Its etymology is Greek, stemming from the word meaning “glory” and adopted into general English usage from the early 1800′s. Nonetheless it is still associated with being worthy of praise or honour – and there is absolutely no doubt that there is huge kudos attached to being announced the Diners Club Winemaker of the Year.
That honour went to Spier’s senior winemaker Johan Jordaan for the Spier Creative Block 5 2009. It’s certainly the most prestigious title on the South African wine scene – and it’s also one of the most lucrative as it carries with it a prize package of R50 000 in cash as well as a return airline ticket to any wine destination in the world.
Jordaan, who only qualified as a winemaker in 2002, was delighted by his win, paying tribute to his Spier colleagues saying the team’s contribution was invaluable in ensuring that the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec blend was the best of the 110 entries the judging panel tasted.
The Diners Club Winemaker of the Year was initiated 30 years ago and it’s a tribute to the status of the competition that Diners Club has stayed on board as sponsors for the duration. There are few competitions and sponsors which can match that track record on the local wine scene.
Chairman of the judging panel Dave Hughes said at the awards ceremony in Paarl that the Spier Creative Block 5 was a clear winner – but that the overall standard of the 110 entries received had been “exceptionally high”. There were nine wines lined up against each other in the final taste off, with two former winners among them. But if there had been a ‘close but no cigar’ award it would have been won hands down by last year’s winner Bartho Eksteen of the tongue-twisting winery in Walker Bay, Hermanuspietersfontein, as he had two wines among the finalists! Had he repeated his 2010 victory he would have been the first winemaker to do so since Walter Finlayson managed the feat with the first two editions of the competition in 1981 and 1982.
“The fact that both (Winemaker and Young Winemaker) are from the 2009 vintage confirms the excellence of that year for winemaking. It is probably our top vintage of the past 15 years,” Hughes said.
Ten years ago it was decided to also honour up and coming talent by beginning the Young Winemaker of the Year award. Newly elected chairman of the SA Chardonnay Forum, Matthew van Heerden was the 11th winner, appropriately with a spectacular Chardonnay, the 2009 Uva Mira.
Where the Winemaker of the Year criteria are strict in terms of the category each year, there is more leeway granted those in the Young Winemaker section – those being that the entrant by 30 years or younger and that in alternate years the entry is either white or red. This allows for a huge range of styles to be submitted. With the category being white in 2011, Van Heerden saw off the other 63 entries and in so doing won himself the title and R25 000 cash prize.
Eksteen’s sage words to both winemakers was that this award “will change your life”.