The good, the bad & the ugly

As a member of the media I’m privileged to receive invitations to many tastings; these include trade events featuring wines from producers represented by the host agent. These are always useful, enabling one to catch up with current and often future releases; enjoyable as the wines are mostly at the upper end of quality.

Quality and interest were on show all round at the recent Ex Animo Wine Co’s event, providing one of the best tastings I’ve been to in a long while. An aside: name tags were hand-written stick-on labels; none of those plastic covered, safety-pin fixed jobs, which are not only environmentally unfriendly but what the hell do you do with them afterwards? They’re not re-useable, as the tag is branded too. Such a waste; please NB everyone.

Ex Animo (from the heart) was started just over a year ago by Aussie import and sommelier, David Clarke and his South African wife, Jeanette, also a sommelier. In that time they have amassed an impressive list of producers, all chosen because the Clarke’s believe they make wines ‘from the heart’; cutting-edge can be added too.

ThorneDaught_RockHrse13_lrgWhere to start? My stand-out and favourite of the afternoon seems a good place. The Seccombe’s Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse 2014 rises way above the sum of its chenin, roussanne, semillon, chardonnay and viognier parts, all fermented and raised in older oak. Breezily fresh scents of wild scrub and dried apples are enticing, while the texture engages the whole mouth; its freshness setting the tongue a-tingle, its firm pithy grip confirming its extra-ordinariness. It’s not a wine easily forgotten, as no wine of real character should be. When it’s released around May this year, the outlay of +-R240 will offer great value when compared with much more ambitiously priced whites of lesser interest. (All prices quoted here are approximate retail.)

Chenin in solo guise was also on great form. I loved both Jurgen Gouws’ savoury, oxidative Intellego 2013 (R107) and Johan Meyer’s Force Majeur 2014 (yet to be priced) in a fresher style but with all the concentration of fruit from 30-something year old vines. Gouws was Craig Hawkins’ assistant at Lammershoek, where the regime change has seen them both depart. (Hawkins’ Testalonga range is also part of the Ex Animo stable.) Being taken under the Ex Animo wing should see the Intellego label deservedly better known. Gouws is equally adept with reds. I could drink oceans of his Kedungu 2014, characterful in both name and make up: syrah, with 30% each mourvèdre and cinsaut. The light-handed touch is evident in its fresh, pure flavours and gentle yet telling support. A no-brainer at just under R90.

Chardonnay – too mainstream for these adventurers? Not at all and they’re up with the best. The Wessels’ Restless River Chardonnay 2013, ex Hemel en Aarde (a shout for their 2011 Cabernet (R300) too; I echo others’ applause), Johan Meyer’s 2014 ex Elgin (R140), Alsacien, Julian Schaal’s Evidence 2013 (R216) also Elgin fruit and Thorne and Daughters’ new Zoetrope 2014 from Bot River old bush vines: each makes its own statement. Elgin is stunningly Elgin, 2013 beautifully reflects that lovely chardonnay vintage and the Seccombe’s natural ferment in older oak is as subtly expressive, as the method allows. Incidentally, Zoetrope is a pre-film animation device that produces the illusion of motion, as in making the horse rock!

Just one more mention (where there could be many) for the whole range from Trizanne Barnard and her four-wine Signature range; the whites from Elim, reds from Swartland, all so graceful and understated and in the R90 to R170 range, excellent value.

Some perspective as to the quantity of wine these ‘column inches’ have covered. Production of Ex Animo’s portfolio of currently 11 producers totals 61 600 cases (x6) or 277,200 litres. The 2013 crop for wine alone was 915 451 775 litres (SAWIS figures); so this top quality level represents just a drop in the wine ocean.

What got me thinking about this was an article in Business Day by Bekezela Phakathi, who reported the Western Cape Government ‘mulls turning cheap wine into biofuel’. Phakathi wrote: ‘The Western Cape government is investigating alternative uses for cheap, low-quality wine, such as converting it into biofuel for tractors and generators as part of efforts to curb alcohol abuse.’

My immediate reaction was, why are we still producing wine of such low quality, but it seems reading through the whole article, the shift in attitude towards top quality hasn’t permeated throughout the industry. One would have to say this includes what SAWIS terms Producer Cellars (the old Co-operatives) and the producing wholesalers, who account for by far the majority of the annual wine crop. The Private Cellars, although much greater in number, account for that mostly impressive but thin layer of cream on top.

Also, I don’t like the idea of channelling this lesser wine for another purpose; it has echoes of the old KWV, which took excess wine from its members and distilled it. An action which encouraged laziness and bad use of land. In the immortal words of André van Rensburg: ‘Let them plant vegetables.’

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2 thoughts on “The good, the bad & the ugly

  1. Wow. Thank you so much for the kind words, Angela. Nice to see others “get” what we are attempting to do.

    Thanks again.

    David Clarke +27 810 118 505

    >

  2. I cannot ascertain what the “lesser” wine is that is alluded to here. And the same goes for the “cream”. South Africa’s co-op wine, some of which retails at well below R30, is currently of the best quality it has ever been and enjoyed by wine-drinkers from all walks of life. No vegetable planting needed here, as this is where the largest segment of the wine market lies and co-ops and their growers are making profits many of the “cream” can only dream of. Are these big “ugly” producers going to go away? Should they? No.
    Also bear in mind that alot of the Chenin, Chardonnay and Cabernet sold under well-known labels from producers in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl is co-op (lesser?) wine trucked in and bottled under WO Western Cape or Coastal and upped to “cream” status.
    All said, I really think the days of knocking big producers are far from over and really is so last century. We are all in this together and need to realise the good quality of South African wine made from the 70 year old Chenin vineyards of Bottelary, to the bright, fresh Olifants River Colombard produced from vines bearing 50t a hectare. As Barbra Streisand said: “There’s a place for us.”

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