Last time I looked, the offering of South African wines was running to over 8 000 different units varying in prices, styles and types of packaging. That is a hell of a lot of wine diversity in a country only making 4% of the world’s wine, but this also gives one an idea of the plethora of wine brands available to the local consumer.
It was time to go in, right to the heart of the Stellenbosch Mafia. Guy who wrote the book about them, Pieter du Toit, well he reckons the local mobsters hang out at a joint named De Volkskombuis, pretty hard to pronounce for two New York wiseguys like me and Frankie the Juice. But nothing a little google-translate ain’t sorting out. Volks the kombuis and go volks yourselves, too.
Durbanville wine estate Diemersdal staked a place as one of the most successful producers in the history of the annual Absa Top 10 Pinotage Trophy awards by this year raking in its eighth Top 10 trophy. The Diemersdal Pinotage Reserve 2018 was selected as one of the Top 10 winners in this year’s prestigious competition, which was held for the 23nd time attracting 161 entries.
“The Absa Top 10 Pinotage Trophy is one of the most sought-after red wine trophies for any South African winemaker, and winning it for the eighth time is a true privilege and honour,” says Thys Louw,” owner-winemaker at Diemersdal, which was also the only Durbanville winery to win a Top 10 this year.
“It just feels better each time you hold one of these trophies, an award you don’t take for granted. The number of quality Pinotage producers is increasing at a rate of knots as more winemakers discover the magical qualities of the grape and its ability to express the sites of our country’s best wine regions.
“Winning an Absa Top 10 in this environment of quality wines makes it very special. I’d like to congratulate every other Trophy winner, finalist and entrant for what they are doing to make Pinotage an extraordinary red wine category which is one of the showcases of the South African wine industry.”
Pinotage has a long history in Durbanville and on Diemersdal specifically. Some 50% of the grapes for the Diemersdal Pinotage Reserve 2018 originate from the property’s 44 year-old bushvines, the balance sourced from vines 20 years younger.
“Dryland farming on clay and shale soils and the maritime influence all add to the structure of the wine which is characterised by a formidable backbone complemented with bright fruit expression,” says Louw. “We aim for sturdiness in the wine, but elegance and refinement are non-negotiable.”
After harvesting the grapes were fermented in one ton open wood-fermenters for four days at 26-28ºC. The cap was punched through every three hours. 100% MLF completed spontaneously in 225L French oak barrels. Wood maturation was done over 16 months, also in 225l French, of which 60% was new.
“The cellar and vineyard teams have embraced Pinotage as one of Diemersdal’s key red varieties, and it is their understanding of the grape from the vine to the bottling of the final wine that enables us to make a Pinotage showing true quality,” says Louw. “And more importantly, this eighth Absa Top 10 Trophy has shown the quality to be consistent.”
South Africa looks set to become home to the largest urban wine vineyard in the world. This is if President Cyril Ramaphosa’s vision of a brand-new city built in the country is realised. During his recent State of the Nation Address, Pres. Ramaphosa suggested it was time to build such a new modern city in South Africa. But besides featuring shiny skyscrapers and sleek bullet-trains, the new city is also to host a vineyard from which various wines are to be made.
Having recently flown half-way around the world – literally – it was astounding to see the presence of one specific South African wine label at every stop. From Cape Town International, the frenetic bazaar-like space of Dubai Airport all the way to Auckland, New Zealand a bottle bearing a white label with the words The Chocolate Block was encountered in nearly every wine store.
I am standing 400m up on a mountain overlooking the town of Stellenbosch, Table Mountain lurking in the distance. The steep slopes are covered with vines, as are those on the other side of the Jonkershoek Valley. Directly below, the white-washed old buildings of Lanzerac hotel and winery sparkle in the midday sun. I brace myself for the wine maker’s viticulture insights, notebook poised for words on soil types, harvest yields, vine-spacing and average daytime temperatures.
“Over there,” says the wine maker, Wynand Lategan, pointing away from the vineyards to the town. “That’s where I was born, right there in Stellenbosch Hospital.”
The colonisation of the South African wine landscape by foreign powers continues, with French group AdVini doing most of the running of late. L’Avenir was first to fall in the hands of France’s fourth largest wine business, based in the village of St Félix de Lodez in the Languedoc, followed by Le Bonheur and a majority holding in Ken Forrester in 2016.
The deal cementing AdVini’s acquisition of Stellenbosch Vineyards has just dried, and I’d say the future for this bunch looks so bright they’d better get another set of Vuarnets.
I looked at the Swiss-German as if he had just curdled the cheese fondue. Before me, a glass of red wine stood next to a bottle he had made from vineyards grown on a piece of earth as suited to Cabernet Sauvignon as the Israeli desert is to un-detonated missiles.
I hadn’t killed a marlin for some time now, so I decided to go out and eat one. Not a whole thousand pound fish, mind you. At least, not in one sitting.
This lust for game-fish lead me to Miller’s Thumb, the restaurant that has for over two decades been a local institution to those residing in the Cape Town City Bowl. It does fish and some meat, as well as having the kind of casual homely atmosphere that makes one tend to frequent the joint often, if only to hang at the small bar talking to other locals about killing fish with surface lures, tools with which to trim beards and the current tattoo fashions.
Quietly, the new category of Super Pinotages is causing a ripple through the incoming tide of things offered by Brand South Africa. Not everyone – present company excluded – is convinced that Pinotage can bear the torch as the nation’s grape: that sought-after focused ray of light, in clarity unmatched by any wine country, that cuts through the wad of global vinous offerings and makes universal consumers sit up and say, “Oh, that is South Africa in a glass, and we all like it. What a great piece of the wine world that neck of the woods must be.”