It was quite a contrast, going from a muddy vineyard in Durbanville to the place where goats frolic in Paarl. The first event was the symbolic planting of 350 new ‘old’ Pinotage vines at Meerendal, one of the original farms to plant Professor Perold’s crossing of Cinsaut/Hermitage and Pinot Noir. Meerendal GM Benny Howard said the event was to mark the 350th anniversary of winemaking in South Africa and also to celebrate Meerendal’s history and association with Pinotage.
I say new ‘old’ Pinotage because the stokkies were cultivated from vine material in Meerendal’s Heritage block, originally planted in 1955. The first wine is expected to be made in 2012 and is intended for a reserve bottling, Howard said.
Marking the historic occasion was interesting for me because of an interview with former UK supermarket wine buyer Alan Cheesman I’d read that day. He recently judged at the Pinotage Association’s annual Top 10 competition. While he dismissed the country’s 350-year wine heritage as “rubbish”, stating that it really is less than two decades old, he had a lot of positive things to say: that SA winemakers and viticulturists are “among the best in the world”; the marketing arm of SA wine, WOSA, is the second-best of its kind in the UK (Chile is first); ethical trading and biodiversity will probably prove to be one of South Africa’s biggest strengths in the future; SA wine has huge mass market appeal in the UK because of old Colonial links, the numbers of South Africans living in the UK – and vice versa – and the strong sporting ties between the two countries and also that SA is succeeding in getting Britons to appreciate mid- and high priced offerings, not just value wines.
The one thing that really resonated for me was Cheesman’s statement that “South African winemakers and marketers are outward looking and have a ‘can-do’ attitude sorely lacking in some European producers.” Nowhere is this more obvious than at Fairview in Paarl – my second wine event that day.
Prior to the opening of the revamped tasting room, Charles Back had shared a lineup of wines – and some typically unique insights – with a few people. Alongside the first wine ever bottled by Fairview, a 1974 Shiraz made by his father Cyril, were anecdotes of an auction at the farm, preceding the Nederburg auction by a year. Braam the butcher was the biggest buyer – and his purchases fitted into the boot of his Roller! Contrasting this was a preview of a completely new range of wines – La Capra. Capra is the Latin term for goat but Back says it could be broken down into ‘Cap’ – from the Cape, and ‘Ra’ – the Egyptian sun god…
The intention is for La Capra to be the vehicle to carry a lot of the produce from the past few years’ extensive planting projects. “It also gives us the opportunity to be more versatile than in the Goats range. That is almost exclusively Rhône-based… we tried to break out a bit with the Bored Doe but it wasn’t a huge success.” It also means that Back’s wines will be heading onto supermarket shelves, something he’s steered clear of until now.