Welcome to Cape Chatter
Dear Janine Gibson
Both the writer and your headline editor deceive Guardian readers (South African Farmworkers Sacked…) by omitting, among other exculpatory facts, the total compensation that South African ag laborers already enjoy. That they are already some of the highest-compensated ag laborers in the world just doesn’t fit with the simplistic sensational narrative of oppression your omissions cleverly imply.
South African apple farmers are competing against highly mechanized enterprises in New Zealand, Washington State and against much lower wage and total compensation rates among workers in Chile and China This aggregate compensation, wages plus lodging in private bungalows, plus utilities and frequently meals to extended families, medical care, pension contributions, transportation (which Ms. Smith graciously alludes to in a toss-off line) are more generous, comprehensive and costly to the enterprise, than anything I am aware of in any ag sector of California.
Think about it, South African farmers are providing more costly and comprehensive social services to their laborers, while Ms. Smith sanctimoniously portrays them as cruel, heartless, overlords.
The Wine Farmers, especially, have consistently treated their workers well, shouldered massive monthly costs of a safety net provided elsewhere by State institutions, raised living standards for tens of thousands in high-quality bungalows. For this you ring the bell to boycott their goods?
The Human Rights Watch report extrapolated a few instances of deplorable conditions into an untrue, unfounded generalization of widespread abuse. That was further stretched into an unjustifiable accusation against Wine Farmers, and further inflamed by fact-slanting journalists. As a grapegrower in California, with business contacts in South Africa, I can personally guarantee that many vineyard workers in the US would gladly trade up to the lodging and total compensation already provided to their South African brethren, in a nanosecond.
Try looking inside a few shacks in South African townships, like Khayelitsha, then compare to some tidy, whitewashed bungalows in scenic surroundings on any wine farm, and tell me where the human rights abuses are occurring, and who (ANC?) should be shocked and appalled.
South African Wine Farmers especially, and most South African farmers generally, are to be commended, not castigated by the likes of Ms. Smith. Commended for humanely, ethically, diligently providing their workers a costly range of social services in higher quality housing than that available to millions of South Africans, and countless millions more around the world.
This sad, complex and ultimately uplifting truth contrasts vividly with the deceit of omission, the shrill shallowness of your uninformed freelancer. and your editorial complicity.
International Sales Manager
Premier Wine Cask email@example.com
Ofc: +1-707-257-0714, Cell: +1-707-477-2305, Fax: +1-707-257-0742
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Tonnellerie Dargaud & Jaegle
Barrel Associates–DeepToast, Water Bent, Fire Bent
1710 Soscol Ave, Suite 5, Napa, CA 94559 USA
Read the full article at: www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/24/truckloads-south-african-farmworkers-sacked
George W Bush left a somewhat dubious (Dubya-ish?) legacy when he vacated the Oval office in favour of Barack Obama four years ago. Among his many fumbles while holding the highest office in the world was the continued refusal of the United States to sign the Kyoto Protocol – a treaty initially adopted by the world’s nations in December 1997.
The goal of the Protocol was to get agreement on firstly stabilising and then reducing greenhouse gas emissions to a level which would prevent further damage to the earth’s climatic systems. It was one of the most significant environmental frameworks of the past century. It acknowledged the damage that has been done to the earth.
Even before the Kyoto protocol was mooted environmentally aware groups were warning of the effects of climate change and lobbying for more drastic action. Fast forward fifteen years and there is widespread recognition of the irreparable harm done to the planet and broad adoption of plans to at least stem the tide.
Alternative energy has crossed over into the mainstream with more and more domestic home owners opting for solar energy or even hybrid vehicles. Dessertification and melting polar ice caps make the news – as do changing weather patterns. The Eastern seaboard of the United States is reeling from the impact of recent super storm Sandy while South Africans know that once every decade El Nino will affect our annual rainfall. Which makes efforts such as the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI), Integrated Production of Wine, organic and biodynamic winemaking and the support for efforts such as these by Nedbank in the form of the annual Green Wine Awards more laudable.
The Biodiversity and Wine Initiative was established a number of years ago and South Africa now boasts in excess of 130 000 hectares of land given over to conservation by wine farmers alone, compared with 102 000 hectares of vineyard. (For more information on BWI visit www.wwf.org.za/what_we_do/outstanding_places/fynbos/biodiversity___wine_initiative/ )
The Green Wine Awards is already in its fourth year and while Nedbank’s sponsorship has never wavered, the vehicle for publicising the winning wines has changed from Wine magazine (2009 and 2010) to sister publication Getaway magazine since 2011. The results were announced this week – and, for the third time in four years, biodynamic producer, Reyneke wines, walked off with the ultimate accolade. Whereas Reyneke Chenin Blanc won the top prize for wines made from organically produced grapes in 2010 and 2011, it was the Reyneke Reserve Red 2009, a Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon mix which impressed the judges this year.*
Conventional wine farmers have begun to crossover and adopt a number of practices which were formerly the preserve of the organic lobby – things such as composting and using natural predators to control disease and pests in the vineyards, natural ferments and lower sulphur regimes. But it is in the field of best conservation and environmental good practice awards where huge strides are being made. With the Western Cape being in a winter rainfall area and with climate change an accepted reality, water management and preservation has become critical, particularly in the wine fraternity.
Acknowledged for their efforts for best contribution to water management was Waverley Hills Organic winery in Tulbagh while the best contribution to energy efficiency was made by Stellenbosch producer Bartinney wines. Spier won the award for best contribution to environmental initiatives and awareness programmes while Cloof/Burgherspost of Darling made the best contribution to Cape Winelands eco-tourism and conservation. The overall prize for innovation and leadership in conservation and environmental good practice went to Spier. Head of the judging panel which included Inge Kotze of the WWF and wine write Joanne Gibson, Duimpie Bayly said it had been impossible to separate the runners up simply because all had set such a high standard – and La Motte, Cloof/Burgherspost and Waverley Hills were tied.
(* Declaration of interest – I chaired the judging panel for the 2012 Nedbank Green Wine Awards, tasting with Christian Eedes, Howard Booysen, Johnathan Snashall and Harry Haddin.)
The first weekend in December should be circled in red on any bubbly enthusiast’s calendar. That’s when the self-styled gourmet food and wine capital of the country hosts its annual Methode Cap Classique and Champagne festival.
But Franschhoek recently gave members of the local wine media a sneak preview of its relaunched Cap Classique route. Franschhoek Vignerons head Irene Waller of La Bri said their organisation now had 18 members, 16 of which produced bubblies in a range of different styles. Newcomers to the ranks include Plaisir de Merle, Grande Provence and La Motte.
The wines tasted at the media launch included Dieu Donné 2010, Pierre Jourdan Blanc de Blancs NV from Haute Cabriere, Môreson Solitaire Blanc de Blancs NV, L’Ormarins Brut Classique 2008, Colmant Brut Reserve NV, Plaisir de Merle’s inaugural offering – the Grand Brut 2010, La Motte Brut 2009, Backsberg Brut 2008, Stony Brook The Lyle 2007, Rickety Bridge Brut Rosé 2010, Boschendal Le Grande Pavillon Brut Rosé NV and Morena Brut Rosé.
Interesting points made by some of the winemakers present included the subtle nuances now becoming more and more obvious in their bubblies. The use of reserve wines, for example. Clayton Reabow of Môreson said that this was a feature of the Solitaire. There are generally portions from two previous vintages contained in the current bottling. Only in exceptional years will their winery produce a vintage MCC – “but then it will be something very, very special and reflective of a superb vintage.”
Specialist bubbly producer and passionate advocate of this style of wine Jean-Philippe Colmant is of the opinion that freshness and vibrant acidity is key to his wines – so he foregoes malolactic fermentation as part of his regime.
Haute Cabriere’s Tamo von Arnim proved that the genetic apple had not fallen far from the tree by entertaining everyone with tales of his father’s exploits. More seriously though, he said it was now a feature of Pierre Jourdan sparkling wines to have an oak matured component to flesh out the body and add more richness and texture to the final wine.
Softly-spoken Niel Bester admitted that he was excited by the challenge of making MCC. “We’ve made some base wines for some of our sister labels over the years,” he revealed. “It’s something I always wanted to do but with the Plaisir de Merle Manor House undergoing a renovation in 2009 and becoming a popular venue for functions and weddings, the marketing department decided that we needed to have a bubbly to cater specifically for these events.”
And slumbering quietly in the La Bri cellar is a bubbly due for release in a year or two’s time, Irene Waller revealed. “I spent so many years making Cap Classique at Graham Beck that it was a non-negotiable for me when I joined La Bri! It was always part of the plan to make a bubbly and we’ve done it with some bought in grapes.”
But the most entertaining contribution came from Morena’s Nick Davies who revealed a seduction formula derived in consultation with his two bachelor sons. It involved a Jacuzzi with a sea view on the deck at a Plettenberg Bay beach house, lovely bikini-clad ladies and Morena bubbly. “We decided that the successful scoring formula was 25% for the view, 25% for the Jacuzzi, 47.5% for the bubbly and 2.5% for my son’s personality. But we had to revise that and add the 2.5% for personality onto the view, deciding that he should just shut up and keep the glasses topped up with Morena bubbly!”
Jan ‘Boland’ Coetzee would have most people believe that he’s a man of few words – particularly English ones. But that’s a front: the former Springbok flanker can be extremely eloquent as he demonstrated at the Celebration of Chardonnay in Robertson recently.
With host Danie de Wet having welcomed the assembled guests, fellow winemakers and viticulturists along with media, chefs, sommeliers and other interested parties, to his De Wetshof wine estate which was literally blooming with ranks of iceberg roses in full blossom on a blazingly warm summer’s day, Coetzee took over.
“Saying that Chardonnay produces great wines is like saying that Michelangelo was a great painter. There’s so much more to both and the descriptions are inadequate. I feel obligated to use the greatest phrases when talking about Chardonnay,” he said. For someone who allegedly shies away from poetic linguistics in a second language, Coetzee showed that he’s more than capable of it when motivated!
And rightly so when the15 wines assembled before the 150-or so attendees comprised 11 of South Africa’s best along with four top international examples. (The wines were selected by Dave Hughes who invited a range of South African wine folk to each compile a list of their personal top 10 SA Chardonnays.) The 11 wines were Jordan Nine Yards 2011, Hartenberg Eleanor 2009, De Wetshof The Site 2009, Hamilton Russell Vineyards 2011, Paul Cluve Elgin 2011, Ataraxia 2010, Glen Carlou Quartz Stone 2010, Uva Mira Single Vineyards 2010, De Wetshof Bateleur 2009, Fleur du Cap Unfiltered 2011, Springfield Méthode Ancienne 2009. The international representatives comprised Cullen Kevin John 2010 from Margaret River, Australia, Joseph Drouhin Clos des Mouches 2009 and Domaine de Montille Puligny-Montrachet Les Cailleret Premier Cru 2007 from Burgundy, France, and a Hanzell 2009 from California, USA.
The presence of two De Wetshof wines in the top 11 was not a sop to the host but was a genuine reflection of the lists submitted by 28 wine writers, judges, Cape Wine Masters and a Master of Wine – and also of Danie de Wet’s passion for and specialisation in this grape variety.
One of the most animated points of discussion ensued after the tasting following a question from the floor: Is South Africa capable of producing unwooded Chardonnays of good quality? There was general consensus that the 11 local examples tasted more than held their own in the company of top international examples. All showed superbly, demonstrating wonderful true Chardonnay fruit with restraint in oak usage and confident winemaking – but the point that all contained oak was well made.
Three decades on from the planting of the first smuggled Chardonnay vines there’s a refinement and maturity that is obvious to anyone tasting oaked South African examples. But the most interesting contribution to the discussion came from Tsogo Sun Group Sommelier Miguel Chan who presented the results of a three-and-a-half year analysis of the hotel chain’s wine sales.
“Consumers are going for fresher styles,” Chan said. Unwooded Chardonnay had grown in popularity by 12% year-on-year and contributed 32% of the revenue derived from wine sales. “The consumer is looking for something that is less demanding than an oaked wine, that is softer and which they can comfortably finish a whole bottle of. Some 48% of the Chardonnays we have on our wine lists have been in oak for at least four to six months.” Chan also acknowledged that price was a factor with unwooded Chardonnays being cheaper than oaked ones.
There’s is no doubt that South African Chardonnay producers have been on a very steep learning curve over the past three decades since the grape was first planted here. Gone are the days of throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, at it! Restraint is the key with winemakers acknowledging that soils, site and fruit quality are the prime ingredients – not the oak.
“Patience is needed for an unwooded Chardonnay,” said Coetzee. “It’ll give you lots of grey hair but there’s no doubt in my mind that – given time – we will find the right plant material that can do the job.”
Renowned international viticulturist Phil Freese who has consulted to a number of wineries in South Africa for two decades echoed Coetzee’s views. “The quality unwooded Chardonnay question is a very appropriate one for the stage of evolution of the South African wine industry. There are a number of things you need to ask or consider: What are you trying to achieve to go into the next level of expressing the grape variety, and does the Chardonnay you’re producing need wood? Both questions say something about your market and about your particular site. The answer lies in individual objectives: what people want to achieve and what their sites offer.”
It’s a challenge which many committed Chardonnay producers will no doubt rise to, especially in view of the fact that there’s a market for this style of wine.
The 2012 harvest is emerging as a particularly good one, both in terms of quality and volume, for the South African wine industry.
Inland wine growing areas recorded some of the best crops ever, while dwindling water supplies in the coastal region caused a systematic decrease in the anticipated crop over the season. The consequences of flood damage in the Orange River region in 2011 are still evident.
Crop size: The 2012 wine grape harvest amounts to 1 395 158 tons according to figures released by the SA Wine Industry Information and Systems (Sawis) on 29 August. This exceeds the 2011 crop by 7.1% and is only 2% smaller than the overall record crop of 2008.
The 2012 wine harvest – including juice and concentrate for non-alcoholic purposes, wine for brandy and distilling wine – is expected to amount to 1 083.5 million litres, calculated at an average recovery of 777 litres per ton of grapes.
2011/12 growing season: According to industry advisory body VinPro, the 2011 winter was particularly cold, ideal for vine dormancy. Conditions were however drier than usual with a negative effect on the water tables.
With August generally warmer than usual, bud burst was a week early in some blocks. Vineyards initially showed good growth at the start of the new growing season, but abnormally cold and rainy conditions later on resulted in uneven flowering and berry set with high disease pressure, which producers managed to control satisfactorily.
Weather conditions were back to normal in December, and less wind than usual resulted in less damage to grapevines than previous years. January was exceptionally hot, with heat waves resulting in sunburn damage in some instances. Dryland vineyards which already had little soil water resources were under particular pressure.
The ripening period in February and March was characterised by cool weather conditions for slow ripening, resulting in good colour and flavour development in red varieites especially, harvest typically delayed by two to three weeks. In addition, there was little rainfall which contributed to healthy grapes and the absence of diseases and rot.
In general, there is much excitement about the 2012 vintage, a specific characteristic being optimal ripeness levels achieved at lower sugars, this in turn leading to lower alcohol levels.
2012 winter: The 2012 winter was very cold with almost double the long-term average of cold units in some areas (a cold unit defined as one hour where the temperature stays within the range of 2.5⁰C and 9.1⁰C). Vineyards need a certain amount of cold during winter in order to make a definitive break out of dormancy and begin even growth in Spring (which ultimately goes towards even berry development and ripening) and 2013 therefore again looks set to be a particularly good harvest
The Tabernacle at Distell’s Adam Tas production facility is spoken about in reverential tones – which is appropriate since it is the repository for some of South Africa’s most revered vinous gems. There are 18 000 bottles stored in the gloomy temperature controlled cellar which have recently been catalogued and given a general fitness checked with ullage levels and seals carefully scrutinised.
In my 20 year wine writing career I’ve only ever set foot in it once before – and that was in 2004 which was reflected in the Visitor’s Book. Dave Hughes and I had been asked to join a unique tasting held for some guests, notably UK wine writer Matthew Jukes.
The line up of wines was as follows: Flight One: Chateau Libertas 1940, Chateau Libertas 1957, Oude Libertas Pinot Noir 1979, Oude Libertas Tinta das Baroccas 1971, Oude Libertas Cinsaut 1971, Oude Libertas Pinotage 1972, Oude Libertas Pinotage 1973, Oude Libertas Pinotage 1975, Oude Libertas Pinotage 1978.
Flight Two: GS Cabernet Sauvignon 1968, Oude Libertas Cabernet Sauvignon 1971, Oude Libertas Cabernet Sauvignon 1973, Uitkyk Carlonet 1974, Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Fleur du Cap Cabernet Sauvignon 1987, Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 and Monis Port 1948.
To say it was a rare treat to sample these wines would be an understatement. Jukes pronounced himself “staggered” by the freshness of the 1940 Chateau Libertas and said had he tasted it blind would have guessed it as being from the 60’s rather than 20 years older. The wine of the first flight was undoubtedly the Oude Libertas Pinotage from 1972 – and it was poured from a 375ml bottle. Having been part of Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery (SFW) at the time Dave Hughes was able to recount a few anecdotes. Firstly the Chateau Libertas from 1940 could often be found in “odd bottles” as Hughes put it. It was during World War II and new bottles were scarce – so bottles were recycled and even old whisky bottles were pressed into service! Of the Oude Libertas being in a half-bottle he recounted that this was because of the SA railways. They were big customers of SFW and the half bottle was ideal for service on trains throughout the country in those days.
The surprise of the second flight was how well the Uitkyk Carlonet and Fleur du Cap Cabernet Sauvignon 1987 performed with the latter being the wine of the flight. Beautiful freshness, good fruit, fine tannins and just so perfectly poised that it was amazingly good, evincing high praise from Jukes and others.
What was the purpose of the tasting? Well, it was two-fold. Distell’s marketing boss Carina Gous and Nederburg Auction manager Dalene Steyn were using it to not only demonstrate South Africa and Distell’s vinous heritage but also to use it as a taste tester. “The idea for this tasting is to identify some of the older wines which we have stored in the Tabernacle which we could potentially use as special lots for the 40th anniversary of the Nederburg Auction in a year or two’s time,” Steyn said. The thinking being that the wines which are still drinking well and of which there are sufficient stocks could be collated into special auction items.
So the potential exists for keen wine punters to get their hands on some of these rare gems. If and when they come under the hammer during the 40th auction, my advice would be to snap them up. They are truly superb – not as curiosities but as vinous history and as tangible proof of the sort of quality and longevity which South African wines are capable of.
The Swartland Revolution is an annual event taking place over the course of a weekend in November dedicated to showcasing the wine of this particular district and though it only dates from 2010, it’s already an institution on the South African wine calendar – 300 tickets at R1 900 each for this year’s shindig went on sale in May and were sold out within 52 hours.
What’s all the fuss about? Eben Sadie of Sadie Family Wines is probably the pivotal character in all this, having bottled his cult-status Shiraz-driven red blend called Columella using grapes from the area for the first time in 2000. But he’s subsequently been joined by other high-profile figures such as Adi Badenhorst who left premier Stellenbosch property Rustenberg to start Badenhorst Family Wines in 2007/8 while Chris and Andrea Mullineux moved across from what was then Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards (now Fable) to start Mullineux Family Wines around the same time. The high-profile operation that is Boekenhoutskloof meanwhile is tending an organic vineyard in the Swartland by the name of Porseleinberg – Marc Kent the mastermind behind this and hotshot Callie Louw making the wine.
Sadie, Badenhorst, the Mullineuxs, Kent and Louw were the instigators behind the Swartland Revolution, the intention being to raise general awareness among commentators and public alike of the area. Subsequently, however, the more formal association known as Swartland Independent Producers (SIP) has sprung up, affiliated members required to adhere to a set of core values.
The official line from the association is as follows: “Swartland Independent Producers represents the coming together of a group of wine-growers who share the wish to make wines that are a true expression of their origin. Wines that, though coming from different cellars and sometimes different areas, will all speak of the greater landscape – wines that will, in a sense, bear the DNA of the region. In the Old World, the strongest regions have over the centuries given rise to wines with their own identities. Our experience of the Swartland tells us that it too can have a marked terroir imprint on the wines made here and the intention of the organisation is to lay down some guidelines for vineyard and cellar practices that will enhance this expression of ‘Swartlandness’. “
“It was the same bunch of hooligans who conceived the Revolution,” says SIP treasurer Chris Mullineux. “We perceived the Swartland to be at some sort of crossroads – lots happening but a short history. Our aim was to build a strong regional identity by focusing on what works best.”
And so a fairly rigorous set of guidelines as follows:
- An Independent Producer must have a base in the Swartland and bottle a minimum of 80% of his production himself, in glass.
- An Independent wine must be 100% Swartland Wine of Origin, and produced, matured and bottled in the Swartland region.
- The wines must be SAWIS certified.
- The wines must be naturally produced. The Independent’s view of a natural wine is a wine that has no yeast or yeast supplements added, no acidity manipulation, or tannin additions, no chemical fining, water addition or dilution, and no reverse osmosis or any other application to change the constitution of the wine. Sulphur additions are allowed, but producers are encouraged to make moderate additions.
- As over-oaking tends to “mask” the essence of grape variety and site, no wine may be aged with more than 25% new wood (barrique) as a component. All wood needs to be of European origin.
- SIP wines must consist of a minimum of 90% of the following varieties:
Red: Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Pinotage, Syrah, Tinta Barocca.
White: Chenin Blanc, Clairette Blanche, Grenache Blanc, Groendruif, Marsanne, Muscat d’ Alexandrie, Muscat de Frontignan, Roussanne, Vaalblaar, Viognier.
Perhaps the stipulation that has caused the most debate so far is the one regarding what varieties can and can’t be used, the likes of commercially relevant whites Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and reds Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot excluded. In every other respect, those driving the renaissance of the Swartland are not prescriptive or legalistic so why limit what grapes the region’s wines can be made from?
“It’s simply a matter of common sense and experience,” says Mullineux, his point being that if producers opt for unsuitable grape varieties, then the resulting wines will always have inherent limitations, but if they get their choice right, then the potential exists to make world-class wine. “Nothing is cast in stone however. The guidelines can evolve over time,” he adds.
The above might all be both very worthy but how to get consumers to care? In terms of packaging, wines that qualify get to carry a specially designed certification label which is applied over the bottle capsule plus a related back label. Mullineux says that embossed bottles à la Châteauneuf-du-Pape or, closer to home, Constantia are also an option but this would depend on enough producers coming on board to make production economical.
Ultimately, however, Mullineux is pragmatic about how much SIP can achieve. “It’s about lifting the impression of the Swartland over the long term. It’s not going to happen overnight.” Key to the association’s success will be direct interaction with media, trade and public and towards this end, 17 members of SIP will be sharing an exhibition stand at Cape Wine 2012 (25 to 27 September). In addition, this year’s Swartland Revolution will end with a Street Party open to all where SIP producers will be showing their wines (see https://www.facebook.com/events/315626568522291 /for details).
Ol Man River is one of the songs from the 1927 musical Showboat that has been sung by a variety of performers over the years, including Frank Sinatra. (You can check a young and beautiful Blue Eyes doing his version on YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTnw_MmVptQ – in 1946, and already it’s had more than 600 000 views).
Which is a long way of getting around to introducing Dave Hughes, South Africa’s Ol Man Wine… Maybe it’s just because of his snowy white head of hair and luxuriant bushy Father Christmas beard that make us think he’s been around longer than he has. He often has to put up with jokes about having been around so long that he welcomed Jan van Riebeeck to our shores…
But Hughes is having the last – and sweetest – laugh because he is renowned the wine world over. He was in London judging spirits at the International Wine & Spirits competition a few weeks ago when he had dinner with an old friend, David Nathan-Maister, former owner and proprietor of the Devon Valley Hotel.
He casually let slip that Nathan-Maister had acquired 12 bottles of Constantia Wine at auction, dated at circa 1820 – and they’d had some with dinner. “I have no idea what Nathan-Maister paid for them but I know he sold one for thousands of pounds – because one of the Russian gentleman we were dining with bought one!”
The provenance of the Vin de Constance was that it was acquired from a British cellar and then shipped to France. “It was rebottled from the original little bottles into larger, more modern bottles of about 700ml capacity – and that was in 1880 – because the original bottles were smaller and somewhat fragile.”
Hughes said the wine was really special – it was evolved with beautiful sweetness and a rich nuttiness and long, lingering finish – and that tasting it was “historic”.
As if those hearing the tale were not already green enough with envy, he then revealed they enjoyed an 1880 Tokay and then a 100-year-old Jamaican rum to finish off the evening.
“The rum was really quite special,” Hughes recounted. “Made in about 1860 it, too, was only bottled in 1880. Nathan-Maister got hold of it because a lot of it used to be sold in the Army & Navy stores up until the end of World War II. He bought rather a lot of these old stocks last year – and it is just gorgeous!”
The annual Best Value Wine Guide competition took place in Constantia last week – and for the first time in years an extra panel had to be convened to accommodate the number of wines which got through the initial screening round.
Joining the two three person panels comprising Carrie Adams, Ginette de Fleuriot CWM, Christian Eedes, Mark Norrish, Howard Booysen and myself were Winnie Bowman CWM, Corlien Morris and Mike Bampfield-Duggan.
Sponsor of the Best Value Guide (BVG), Mark Norrish of Ultra Liquors said he was delighted that there had been a positive response this year. The Guide used to form part of WINE magazine’s annual publishing schedule and with the demise of the magazine late last year there was some concern that the BVG might cease to exist. However, it has remained within the Ramsay Media stable and now become part of Getaway magazine. The price threshold was also lifted from under R60 to all wines under R80.
“There’s always a concern that lifting the price bar will see fewer wines submitted, but that wasn’t the case,” Norrish said. The price of R60 had remained static since 2008 – the longest period without any hike since the inception of the guide which was first published in 2002 with R30 as the value price ceiling.
Without giving away any trade secrets (the results are embargoed until the awards ceremony on August 27) there were some categories which impressed more than most. Chardonnay has pretty much stayed the same, as has Shiraz. Notching up 50% increases over last year’s figures were white blends, Chenin Blanc, Merlot, bubblies and the port-style wines and sherries.
The big success stories are Sauvignon Blanc and Pinotage, both of which have doubled. The latter category is where most of the joy of this competition can be found. Even in the screening round they stood out as everything that consumers are looking for – succulent and juicy approachable wines with abundant fruit and heaps of drinkability.
Sauvignon Blanc remains a crowd pleaser with its crisp, refreshing acidity although it is noticeable how styles have changed over the years. Gone are the extremely grassy and herbaceous Kiwi-style examples and in their place are more generous ripe tropical fruit flavours – granadilla, papaya, litchi and melon.
But basically the future looks rosy for consumers looking for a bargain as the bulk of the wines making the book remain in the region of R60 and below…
The International Wine Challenge was held at a cold and rain-lashed Lord’s cricket ground in London a few weeks ago. Numbers of entries were once again up, way past 12 000 samples from all over the world, organiser Charles Metcalfe reported on day one of the judging.
One of the most interesting features of the Challenge is the faults clinic delivered by Sam Harrop who did his Master of Wine dissertation on this subject. A voluntary presentation held at the end of the first day’s judging, Harrop revealed that this year an additional rigour was being applied to fault finding at the IWC. Two Australian Wine Research Institute experts – Geoff Cowey and Martin Day – were drafted in to assist him. Not only that, but two full pallets of faulty wines were shipped back to Australia for scientific analysis using GCMS (gas chromatography – mass spectrometry).
Previously, panels have identified faults and called for a second bottle. The faulty bottle has then been assessed sensorially by Harrop. He admits that he is conservative in his assessment – as are the judging panels – and up to 60% of wines deemed faulty have, in fact, not been. When standing in judgement on a producer’s wine there is always a decision to err on the side of conservatism, giving the wine the benefit of the doubt and a second chance rather than simply rejecting it out of hand.
Nonetheless, since the fault finding element of the IWC was begun in 2006, more than 90 000 bottles of wine have been assessed. Of those, 6.4% were deemed faulty. Harrop presented not only a clinic on what broad faults to look for and identify (sulphides, TCA or musty cork taints, oxidation and brettanomyces and volatile phenols) but some interesting statistics on his years of research.
“We’ve seen the knowledge of faults and wine flaws increase dramatically,” said Harrop. Gone are the days when a wine was simply written off as ‘corked’. Nowadays people actually specify faults more keenly – oxidation, reduction, TCA, brett, mercaptans or sulphide problems. As a consequence the industry “standard” of 5% for cork taint has dropped to 2.7% at the IWC.
Winemaking faults are the issue nowadays, Harrop maintains. “With a focussed approach, winemakers can reduce faults to almost zero! And there are huge benefits for the consumer,” he said.
He noted that as a percentage of entries to the IWC France, Spain and Italy had the worst fault record. “The New World is performing better than the Old World – but it’s not as simple as saying this is an Old World issue.”
Why are winemaking faults becoming more of an issue? Because of market trends – consumers want cleaner, fresher, less funky wines. Global warming is creating more ripeness in countries less used to it – and higher alcohols and thus higher sulphur compounds are the result. Finally, there is a movement towards more natural winemaking with less intervention and lower sulphur levels. Not only that, but people are more aware of faults than they were a decade ago.
Of particular interest to me was the ‘lesser fault’ category – rot, vine stress, SO2, pinking and volatility. Vine stress in particular is the label that is being applied to what has previously been known as the ‘South African green character’. “Vine stress is not an ideal descriptor but we haven’t been able to identify one specific thing or a chemical compound,” they said.
The good news is that Cowey, Day and Harrop said it was not unique to South Africa. “It’s being seen in hotter countries such as Australia and India too.” Common to all are extreme heat, lack of irrigation and a lack of true phenolic ripeness on the resultant wines.”
One worrying increase the trio noted was the rise in screwcap reduction. Australia, New Zealand and Chile account for 60% of all screwcap reductive faults picked up at the competition but that could potentially be attributable to a preference over cork closures. “The potential for this to become a major world problem is huge as Europe switches to higher incidence of screwcap closures.”
“Most consumers won’t notice something like screwcap reduction but the problem is that the fault is suppressing a lot of the fruit expression which consumers love on their wines.”
This is just one area in which winemakers can adjust their pre-bottling sulphur regimes in order to prevent it from occurring.