked to Stellenbosch, South Africa’s most famous wine region which has over the past five decades become world-famous for wines made from this Bordeaux variety.

According to Shirley van Wyk, Boschendal Marketing Manager, the Boschendal Appellation Series of wines has up to now focussed on Elgin from where grapes are selected from long-term grower vineyards as well as Boschendal’s own Highfield Vineyards. “These site-specific wines with their terroir focus and vivid expression of varietal character have established the Appellation Series as one of Boschendal’s acclaimed premium offerings,” says Van Wyk. “In looking to find a wine to bolster this range, the excellent reputation of South African Cabernet Sauvignon came to fore. And when you look for Cabernet Sauvignon, there is really only one region that springs to mind, and that is Stellenbosch.”

Shirley van Wyk, Boschendal marketing manager.

The search for the best vineyards from which to make the Boschendal Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon led Boschendal viticulturist Heinie Nel and red winemaker Jacques Viljoen to Stellenbosch’s Helderberg appellation. Famed for its legacy of Cabernet Sauvignon wines, the Helderberg lies on the south-easterly side of the region and is characterised by ancient soils of decomposed granite, steep slopes that face west and bask in afternoon sun, as well as close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean at nearby False Bay.

According to Viljoen, Helderberg terroir is a dream for any winemaker aspiring to the making of fine Cabernet Sauvignon. “It is as if Cabernet Sauvignon and Helderberg, Stellenbosch were made for each other,” he says. “Not only does one sense this when you are in the vineyards seeing the plants develop grape-bunches in ideal conditions. Once the grapes are harvested and you begin to work with the fruit and the juice, the developing flavours and aromas are pronounced in exuding a Cabernet Sauvignon character one only finds from that part of Stellenbosch.”

The maiden Boschendal Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon was made from the 2017 vintage which is becoming recognised as one of the best red wine vintages the Stellenbosch region has had over the past few decades. “The 2016 winter was slap-bang in the middle of that infamous Cape drought,” says Viljoen, “and as harvest 2017 got underway, vineyard conditions were dry and hot. However, the weather cooled down considerably in March. This was ideal for the late-ripening variety that is Cabernet Sauvignon as the cooler temperatures led to that special thing a winemaker seeks: even-ripening.”

Winemaker Jacques Viljoen from Boschendal.

The grapes were hand-harvested on the Helderberg and brought to the Boschendal winery in cooled containers. After destemming, berries were meticulously sorted to remove any green or shrivelled fruit. Fermentation was done in stainless steel tanks, with regular pump-overs ensuring aeration and extraction during the 12 days’ fermenting.

“With fruit of such quality and from such a great vintage, you want to make sure you get the best out of it,” says Viljoen. “Thus, when the grapes had fermented dry, we did a post-fermentation maceration, allowing the wine to lie on the skins for a further month before pressing. This process really polished the wine with bright fruit flavours and well-rounded tannins.”

Maturation was done in 300 litre barrels of French oak ranging from 1st to 4th fill wood for 15 to 16 months.

“Myself and the team kept an eye on the barrels throughout the wine’s time in wood,” says Viljoen, “constantly tasting and keeping tabs on its development. When it came to selecting the best barrels to make-up the final blend, we had a firm idea what the final wine demanded. And now, tasting it from the bottle, it has exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

Viljoen describes the Boschendal Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 as a great example of Cabernet made on one of the best sites for this variety in the New World. “It is all about giving the wine a sense of place, something the terroir of our Stellenbosch vineyards has truly done,” he says. “There is a commanding presence in the completeness of the wine on the palate, the muscular yet supple tannins and the long, elegant finish. What I am truly pleased about is the bright, sunny fruit elements that complement the classic complexity. Discernible notes of cherry and black-currant add to the wine’s regal features, and I refer to these as the jewels in the crown.”

According to Van Wyk, Boschendal Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 is a welcome addition to the Boschendal . “This wine is destined to become a classic and underscores Boschendal’s position as a leading house of premium South African wines. The Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon is an important milestone in Boschendal’s journey to continued excellence in wine quality, provenance and legacy. And we all look forward to being part of the next chapter of this estate’s illustrious history.”

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Edgebaston and the Cabernet Kid

Having built-up a formidable reputation as a winemaker with various brands and wine styles over the past 25 years, David Finlayson from Edgebaston Wines has enough experience to know what he can do best. In terms of producing wine, his life-long connection with Cabernet Sauvignon is proving to deliver his most famous offerings, as recently shown in the Concours International des Cabernets, one of the world’s leading competitions committed to judging this variety and where Finlayson’s Edgebaston Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 won a rare gold medal.

 At the most recent edition of the Concours des Cabernets, 223 wines made from Cabernets grapes and from 20 countries were tasted by sommeliers members of the Union de la Sommellerie Française.

David Finlayson

“There is something personally rewarding gaining accolades with a grape variety that has been a part of your life for as long as one’s interest in wine has been there,” says Finlayson, who is part of the three-generation Finlayson family that continues to make its mark on the South African wine scene. “Growing up on various Stellenbosch wine farms, it was Cabernet Sauvignon that was always spoken of in revered terms by my grand-father Maurice and his sons Walter (David’s father) and Peter. Going on to study winemaking at Elsenburg and beginning to make wine, I realised at a young age the greatness of Cabernet Sauvignon as a variety, as well as the fact that it comes to the fore magnificently in the diverse terroir offered by the Stellenbosch region.”

Despite the reputation gained with his extensive and diverse range of Edgebaston wines, Finlayson admits to a special affinity for Cabernet Sauvignon. “The aroma of Cabernet fermenting during harvest is pretty much a part of my wine DNA, having been exposed to this from an early age,” he says. Over time and working with the variety you get to know its nuances, its manner and features, as well as those expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch which are unique in the wine world.

“That’s the most important thing about winning this gold medal and the Concours des Cabernets – this and other awards give recognition to Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon, a segment of South African wine that has garnered a terrific reputation and with which we can take-on the world.”

Of the award-winning Edgebaston Cabernet Sauvignon, Finlayson says that it is all about terroir, elegance and purity of fruit. “No fancy tricks in the cellar, just let the grapes do the talking,” he says.

The vineyard from which this wine was made grows on Malmesbury Shale set above a deep red clay component.  Sorting of bunches was done before destemming into 70-100 hl fermentation tanks. Remontage was twice daily and the various components lay on the skins  for between seven and 14 days. The wine was matured for 14 months in French oak comprising a 20% new wood component, the balance made-up of 2nd and 3rd fill components.

With Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon forging ahead as the Cape’s leading red wine offering, the role of legacy and heritage cannot be ignored. As Finlayson has proven, it’s in the genes.