Changing perceptions

What’s the first wine that comes to mind from Klein Constantia? Surely Vin de Constance, the one South African wine recognised worldwide. Winemaker, Matt Day wouldn’t be surprised, he admits this celebrated dessert wine has been the focus of attention until recently.

Yet, the first wine to make this Constantia farm’s modern-day name was the 1986 Sauvignon Blanc; the maiden commercialized vintage* from three-year-old vines that audaciously capped its peers by winning the Trophy for White Wine of the Year at that year’s Young Wine Show.  Precocious it might have been but it also proved a remarkable stayer. I noted ‘will age’ at the first media showing; when last tried around nine years ago, it was still very much alive, no botox needed!

(*Although it was the first sauvignon sold, there was a 1985 was made and a 1983 Rhine Riesling, both of which we tasted at that media event.)

Nearing the top of Klein Constantia's vineyards.
Nearing the top of Klein Constantia’s vineyards

It took until 2004 for then winemaker, Adam Mason to increase the sauvignon blanc range: Perdeblokke (named for the Percherons which were used in the vineyards), a specific site higher up the slope, was the first, then another break until 2012, when Matt Day, Adam’s assistant since 2009, took over the reins from him. That year, the wonderful Block 382 was introduced, followed in 2013 by Métis, the Pascal Jolivet joint venture and Block 381 in 2014.

As I chart the arrival of these new sauvignons, it strikes me how under the radar they are. Block 382 blew me away at Tim Atkin’s presentation of his South Africa 2019 Report 95+ wines. This is a sauvignon distancing itself by a long way from commercial offerings of full-force fruit & easy sweetness.

It took until last week to visit the farm and learn from Matt more about this and the other amazing sauvignons. So much has changed at Klein Constantia, including Matt who has positively grown in confidence and focus; now Hans Astrom lives in Switzerland, he is happy to have taken on extra responsibilities.

Altitude and aspects abound on Klein Constantia

A climb, even in a landrover, up to the top of these Constantiaberg slopes, is always a breathtaking – and breath-holding – experience. But an experience that brings home altitude is but one measurement; so many aspects, dips and curves. ‘See the chardonnay vineyard in the hollow below, it’s much cooler than this exposed sauvignon block next to us.’ Counter-intuitive, but thanks to his 11 years on the farm, Matt has an enviable memory-bank of the vines’ performance.

The view of and from Block 382 is as exhilarating as the wine, but Matt first pours the Estate’s Cap Classique from chardonnay, a palate primer if ever there was for the 2019 sauvignon from this wall of granite. Layers of texture, a granite-like firmness is the first impression with flavour, rather than fruit, following. Fynbos, fragrant but of dried herbs rather than floral, permeate the aromas and provide that sauvage character. As linear and bone-dry as it is, the underlying lees-giving weight brings balance and the goosebumps I’d experienced at Tim’s tasting a year back – except this was in the actual vineyard. More intense goosebumps!

Matt Day, Block 382 and the wine

Back in the cellar, it’s time to explore the other sauvignons, starting with the Rolls Royce Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2019, a wine of absolute integrity, uncompromising and great value at R150. Integrity means it ages well too: a recent bottle of 2015 maintained the classic fig, flinty notes, mouthwatering fruity acids and totally dry. It is now also vegan friendly, protein-stabilised with potato proteins.

Métis 2017 (R280), the current release, after vinification, spends two years in bottle before release. Skin contact provides a bit of tannin on the tail which contrasts with the quite silky texture. Spice, flint and savoury flavours are distinguishing features.

Perdeblokke 2018 is a youngster brimming with cheeky energy. Its linearity chases vigorously mouthwatering riot of tropical, fumé, blackcurrant and wild herb flavours across the palate. So moreish.

Clara 2019 is a newcomer to the range. Named for one of the stylish owners of Klein Constantia, Clara Hussey, it’s a blend of some or each of Blocks 382, 381, 372, 361 and Perdeblokke. All components are spontaneously fermented separately in barrel and aged for nine months, whereafter a decision is taken on the blend. Clara lives up to the sauvage in sauvignon with wild herb, dried fynbos and just a whisper of tropical fruit delivered in a clean, crisp manner and some subtlety.

These are fabulous, individual wines, the trouble is as soon as people see Sauvignon Blanc on a label, prejudices come into play. For those who don’t like the variety, they won’t bother trying them and for those who do, it’s likely the wines do not fit the normal sauvignon parameters. How to change perceptions?

Why don’t you remove Sauvignon Blanc from the label, I suggest to Matt. At least of the single block wines. It’s an idea he’s not averse to.

It’s also an idea that could get consumers to change perceptions about any number of varieties on which they hold fixed ideas. I remember Pieter Walser telling me one of his first customers said she didn’t like shiraz; he then poured her a red wine from an unlabeled bottle, sure enough she liked the wine – a shiraz! With winemakers’ attention focused on reflecting site rather than variety, this could be a bold but effective way to go.

Driving down from Block 382, Matt points out a newly planted vineyard of furmint, ‘For Vin de Constance,’ he confirms. ‘We’ve also planted petit manseng with the same purpose in mind but Muscat de frontignan will always be there.’ If, for many Vin de Constance is Klein Constantia, without the need of a varietal label, even she will evolve, rather like the new label adorning 2017.

Vin de Constance 2017 with its new label

Changing perceptions takes time but eventually leads to rewards all round.

Platter 2021

For this evening, I’m listing the five-star wines and Winery of the Year. Other results will be posted as they are announced along with a comment piece.

Many congratulations to Kleine Zalze, Owner Kobus Basson, Cellarmaster Alistair Rimmer & Winemaker RJ Botha for their seven 5* wines. Their large range covers wines at all levels and price, much at unbeatable value for quality. They are not satisfied to rest on these laurels but join the New Wave gang with exciting experiments Project Z, these to be released shortly.


Kleine Zalze Wines


AA Badenhorst Family

Kelder Steen 2019           

Red 2018             

Raaigras Grenache 2019               

Alheit Vineyards

Cartology 2019 

Magnetic North 2019

Hemelrand Vine Garden 2019

Lost & Found 2019

Nautical Dawn 2019

Anthonij Rupert Wyne         

Cabernet Franc 2014

Laing Groendruif Semillon 2017 

Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Anwilka Anwilka 2017  

Aristea Cabernet Sauvignon 2018


The Mothership Chenin Blanc 2019

JJ Handmade Eight Pillars 2017  

B Vintners Vine Exploration Co Harlem to Hope 2019

Bartho Eksteen

Vloekskoot 2019

Houtskool 2019

Beaumont Family Wines       

Hope Marguerite 2019  

Vitruvian 2017  


1953 Single Vineyard Pinotage 2018

Pinotage Reserve 2017  


Diesel Pinotage 2018

Faith 2016

Boekenhoutskloof Winery

Franschhoek Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Noble Late Harvest 2017

Bon Courage Estate Jacques Bruére Brut Reserve 2012

Boplaas Family VineyardsCape Vintage Reserve 2018

Boschkloof Epilogue 2018

Botanica Three Barrels Pinot Noir 2019

Bouchard Finlayson Tête de Cuvée Pinot Noir 2019

Cape Point Vineyards Isliedh 2019

Capensis Fijnbosch Chardonnay 2015

Carinus Family Vineyards

Polkadraai Heuwels Chenin Blanc 2018   

Polkadraai Heuwels Chenin Blanc 2019

Catherine Marshall Chenin Blanc Fermented in Clay 2019

Cederberg Private Cellar Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc 2019 

Charles Fox Cap Classique

Prestige Cuvée Cipher 2015

Prestige Cuvée Blanc de Blancs   2016

City on a Hill Wine Company White 2019


Cuvée Cinéma 2019

Mabalel 2019

David & Nadia

Elpidios 2018

Hoë-Steen Chenin Blanc 2019

Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2019

Plat’bos Chenin Blanc 2019

De Grendel    

Op Die Berg Chardonnay 2019

Elim Shiraz 2018

Sir David Graaff First Baronet 2016

Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc 2019

De Kleine Wijn Koöp 

Debutant White 2019

Road to Santiago 2019

De Krans Cape Vintage Reserve 2018

Delaire Graff Estate Laurence Graff Reserve 2017


Grand Reserve 2017

Vera Cruz Pinotage 2017

Edelspatz Noble Late Harvest 2019


Chenin Blanc Reserve 2019

De Trafford Wines

Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Syrah 393 2018 

Merlot 2016

Straw Wine 2017

Chenin Blanc Reserve 2018

Elevation 393 2014

Dewaldt Heyns Family Shiraz 2017


Pinotage The Journal 2018

Pinotage Reserve 2019  

Sauvignon Blanc The Journal 2019

Dorrance Syrah Cuvée Ameena 2019    

Ellerman House Hotel & Villas The Ellerman 2018


Cyril Back 2016 

La Beryl Blanc 2019

Glenelly Lady May 2015

GlenWood Noblesse 2017

Hartenberg Gravel Hill Shiraz 2016

illimis Chenin Blanc 2019

JC Wickens Swartland Red Blend 2019  

Jordan Wine Estate

Nine Yards Chardonnay 2019

Cabernet Franc 2018

Methode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2015

Journey’s End Cape Doctor 2015

JP Bredell Cape Vintage Reserve 2017

Kanonkop Estate

Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Paul Sauer 2017                

Keet First Verse 2017

Ken Forrester Wines   Roussanne 2018

Klein Constantia Estate Vin de Constance 2016

Kleine Zalze Wines

Chenin Blanc (Vineyard Selection) 2019 

Chenin Blanc Amphora 2018

Chenin Blanc (Family Reserve) 2019

Whole Bunch Shiraz 2017

Cabernet Sauvignon (Family Reserve) 2017

Sauvignon Blanc (Family Reserve) 2019

Grenache Amphora 2017

Kumusha The Flame Lily 2019


The Mentors Canvas 2017

The Mentors Perold 2017

The Mentors Grenache Blanc 2018

Cape Tawny NV

La Bri Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Le Riche Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2017

Leeu Passant

Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Radicales Libres 2015

Lomond Pincushion Sauvignon Blanc 2019

Longridge Wine Organic Clos du Ciel 2017

Lourens Family Wines

Blouklip Steen   2019

Lua Ilse 2019

Marianne Wine Estate Floreal 2017

Meerlust Estate Rubicon 2017

Metzer & Holfeld Family Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Michaella Chenin Blanc 2019

Miles Mossop Wines Saskia-Jo 2018

Minimalist Stars In The Dark 2019

Mischa Estate Grenache 2018 

Morgenster Estate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2019


Granite Chenin Blanc 2019

Granite Syrah 2018

Schist Syrah 2018

Olerasay Straw Wine NV              

Muratie Wine Estate Ansela van de Caab 2017

Naudé Wines Oupa Willem 2018

Nederburg Two Centuries Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Neil Ellis Wines

Jonkershoek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Whitehall Chardonnay 2019

Newstead Lund Family Vineyards Méthode Cap Classique Brut 2015 

Newton Johnson Vineyards

Pinot Noir 2019

Windansea Pinot Noir 2019

Chardonnay 2019

Oak Valley Estate

South Ridge CY548 Chardonnay 2017

Chardonnay Groenlandberg 2019

South Ridge CY95 Chardonnay 2017

Opstal Estate Carl Everson Cape Blend 2018

Paserene Marathon 2018

Patatsfontein Sons of Sugarland Syrah 2019

Paulus Wine Co Bosberaad 2019

Pieter Ferreira Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2013

Porseleinberg Porseleinberg 2018

Raats Family Wines

Cabernet Franc 2018

Eden High Density Single Vineyard Chenin 2019

The Fountain Terroir Specific Chenin 2019

Rall Wines

Ava Chenin Blanc 2019

White 2019

Grenache Blanc 2019

Ava Syrah 2019 

Restless River

Main Road & Dignity 2017

Ava Marie 2018

Reyneke Wines White 2018

Rickety Bridge Winery The Pilgrimage 2018

Ridgeback Viognier 2019

Rustenberg Wines John X Merriman 2017

Rust en Vrede Wine Estate

 1694 Classification 2017

Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Single Vineyard Syrah 2017

Rust en Vrede Estate Wine 2017               

Sadie Family Wines

Mev. Kirsten 2019

Skerpioen 2019

Kokerboom 2019

Skurfberg 2019 

Pofadder 2019  

Soldaat 2019

Saronsberg Cellar Full Circle 2018

Savage Wines

 Red 2018

Girl Next Door 2019

White 2019

Follow The Line 2019

Schultz Family Wines Dungeons Cabernet Sauvignon  2017

Scions of Sinai Swanesang 2019

Shannon Vineyards Mount Bullet Merlot 2017                

Sijnn Sijnn Red 2017

Silverthorn Wines The Green Man 2017

Simonsig Wine Estate

Cabernet Sauvignon The Garland 2015   

Mediterraneo 2015


Chenin Blanc 21 Gables 2019

Frans K. Smit Red 2015  

Frans K. Smit CWG Auction Selection 2017

Stark-Condé Oude Nektar High Altitude 2017


Old Bushvine Chenin Blanc 2019               

55 Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2019

Storm Wines  

Vrede Pinot Noir 2019

Ignis Pinot Noir 2019

Strandveld Wines Pofadderbos Sauvignon Blanc 2019

Super Single Vineyards Verlatenkloof Merlot 2017

Terracura Trinity Syrah 2017

The Fledge & Co Vagabond 2018

The Foundry Grenache Blanc 2019

The High Road Director’s Reserve 2017

Thelema Mountain Vineyards

 Merlot Reserve 2018

Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Rabelais 2017

Reserve Petit Verdot Sutherland 2017

Thistle & Weed Duwweltjie 2019

Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse 2019


Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2017

Director’s Reserve Red 2017

Sauvignon Blanc 2019

Noble Late Harvest 2019

Van Loggerenberg

Kameradarie 2019

Graft 2019

Vergelegen Vergelegen GVB Red 2015 

Villiera Wines

Drip Barrel Cabernet Franc 2018                

The Clan 2017

Vondeling Babiana 2019

Wade Bales Wine Co 

Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2018  

Breedekloof Chenin Blanc 2019 

Warwick Wine Estate

The Blue Lady 2017

Cabernet Franc 2017

The White Lady                 2017

Waterford Estate The Jem 2015

Wildekrans Wine Estate Cape Blend 2017

Woolworths Ferricrete Riesling 2018

Dealing digitally

If Covid-19 and the alcohol sales bans didn’t drive you to drink, it certainly provided the timid online buyer a perfect opportunity to overcome any reticence. A vast number of people did turn to online buying and predictions are that, having discovered this method is both safe and convenient, most will continue to shop online in future.

This offers many challenges to both the wine farms and retailers. From an online buying perspective, it requires the farm or retailer to make the buying process as user-friendly, up-to-date and safe as possible. Then, there’s the possibility that online buying is made so attractive, it becomes the norm, leading to fewer people visiting and buying in person. Encouraging people to physically visit, enjoy the farm’s facilities and atmosphere or explore the wider range of wines available at the retailers via digital marketing, is another challenge.

How these challenges and others are being met are issues I put to Creation’s Carolyn Martin, Jordan Wines’ Thea van der Merwe, Oldenburg Vineyards’ Marthelize Tredoux as well as Corlien Morris of Johannesburg retailer, Wine Menu and’s Judy Brower.

Their experience in selling online differed. Apart from Jordan, which set up an official payment gateway in May 2020, the others had anything from two to 11 years’, though Oldenburg had just launched a new website and online shop. But lockdown and the first alcohol sales ban presented a unique scenario; what it meant, in effect, was that wine could be sold and paid for, but not delivered. As there was precious little time between the announcement and the ban coming into effect, any necessary adjustments to the online platform had to be made in a hurry.

Acknowledging convenience and a seamless shopping experience was needed, Creation added the Quick Shop and Personal Shopper pages. For Wine Menu the only adjustment was an increased wine offering. With their recently launched shop, Jordan had the frustration of the entire website crashing. A stand-alone shop was created, which works effectively while the new website is developed. Automation was the answer for; waybills, tracking stickers – all previously written out manually.

For some, adjustments were ongoing, as the volume of sales far exceeded expectations. Fewer but some adjustments were required by the second ban, as a repeat of the initial unprecedented sales was better anticipated.

Those sales’ figures make for extraordinary reading (they may be expressed in different ways, but the message is clear): May, 1562% up on previous month; up from around 10% per month to 80%, which continued into the second ban; volume of orders increased from average 250 per month to 6000 while value increased by 1600%.

Communication with clients was of prime importance during this period. Corlien Morris turned Wine Menu’s attention to keeping customers informed of new releases of premium wines and growing the online offering. ‘The most important part was to let our clients know that we are still looking after them; that we will still be here after the ban.’

Once the ban was lifted, deliveries were the next challenge. In anticipation of delivery delays, posted notices to this effect on their website and, via a one-stop communication system, was constantly in touch with customers via email. As anticipated, delivery times were impossible to confirm; ‘logistics companies just didn’t cope,’ recalls Wine Menu’s Corlien Morris.

Online sales ran somewhat more smoothly during the second ban and remained strong once it was lifted, thanks to customers being more familiar with the process.

The growing familiarity and ease with online buying posed its own problem; how to get customers to physically visit the farm or retail outlet once the ban was lifted. Creation approached this in several ways: by targeting different segments of the market separately; creating experiences to suit the needs of a wide spectrum of clients.

Jordan’s popular The Bakery, a venue fully booked over weekends, provided an opportunity for tasting room staff to do tours and tastings with free delivery (when permitted) offered on sales. It’s a trickier issue for retailers, due to restricted hours and no weekend sales; ‘Many clients are back at work full time, so unable to visit before 5pm; the online option remains the best solution for them,’ explains Corlien Morris.

Generating local sales during the bans was one issue; creating awareness internationally and encouraging those customers to support South African wine and tourism was another. The general support received was heartwarming, from Zoom discussions led by leading UK journalists with locals in the industry about the difficulties they were up against, to support from agents, to Victoria Mason of Waitrose putting together a selection of South African wine to help local producers, a twice-over instant sell out, to the Facebook page SaveSAwine with nearly 60 000 supporters and the #drinksouthafricanwine initiative; all helped the cause. Many individual wineries held Zoom tastings; agents have assembled customer incentives with the trade to run over the Christmas season which will hopefully encourage customer visits as and when the borders are open to international visitors. With its two dedicated Direct to Consumer channels in the UK and EU, Oldenburg ensures these customers are kept up to date with happenings on the farm and helped with planned trips postponed due to Covid.

At one level or another, each of the above businesses has succeeded with digital marketing and e-commerce during Covid. But, if, as many think, this form of marketing and sales is here to stay, Polly Hammond, founder of 5Forests, has a message: ‘Digital,’ she says, ‘has to be part of a well thought out and researched, planned strategic business model. To do digital right you have to treat it like work,’ she adds. ‘People love Instagram and it has built a Rosé market around the world. But to make it work you have to treat it like a proper branch of your brand.’

Once upon a wine

Everyone loves a good story – a real story, for in truth, reality is more fascinating than fiction. Everything is fascinatingly real about the remarkable Pieter Walser; his winemaking surroundings, his BlankBottle wines and the stories behind them. A visit to his cellar off Winery Road is a cheering experience, especially in these careworn times.

The lane leading to the BlankBottle hub is dotted with paddocks, horses, whitewashed and smart double-storey residences; offering start contrast, if more character, is the jumble of buildings, all old bar a modern construction not unlike an aircraft-hangar, at the end. This latter is Pieter’s cellar, purpose built when he outgrew one of the smaller buildings. We head off to one of these, where four or five ladies are busy labelling bottles by hand. I think Pieter mentioned a figure of 80 000 bottles this vintage; that’s 80 000 labels glued, lined-up and stuck on each bottle. There’s wax too. ‘We dirty wax,’ Pieter reveals, with some pride, ‘turn the bottle upside down in the wax and twirl.’ The result is artisanal, ‘but much more character than done with a machine. Wine is a visual product; the packaging has to attract.’

It gets real being real at BlankBottle.

Pieter standing by the 1600L clay pot used for L’Estrange Palomino

But it’s the stories I’ve come to learn more about and taste one or two wines, as I’d requested Pieter’s wife, Aneen, when I made the appointment.

One or two turns into 18 wines, all thanks to a Coravin and Pieter’s enthusiasm to talk about those stories. Oh, I’m forgetting one or two thieved from a barrel. The table we tasted at initially seemed to be extraordinarily long, until the row of bottles kept growing. Unsurprisingly, my tasting notes are wanting more than usual but there is no doubt every one would be a pleasure to drink (spitting was hard, but driving is also a reality), confirming Pieter’s goal of ‘making wine that’s nice to drink’. Nice, but also with character, ‘I want the wine to taste South African, not try to make it taste German,’ he explains as I roll around my tongue a gently-spiced Riesling from the barrel.

Do you ever struggle to find a story? ‘There’s no wine if there’s no story,’ Pieter is adamant, ‘but the stories have to be real; real stories sell wine, fabricated ones are no good.’ Most turn around the vineyard or the farmer.

Fabrication is unnecessary; imagine all the stories flowing from just this past vintage when he harvested 35 varieties from 70 different vineyards. There are some lesser-known varieties among those 35; fernăo pires, which appears solo in Kortpad Kaaptoe. Pieter was visiting a farmer between Darling and Malmesbury, but needed to rush back to Cape Town to collect his passport. ‘What’s the shortest route?’ he asked. ‘Go past the merlot vineyard and turn right after the fernăo pires,’ the farmer directed. ‘Fernăo pires? Don’t know that grape.’ Pieter got his passport and the fernăo pires, now a regular member of the range.

The Empire (Stellenbosch) Strikes Back

There’s also a wicked sense of humour behind some stories. The Empire Strikes Back is an all Stellenbosch (Empire) blend of roussanne, marsanne, verdelho, chenin-, pinot- and sauvignon blanc and viognier – yes, a we-can-do-it-too take on the Swartland white blends (a delicious wine it is too). Note the Swartland Revolution star on the label.

Of course, there’s an Empire (Stellenbosch) to balance the story. Of course, it’s cabernet – with petit verdot. The crest a blend of Elsenburg and Stellenbosch crests, as Pieter studied at both institutions.

Part of Little William’s wrap-around label showing the road where Pieter came across the tiny child

One of my favourite stories features Little William; the rugged, wild herb, stony shiraz from Ceres Plateau also happens to be one of my favourite wines. Pieter was haring along to the vineyard, when he braked suddenly to avoid a tiny child, around a year old, all alone in the middle of the road.  Hoping the child would go home, he picked him up and watched which direction the toddler took and followed him. Roughly ten minutes later they arrived at a farmhouse, where the gardener called, what turned out to be, the little boy’s mother and they were reunited.

But that’s not the end of the story. A few years later, the Walsers had taken one of their sons to hospital; while they were waiting for him, ‘Aneen, as is her way, got talking to the people sitting next to us,’ Pieter relates. She soon learned they come from Ceres, up in the Witzenberg .. you can guess the rest of this happy tale.

Perhaps the most extraordinary story is how Pieter came to design the labels. Early bottlings carried the name Blank Bottle and that was it; money was too short to hire a designer and Pieter had no designing skills. An amazing change came about in 2013, when Pieter had a particularly bad epileptic fit, something that had started when he was 30. With his recovery and the lack of being able to sit in front of a flickering laptop screen, came the realisation the design skills he previously lacked were now a gift he had. Epileptic Inspiration, a semillon from Elgin and Baardskeerdersbos, honours this amazing transformation.

These and the stories behind all the other wines are on Pieter’s website but realising friends around a dinner table wouldn’t want to read notes, he came up with the bright idea of recording the stories (also accessed on the website), ‘So everyone can hear. The recordings aren’t perfect, as some I did while in the car.’

I can’t improve on how a friend describes Pieter and Aneen Walser and BlankBottle: real people, real wines, real stories.

The Spanish grape

You know how it is – you wait 40 minutes for a bus, then four come along, one after the other.

It feels like that with palomino, South Africa’s once ubiquitous distilling grape now being rediscovered as a niche variety.

Is this part of what Tim Atkin MW refers to in his latest South Africa Report 2020 as ‘South Africa’s wine offering .. becoming more diverse.’ with ‘marginal grapes beginning to turn up on labels’? Perhaps it’s a move driven by the need to ‘start looking at heat- and drought-resistant varieties that have proved their durability in Mediterranean climates ..’ Palomino is certainly part of Gen Z Vineyard Project run by Francois Viljoen, a project trialing many varieties to see which work best in drier conditions.

Palomino is no newcomer to the Cape; in his 1979 book Wine Grape Cultivars in South Africa, Professor Orffer writes that it was ‘One of the earliest cultivars cultivated in the Cape,’ In its 1970s heyday, there were 56 000 000 million vines accounting for 18.15% of the crop. Today, those millions have plunged to 329 371 vines, 115.36ha or .12%.

The good news is that the Olifantsrivier, home to the largest plantings, also enjoys the privilege of just under 40ha of certified old vines, many of which are the source of present-day palominos.

Initially regarded as a mainstay for brandy production, palomino did also fulfil its Spanish purpose in ‘Light, elegant Sherries’, before falling out of favour to versatile chenin. Adi Badenhorst has planted some with ‘Sherry’ in mind.

It was enjoyed as a table wine too, Prof Orffer describing it as ‘a neutral, soft drinking wine that is best consumed when young.’ I remember Delheim White French was a favourite of Vera Sperling’s until the vines made way for more fashionable and trendy varieties.

White French? One of many oddities in varietal terminology is that local synonyms for palomino are white French and fransdruif or French grape. How come, I asked Vinpro’s viticulture team? No one, either from the current team, or from their retired predecessors, could offer a clear answer; what they generally agree is that the vine material was imported from France, the probable reason for the name. (Other suggestions welcome!)

The French synonym is no longer used, at least among the varietal wines I’ve tracked down; though Ian Naude opts for the Portuguese Malvasia Rei, ‘Because I’ve tasted too many horrible palominos and, anyway, palomino sounds like a horse!’

What makes palomino, producing a fairly neutral wine, a variety for today? The link throughout the wines, whether varietal or blends, is texture, a characteristic gaining importance in recent years; am I right in thinking the introduction of concrete eggs and amphora were instrumental in this trend? Their use certainly takes palomino (and other varieties) to a more interesting level.

Some use skin contact for more grip density (others prefer whole bunch pressing), while lees-ageing adds breadth to the palate; these too add to the wines’ complexity. Natural ferment and larger, well-seasoned oak, where it is used, maintain the grape’s integrity.

Eben Sadie’s Ouwingerds Skerpioen, chenin/palomino blend.

Origin is all important. Piekenierskloof, as mentioned enjoys a generous spread of old palomino; the wines from there have an intriguing residual salty note. Eben Sadie’s Ouwingerds Skerpioen, a single vineyard, equal chenin/palomino blend and Adi Badenhorst’s Sout van die Aarde (Salt of the Earth) a clever pun, both have this feature.

Eben believes altitude and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean in these West Coast vineyards has an influence. He also considers, ‘Old vines in a perfect site will produce quality, that won’t be the case on wrong sites with very young vines. For the first ten years, I’m going to distill the fruit from young palomino on the new Palladius vineyard I planted.’

John Bouwer’s Gedeelte palomino (1978), grown on sandy soil with limestone, is even closer to the sea in St Helena Bay, where the salt must be blown into the old fermentation casks. The wine then spends a year on fine lees in stainless steel where it matures under veil. Limestone soil provides low pH levels in palomino, shoring up its naturally low acid. Picking early morning and giving a few hours’ skin contact all help retain freshness.

Fermentation vessels don’t come as singular as Pieter Walser’s BLANKbottle L’Estrange vinified in a 1600L Limpopo clay pot which he personally lined with beeswax from African bees, before stomping whole bunches with his feet. It sings with life, savoury freshness; a mouthwatering conclusion prompts another glass, another bottle.

As far as blends are concerned, palomino is paired with several other varieties. Thistle & Weed’s Stephanie Wiid is experimenting with a verdelho to make up for palomino’s lack of acidity, chenin blanc ‘and possibly fernăo pires’. Late news: Stephanie tells me this blend is called Khakibos, 2020 the first to include palomino. She is also producing a varietal palomino exclusively for their wine community.  Strange Kompanjie’s Tea Leaf combines chenin, palomino and grenache blanc; ‘Just a small blob rounds off the blend and contributes to the mid palate,’ reckons winemaker, JD Roussouw.

Neil Ellis Wines Op Se Moer (or Sur Lie) is classified as Alternate Style with no additives. Since the maiden 2016, the three varieties (chenin, palomino and grenache blanc) are harvested together at different ripeness levels, from their individual vineyards. Unlike the others, winemaker, Warren Ellis, finds ‘Palomino at 20 Balling shows nice fruit, but very little acid,’ which leaves chenin and grenache to add acidity and texture. The wine is bottled unfiltered with some fine lees in the bottle. The 2018  is full of natural energy, flavour rather than fruit and light crunchy texture. A modern style, excellently executed.

While none of these producers suggest palomino will be a major player again, each is content for it to add diversity and interest to South Africa’s wine spectrum.

No fleet of buses then, but appreciate those that do come along, they are worth the wait.

The palomino/palomino blends I tracked down; I’ve tried and can recommend those marked with a *.
Varietal palominos:
AA Badenhorst Sout van die Aarde (Piekenierskloof 1930s)*, Blackwater Pleasure Garden Palomino (Ashton 1927)*, BLANKBottle L’Estrange (Piekenierskloof 1965)*, Gedeelte Wines Palomino (St Helena Bay 1978), Johan Kruger Family Wines Palomino (Piekenierskloof 1974)*, Naude Malvasia Rei (Montagu, not old), Wildeberg Wonder Horse (Piekenierskloof 1977), Thistle & Weed Palomino.
Neil Ellis Op Se Moer (Piekenierskloof)*, Sadie Family Wines Skerpioen Piekenierskloof 1930s)*, Palladius (Piekenierskloof next to Skerpioen)*, Strange Kompanjie Tea Leaf (Piekenierskloof 1962)* Thistle & Weed Khakibos (Piekenierskloof 1974)

CWG auction 2020

Hats off to the Committee of the Cape Winemakers Guild for organising the annual blind tasting of the Guild Auction wines in times of Covid. Usually presented as one event to which interested wine writers are invited, this year it has to be held with proper social distancing and other protocols. This has meant four, instead of one sitting, held at the CWG offices just off the N2 in Somerset West.

All was beautifully set up, with sanitizer and temperature-taking – mine again low enough to be toying with life! Bravo Samarie, Kate and team.

Sanitizer, thermometer, social distancing – and wine!

A few take-outs from the line-up, just 28 wines this year. Only variety and/or blend as well as vintage are on the tasting list, the producer unknown.

Vintages: no surprise that 2015, 2017 and 2019 stood out as great years. I’m increasingly enamoured of 2019 for its clarity, purity and elegance. Of course, many big guns have yet to be released, but so far, so encouraging. Problem child 2018 can provide a delightful surprise, even if such surprises are few and far between.

Rather than a roll-call of every wine, I’m mentioning those which stood out for me, which doesn’t mean the others are any less good.

A pair of Méthode Cap Classiques got us underway; both impressive, though Silverthorn Big Dog VI 2015 just edged the Beck Cuvée 129 Extra Brut 2009. It is a category showing exponential quality growth and, frankly, no one should be disappointed with either of these.

White blends are favourites with wine writers and involved wine lovers. Because many of them are so new, rarely does one get the chance to see how they develop with a few years, especially those where varieties other than chenin are involved. Simonsig’s Mediterraneo 2015, a blend of roussanne, grenache blanc and Verdelho works very well as a blend. With a little age, it remains fresh with a range of flavours reflecting its make up, but without any being a tall poppy.

In contrast, Miles Mossop’s Saskia-Jo 2018 a chenin, clairette blanche, grenache blanc blend, focuses on texture rather than fruit. Some leesy weight and grip are enlivened by clairette’s freshness. Well-composed, satisfying and defying the vintage reputation.
Three chardonnays offer completely different views of the variety.

Paul Cluver’s reliable track record gives me confidence The Wagon Trail 2018 will reach greater harmony between oak and cool citrusy zest with a year or two.

I very much like Andrea Mullineux’s Leeu Passant Radicales Libres 2015, better than last year’s in fact. There’s age but also youth in its rich toasty, leesy complexity and silver bullet of cleansing acid., which prolongs the deliciousness.

The upper reaches of Hemel en Aarde are becoming known for chardonnays of steely elegance and poise. Kevin Grant’s Ataraxia Under the Gavel 2019 is thrilling, its ying and yang of weight and freshness perfectly matched. It also reflects my current impression of the year. Ageing will bring further interest.

Only one pinot noir. Newton Johnson Windansea 2017 has charm, energy, suppleness and those dark cherries fading to undergrowth all in a seamless package. These pinots are becoming more adult, sophisticated every year.

I’m a fan of cabernet, shiraz blends. Rust en Vrede’s Auction Estate 2017 is a very good example of the genre, cabernet providing an ageworthy frame to syrah’s floral and spice sweet fruit.

Neighbour, Ernie Els CWG 2017 adds cinsaut to cab and shiraz, and the impact of a fresh lift from the first of the three. This is as good as its neighbour, so personal preference would be a decider. Both are serious and ageworthy, which isn’t always appreciated of the style.

So to Bordeaux-style blends, five of them. Unsurprisingly, Kanonkop CWG Paul Sauer 2017 stands head and shoulders above the others and is unmistakable blind. Sheer class with great depth, concentration but never heavy, seamless ripe tannins (dangerously drinkable already) and buffed with beautiful oak. My wine of the whole line-up. Buyers will need deep pockets.

It’s gratifying that I now regularly like Frans K Smit’s Spier entry; his 2017 merlot, cabernet remains fresh, youthful and still tight. The oak-spiced berry plum fragrance will gain in appeal with the ageing this wine deserves.

Three syrahs, headed by Boschkloof Epilogue Syrah 2018, which clearly shows the modern side of the variety, freshness a major benefit. Gentle yet effective tannins embrace supple, ripe peppery fruit; oak a background support.

Rounding off with a Cape Vintage CWG Reserve 2915 from Boplaas, known and trusted for these Port-style wines. Authentic with the sort of grip one expects and needed for lengthy ageing. This one will go the distance.

Groups of 4 for CWG Auction tasting
With me, Cathy Marston, Higgo Jacobs & Norman Mcfarlane

Overall, this selection is one of the most interesting and best I can remember. One note of dissonance. Many who buy the wines do so simply because they are auction wines and pay a premium for them. Are they buying the best South Africa can offer, or the best under the CWG label? In all honesty, it has to be the latter, but that won’t hinder bidders for these unusually limited Lots.

The auction will be held live, online on 3rd October. A list of the wines and those under the Vinotheque may be viewed here.

Fifty years

Ah, my poor neglected blog – a casualty of the pressure of Platter tastings. Even they must take a back seat for an hour or so now, for me to celebrate a major occasion. Fifty years ago, on 5th August 1970 I arrived in Cape Town on the SA Vaal. At the time, it was intended as a stopping point to see my brother before moving on eastwards. Fate had other plans.

My first view of Cape Town with Table Mountain behind the cloud, taken from SA Vaal 5th August 1970.

Where did this journey with wine come from? Practically, that’s easy.

I met Mark, my future husband, within a month of arriving here. My interest in wine was sparked by his own and meetings with his tasting group, the Wine Tasters’ Guild.

Emotionally, my attachment to wine is more difficult to pin down. My heart was always fixed on the stage, for which I had trained. Maybe wine was latent. My mum was a great cook, so instilled in me a love of flavour and texture, something that I carry through in my own love of cooking. If whisky was an everyday tipple at home, wine was never entirely absent.

Did I have an aptitude for tasting? Perhaps it was a fluke, but thanks to identifying three wines blind, I won a case of wine from Frans Malan at a Simonsig WTG meeting in 1971. I was due to fly back to the UK later that day, so entrusted the case to Mark’s care with instructions to keep it until my return. He did. And I did. He always supported and encouraged me in my wine journey.

By 1976, thanks to a willingness to offer an opinion and doing fairly well at blind tasting,  it was suggested I should become a member of the Guild – an all-male (mainly older) club, WAGs were guests. After much huffing, puffing and serious discussion, the ‘yays’ won it; I became the first female and youngest member. Giddy times for this 30-year-old, English lass!

As a member and eventually, committee member, I made many contacts in the industry; when the leap into wine professionally arrived in 1983, I had a good relationship with winemakers across the winelands.

The Cape Wine Centre was part of Drop Inn Group, started in the early 1980s to encourage people to enjoy wine and, of course, to promote the retailer’s wares.

I was invited to take it over from the previous incumbent by one of the Drop Inn directors, also a member of the WTG. I had carte blanche to organise tastings, dinners, outings whatever; a monthly newsletter to Centre subscribers, including editors of other publications, generated several paid writing gigs. It was manna from heaven for someone like me, always full of ideas.

What a fantastic, fun two years it was. The wines might be put in the shade by today’s standards, but there was still innovation. Billy Hofmeyr made classic wines in his R20 000 shoestring Welgmeend cellar; the Grier family bought Villiera, Jeff one of the first to specialise in MCC (ah, those parties!), Gyles and Barbara Webb started Thelema where vineyards came first and Walter Finlayson produced cabernets at Blaauwklippen that are still seen as classics today.

Then there was John and Erica Platter with that guide, who I got to know as well.

By the end of 1985 it was time to take another leap into the world of freelance. No time for freefall; the Platters immediately declared they needed help with the guide, would I join them? An irresistible invitation and an association with the guide now in its 35th year (recollections for a later article).

John and Erica helped further my career in other ways; thanks to them, I was the first to broadcast on wine for SABC; became Oz Clarke’s South African contributor to his, sadly no-longer, Pocket Wine Guide, last but by no means least, they introduced me to Michael Fridjhon. I owe Michael as much as John and Erica.

In 1995 Michael invited me to be an associate judge on the infamous SAA Shield Australia vs South Africa; then as a judge on the annual SAA selection panel and for the first 11 years, on the Trophy Wine Show. All terrific experiences and the opportunity to judge with and get to know many great international wine people.

Many, in turn, have welcomed me in their countries. Travel is embedded in my DNA, it broadens the mind and the palate; it’s been the cherry on the top of my involvement with wine (oh, the irony of coming all the way from Europe to discover wine here!) Among the world’s winelands Mark and I visited were Australia, New Zealand, California, Italy, Spain, France, Germany and England, some more than once.

If knowledge about wine can derive from drinking it, understanding requires closer inspection (and at another level when making it; ask me, I’ve done that too.) Sipping a Rippon pinot standing in the Mills’ Wanaka vineyards, looking over Lake Wanaka & snow-capped mountains brings new perspective to extreme wine growing; peering down the vertiginous slopes of Ürziger Würztgarten with Ernie Loosen gives greater insight into & respect for the wine (and vineyard workers); standing among the ancients in the Mullineux’s Wellington cinsault vineyard, is a humbling experience; to think that these centenarians can produce a wine of such haunting perfume! Take me to a vineyard every time over a cellar. Knowledge is nothing without understanding.

The Mullineux’s old vines Basson cinsault Wellington

But it is to South African wines that I owe greatest allegiance. In 1991, I attended the first South African tasting in London after Mandela was released and the ANC unbanned. The tension and curiosity on both sides (producers and international media) was intense. There was some praise but, rightly, quite a bit of criticism. (My article ‘London in Retrospect’ can be found in Wynboer August 1991.)

The shameful results for South Africa in the SAA Shield galvanized winemakers to travel and learn; by the end of that decade, a new, well-travelled generation, liberated of the baggage of the past, had their own ideas about quality. Marc Kent, Eben Sadie, once the Young Guns, remain household names with new, Young Guns joining them every year. It would be a tragedy of immense proportions if any was unable to survive the current crisis.

Fifty years later, I’m still here, still immersed in wine, the excitement of all the thrilling wines currently being made in this fabulous country and confident the future will produce many more, made by a generation ever more representative of all South Africans.

Platter – my early years

What a remarkable year 2020 is turning out to be and it’s not quite yet half way through. To most of this planet’s population, Covid-19, economies and how we humans treat each other are matters of great concern.

On a more personal and happier note, I celebrate two landmarks this year; the first, my arrival in South Africa 50 years ago; the second, embarking on my 35th year as a contributor to the Platter Wine Guide. Imagine, I’m the longest serving person involved with the guide in any capacity! So much has changed since I first worked with John and Erica on the 1987 edition; it’s always been a labour, an endeavour but never boring and always a source of pride on publication.

How did I come to be involved? I’d met the Platters shortly after the first edition and subsequently got to know them better when I ran the Cape Wine Centre, part of Drop Inn. When I decided to leave at the end of 1985, it was with the wild idea of freelancing. I’d made numerous contacts in the industry during the two years I was at the Cape Wine Centre but had no idea what that would lead to, if anything.

Hardly had 1986 got underway, than I received a call from John and Erica, asking whether I’d like to join them working on the guide, as it was becoming too big a task. What an opportunity, what a task!

First, I needed to buy a desktop computer, as I’d been working on my Dad’s old manual typewriter. Then the guide needed to be loaded onto the computer, as to date it had been updated by cut and paste. I think I did much of the uploading but what I remember more clearly is assigning each producer a letter, the first of their name, plus the numerical position within that letter. All fine and good until there were new entries which threw out any semblance of numerical order on those floppies.

I was responsible for tasting, writing up and chasing up the majority of the Co-ops as well some Estates. Remember in 1986 it was still the dark ages; no internet, no emails, cell phones, WhatsApp, just old-style Telkom landlines. Producers in those days, Co-ops particularly, were much less switched on (sales of their bulk wine to the wholesalers was much more important than the tiny amount they bottled, mainly for their Directors); I spent a lot of time on the telephone. The wines were delivered to Delaire, the Platters’ home with Erica bringing through piles of boxes every week; these were as overwhelming then as they are today.

Technically, things were easier the following year with proper coding for the star ratings that Creda Press could read and, which to my relief, meant very few changes to the disks were necessary. By now the Platters had moved to Clos de Ciel.

Does anyone remember XYWrite? By 1988 this is the software John wanted to use, so the guide could be set on floppies and updated from there. I can’t remember whether that happened, but I do know I was responsible for all the Co-ops (there were around 70 in those days), collecting the data, tasting, writing up, including short introductions. The ticks, squiggles and FWT (Forms, Wine, Tasted) (see photo) were my shorthand method of keeping track of progress.

1987 my first year with John Platter’s South African Wine Guide. NB my primitive annotations.

It seems remarkable now but around 1992/1993, tastings were held with the winemaker on the farm, something John had always done but was new for me and my now co-taster, Helen Frith. As time-consuming as these tastings were, we managed within the tight tasting schedule. I do remember being rather sorry when these visits stopped, partly a result of there being just too many producers. Today, it would be impossible.

Automation is taken for granted today but even 20 years ago the maps required manual input,  a task I helped with being familiar with so many of the wineries. There’s nothing more frustrating than a destination misplaced on a map and that did happen.

Awarding five stars was, of course, John’s prerogative; once I’d graduated beyond the Co-ops, as good as some of their wines were, there was more likelihood of finding one of these earth-shattering wines. Even the few that struck me as worthies were, I recall, deemed by the boss to be ‘not quite there yet’!

The shifting of gears began in 1997, when the Platters sold the guide, which became a wholly owned subsidiary of Creda Press, the guide’s regular printer. Erica still wielded her editor’s stick, John his fearless taste buds, but by now he had a handful of tasters apart from myself.

Platter 1999 announced Andrew McDowall (of Creda) as publisher, Erica Consulting Editor and, drum roll, Philip van Zyl as the new Editor.

The times they certainly were a-changing. More of that once year 35 is over.

Buying blind

Wine sales in South Africa are booming. A very strange statement given alcohol sales are banned under Level 4 of the Disaster Management Act. Yet it’s true; consumers are buying and paying for an extraordinary amount of wine online – with delivery to be made once the ban is lifted, anticipated at Level 3. Imagine the task force of delivery vans then!

What led me to find out more about these unprecedented wine sales was my own purchases, both for wines I haven’t yet tasted. Chris and Suzaan Alheit’s Wine Dark Sea is a totally new wine, red but apart from that I can’t remember anything else. It was offered to long-time buyers, who obviously snapped it up, as the Alheit’s soon sent out the ‘Sold Out’ notice. As I enjoyed their cinsaut under the now-discontinued Flotsam & Jetsam label, I had no hesitation in buying six bottles of WDS, described, if I remember correctly, as ready for drinking.

Subsequently, I’ve purchased a few bottles of Lukas van Loggerenberg’s Breton (cabernet franc) and Graft (syrah), both 2019. These needed no second thoughts; I’ve bought earlier vintages and know Lukas isn’t about to make a wild swing in style; any differences will be due to vintage.

How gratifying it is to know there are an increasing number of producers whose style shows sufficient maturity that it makes tasting before buying unnecessary.

Van Loggerenberg, as well as Mick and Janine Craven Craven’s Wines and Bernhard Bredell’s Scions of Sinai range all fall under David & Jeanette Clarke’s Ex Animo Company portfolio. Prior to lockdown, David Clarke had delivered samples of the latest vintages to Winemag’s Christian Eedes, who has since tasted and reviewed them on that website. This has no doubt encouraged sales, which are now available directly from the Clarkes. It’s worth noticing their portfolio is packed with top and sexy, New Wave producers, many of whose wines are on allocation.

In the normal run of things, Ex Animo’s business is mainly with the on-trade, restaurants with appeal to the international tourist trade in particular, but the huge downturn of business even two weeks before lockdown required some quick thinking. It’s none too certain when restaurants will re-open and whether some will if only the number of people permitted at any one time would be economically viable. Although there’s been a great response to the new, direct sales they haven’t entirely made up for the restaurant loss. The good news is that once lockdown is lifted and every business that is able is back trading, the local market will receive much of Ex Animo’s attention and direct sales will continue.

I’d earlier picked up Wine Cellar’s Roland Peens’ enthusiastic comments on the excellent trade they were doing, so sought his thoughts on the situation.

He does confirm online sales are up 250% since lockdown and a record month in April; add those the further record orders that Peens anticipates after the alcohol ban is lifted and ‘It all means deliveries post lockdown are going to be enormous!’ I guess that applies to everyone who’s been selling online; judging by the number of emails and social media posts, that is widespread, usually with discounts offered. Peens admits there are areas where Wine Cellar’s revenue is down, as the business isn’t 100% online.

In addition to record sales, Peens says they’ve gained a large number of new customers; many of these are buying six or 12 bottles of different, moderately priced wines. Traditionally, Wine Cellar’s customers buy high-end wine for long-term cellaring; in the past this would have included a good number of imports but due to the Rand’s crash, South African wines offer increasingly good value. Customers have been quick to pick up on this; big numbers such as Boschkloof Epilogue have sold out more quickly than usual.

Peens reckons one consequence of the lockdown is that customers spend longer logged in with more time to read, buy wine and bid on auctions. He noted that the last Strauss & Co auction, featuring local and Bordeaux blends, attracted excellent prices, something he also puts down to a refined model of said auction.

Of necessity, e-commerce has become hugely popular, something that I’m sure will endure post Covid-19. Having had a taste of buying online, consumers will have greater confidence in making future online purchases.

Now it’s up to wineries, retailers and others with direct sales to make their websites consumer-friendly, attractive and, above all, up-to-date if they wish to extend the benefits they’re currently enjoying.

Lockdown learning

It might seem strange in this age of lockdown that I find myself busier than ever. Blame it on the ever-growing number of online webinars, usually via Zoom and covering wine from a multitude of angles. As one friend admitted, it’s now possible to watch these discussions all day and evening.

My introduction to webinars was on the Real Business of Wine, an initiative run by Robert Joseph with Polly Hammond. Since then, the Circle of Wine Writers, Elsenburg Agricultural College, the Wine and Spirit Education Trust via the International Wine Education Centre, Old Vine Project and several individual wineries have joined the party, with varying degrees of know-how.

Joseph, currently editor at large of Meininger’s, Wine Business International, and Hammond, founder and MD of marketing company 5forests, launched their first webinar as Prowein was supposed to be underway, VinItaly was just about to be postponed, then cancelled, and the world of wine was being turned upside down thanks to Covid-19. That first topic focused on how the disease was affecting wine in countries from China, to Portugal, Germany, France and Italy with experts in each country relating their stories.

Real Business of Wine logo

Since then, a range of topical aspects on wine have been discussed with participation of professionals from around the world sharing their expertise. All are free and run for around an hour from 7pm-8pm CAT. Joseph and Hammond couldn’t have imagined how successful these webinars would become: in the first seven weeks, one thousand subscribers signed up.

South Africa and its unique situation of no alcohol sales or transport of alcohol to ports for export, received welcome support one evening. Participants from across the industry gave no-holds-barred views, extending the usual hour by a further 30 minutes.

One topic I found particularly relevant was The Future of Virtual Tastings, a method I believe will endure post-Covid, as will online wine launches.

The professional presenters of online tastings were Amelia Singer, Amber LeBeau, Josh Dunning and Soma Jennings. LeBeau made an apposite opening remark, rightly claiming a virtual tasting with just the winemaker talking about the wine is the most boring thing, adding the audience has to have the wine to experience for themselves. Josh Dunning also stressed that to encourage those just getting interested in wine, tell the story behind the wine, rather than describe the wine itself. Soma Jennings of Princess and the Pinot ( completed the pro guest list.

This and the other Real Business of Wine videos can be viewed here.

This was a lively session with much information and many ideas, to which I was invited to add one I’d suggested in the Chat section. Little mention of interaction with their audience was made by the pros. Surely the presenter should encourage intereaction with the audience, in other words engage with them, seek their opinions as well, rather than talk to them, I wondered. Or as @smithbarryc expressed it on Twitter ‘Immersive experiences not tutored tastings.’ Then again, the host should be empathetic and competent. There’s much to learn to achieve the purpose of the tastings, on which Amber commented so many don’t have a clue why they’re doing it!

Not every endeavour has the immediate success Real Business of Wine enjoys. A recent request on Twitter from a US author was for ideas on Californian wine in 2030; ‘Will there be a new and amazing phenom?’ My response: ‘Major changes take time to be fully realized; maybe any which will be evident in 2030 .. could be embryonic now.’

At the time I was thinking of the Old Vine Project, which has grown organically since the seed was sown in Rosa Kruger’s mind in the early 2000s. Just how far it has evolved was made clear on the recent webinar led by Jonathan Steyn, Convenor Hospitality Leadership Course at UCT School of Business. He was joined by Kruger, winemakers Eben Sadie, Andrea Mullineux, Kevin Arnold, Rudiger Gretschel as well as WOSA’s Siobhan Thompson, Michael Fridjhon and the outspoken brand builder, Raymond van Niekerk. (Apologies if I’ve left out anyone.)

OVP Certified Heritage Vineyard with planting date

Basically, this was a consolidation session of what the OVP has achieved since it began, plus pointers for what the team and OVP members need to do to further build in future. Many valuable points were made, few basically new, though all helping to clarify future goals.

Some which resonated with me began with Eben Sadie urging for the growth of a culture of farming old vineyards, a specific and expensive requirement. Michael Fridjhon reminded that we need to plant for old vines and observe the virus protocols to ensure the vines get there. The OVP membership should be opened up to those whose slightly younger vines show the quality potential once they reach official OVP age of 35 years. Rosa Kruger revealed cuttings from some of the quality old vines have been grafted and ready to be planted. Will they show similar characteristics as the parent vine? That’s the $64 000 question; is it the genetics, the terroir or the root system that gives the wine that specific character, apart from the age of the vine? Kruger admits, ‘we simply do not know.’

It wasn’t mentioned, but I believe it will help get consumers to better understand and appreciate old vines and the wine they make through visiting any readily accessible old vineyards (something I promote anyway, rather than cellar tours). This wouldn’t be sufficient to encourage consumers to buy the OV wines at a premium price. Brand guru, Raymond van Niekerk, spelt out the necessity of winemakers understanding their audience, communicating with them accordingly but all information would be to no avail if they, the winemakers, don’t entice consumers to be inspired to want the wines.

Onwards and upwards OVP!