Posted on 25 November 2010 by davidbiggs
One of the good things about any branch of farming is that family traditions are built up as the farm passes from father to son and possibly to grandson.
In today’s fast-moving world, this is becoming very rare. We don’t see many other businessmen passing on their skills and experience and handing over to their sons or daughters when they retire.
It happens quite often in the wonderful world of wine.
It’s good to see farms like Kaapzicht doing well as Danie Steytler senior passes on his expertise to Danie junior. Right now they’re riding on the crest of a wave of successes. Their Steytler Pinotage 2007 was rated as the world’s top Pinotage by Decanter magazine, after being selected as the top Pinotage from the Stellenbosch are in the Terroir Awards Competition and placed among the country’s Top 10 in the Absa Top Ten Pinotage Competition.
Kaapzicht Steytler Vision2007 – a Cape blend – won gold medals at the Veritas Competition and Mundus Vini in Germany and was awarded four and a half stars in the new edition of the Platter Guide. Kaapzicht’s list of recent awards is impressive and makes almost boring reading. Everything the father-and-son team touch seems to turn to gold.
The same could be said for Delheim, where Victor Sperling carries on the family tradition as viticulturist, with a string of Platter four and four-and-a-half star Platter wines on the list.
At Vergenoegd the family tradition goes back many generations. Current director and winemaker, John Faure, doesn’t enter his wines in competitions, but they almost all scored four stars in Platter. With the experience of five generations of Faures behind him, he knows exactly how to get the most from what is actually a very difficult farm. Vergenoegd is one of very few Cape wine farms without significant slopes to provide natural drainage.
Diemersdal, in the Durbanville area, is now under the guidance of Thys Louw, the sixth generation of Louws to manage the farm. With just one exception, every wine on their lists was rated four stars and higher in the Platter Guide.
New wineries come into existence at an amazing rate. Last year alone more than 50 new labels came onto the South African market. Some will stay, some will fade away or be swallowed by existing wineries. But you can be fairly sure the old established family farms will be there, producing wines of great quality, when the next generation of drinkers starts discovering the wonderful products of the Cape’s vineyards.
Posted on 17 November 2010 by davidbiggs
The twelve labours of Hercules were mere child’s play compared to the Herculean task of producing South Africa’s annual best-seller, the Platter’s guide to South African Wines.
Consider some of these daunting facts: There are now some 800 wine producers and labels in South Africa. More than 50 new labels have come into being in the last year — that’s about one a week. Every one of these must be checked for changes. The guide lists telephone numbers, fax numbers, postal addresses, winemakers’ names, GPS co-ordinates, e-mail addresses and websites for every one of them. Somebody has to call each one and go over the whole entry, fact by fact.
Then there’s a brief introduction and summary of the year for every producer. What’s changed? Was it a difficult vintage? Have you opened a new tasting room? How did the World Cup affect your sales? Have you broken into the export market?
Again, a member of the Platter team calls every cellar and tries to get a summary of the year. It’s not easy. Farmers are usually people of few words.
“What’s new at your cellar?”
“Ag no, man. The same as last year?
“Have there been any changes?”
“Ja, a couple. Nothing much.”
“Well, we had to build a new barrel cellar when the old one burned down, you know…”
Then there’s the major task of tasting and evaluating more than 6000 individual wines. Samples are ordered and delivered late, tasters draw up schedules and often travel far to tasting venues, producers fill in incorrect facts about their wines, some wine samples arrive in unmarked bottles.
Busy backstage team members sort out all these problems patiently, phone lines run hot, tempers seldom do. Controversial wines are sent to other tasters for a blind assessment – and always there’s checking, cross-checking and checking again.
Then there’s a major blind tasting of all the wines put forward by tasters as potential five-star winners. These are tasted by the entire panel, who have to decide, “yes” or “no.”
Eventually it all comes together. Out of 6000 wines that were rated this year, fewer than 60 achieved the coveted five stars. That must make it the country’s most difficult target to reach. A five-star wine can claim to be among the top one percent of all the wines in the country. But whether you’re after the top 1% or simply want to find out how to get to Diep-in-die-bos Wine Cellar, The Platter Guide is the way to go.
Editor Philip van Zyl has managed to squeeze a mountain of valuable information into 604 compact pages. Publisher Andrew McDowall demonstrated at the launch that it could – with a small push — fit into a pocket. This pocket book is out just in time for Christmas and retails for R159,95 a copy.
Posted on 11 November 2010 by davidbiggs
My wine friends know I’m rather partial to the great sweet wines we make in the Cape. I love a good Muscadel or Hanepoot Jerepigo, and of course our noble late harvest wines are just superb. But people often say: “Yes, I like them too, but when does one actually drink them? After a meal? With pudding? When?” I find this rather sad, really. It reminds me of the old story about the African tribesman many years ago, telling his children about the amazing oddities of the white man. “They are strange people,” he says. “They wear shiny little bangles on their wrists, that tell them when they are hungry.” We’re still obsessed with the “right” time for everything. We must have a time to eat and a time to drink white wine and a time for red wine and a time for love-making and a time for sleeping… No wonder the old tribesman was fascinated. How much more sensible to eat when we are hungry and drink when we are thirsty and make love when we are in a loving mood. Once we surround ourselves with rules we take away the joy of spontaneity. It used to be very acceptable to have a glass of sherry with a biscuit in the afternoon. Very few people do that now. So when to drink sweet wines? I sometimes enjoy a glass of red Muscadel with plenty of crushed ice at midday on a hot day. On a cool evening I often pour myself a glass of Jerepigo and sip it as I watch the news on TV, accompanied by my two cats. After a good meal I usually offer guests a Muscadel to round off the evening. Most of them are soon looking wistfully at the bottle, and gladly accept a second glass. The wonderful world of wine offers an infinite variety of styles and flavours – deep, serious reds, fruity whites, crisp bubblies, sweet noble late harvests, easy-drinking quaffers and elegant aristocrats. If we limit ourselves to the world of tight-arsed rules – red with the meat, white with the fish, champagne with an anniversary — we miss half the fun. Set your taste-buds free. You enjoy meringues? Créme brulée? Chocolate truffles? Tipsy tart? Then don’t pretend you don’t enjoy sweet things. Avoiding our sweet wine delights is like having a guitar with only three strings, or a piano with half a keyboard. In life we should play all the notes available to us.
Posted on 03 November 2010 by davidbiggs
Whatever happened to sherry? Once the most romantic and celebrated of the world’s wines, sherry seems to have faded from popularity into relative obscurity. Shakespeare mentioned sherry many times (he called it “sack”) and it was a popular tavern drink for all occasions, not the effete sip it turned out to be in Victorian times.
“Give me a cup of sack, rogue,” Falstaff roared in one of his boisterous moments. Chaucer mentions it as “Lepe,” named after the town in Spain, near Jerez, where it was produced. So it’s been a round a really long time. He does suggest that three classes are about the limit. “When a man hath drunken draughtes three, “And weneth tha he bee at home in Chepe, “He is in Spain right at the town of Lepe.” Today the closest you’re likely to get is “Old Brown,” which isn’t really sherry at all. It’s a sweet, warming fortified wine much enjoyed by fishermen and canoeists. Nothing wrong with that, but not sherry.
Real sherry is unlike any other wine. It has no vintage year, for a start. Each year a new selection of grape juice is added to the criadera, or “nursery school” where it ferments under a special yeast called flor, which floats on top of the wine, unlike normal yeasts, which work from the bottom. This flor years gives sherry its unique almost savoury, nutty character. The sherry solera consists of three levels of barrels. New wine is fermented in the top level and the final product is drawn from the bottom level. This is then topped up with wine from the middle level, which is topped up in turn from the criadera at the top. It’s a continuous process. With blending and selection, sherry falls into several styles like the very dry, nutty Fino, the more rounded, sweeter Oloroso, and medium-sweet Amontillado.
The great KWV cellars in Paarl once included a special hall where hundreds of barrels of quietly ageing sherry moved from one layer of the solera to the next, year after year. Today there’s a mean little cluster of barrels hidden in a corner, looking rather apologetic. I believe there’s still a place in our lives for good sherry. A dry sherry makes a warming welcoming drink instead of the more popular sparkling wine. An Oloroso goes very well with a hearty soup at the start of a meal. And there’s nothing wrong with the old tradition of a mid-afternoon glass of sherry with biscuits instead of boring old tea and scones.
There are still a few sherries around if you’re prepared to look for them. I recently tasted Monte Vista Pale Dry sherry from Bonnievale and Douglas Green’s very crisp and elegant Dry Fino Sherry. KWV’s Onze Rust Oloroso is a delicious mid-afternoon drink. Take a big glass and dunk a nutty biscotti in it for an old fashioned treat. Let’s support these bottles of history. They’re far too good to be allowed to slip into obscurity with the dodo and the dinosaur.
Photo: Chris Jansen for KWV