As appellation systems go, our Wine of Origin has pretty good, if not perfect credibility. How a recent review left Tulbagh in the Coastal Region beggars belief. As well as the legalities which dictate the system there are Wine Routes which do the job of marketing the various demarcated areas, mainly Districts, some Wards which are not part of a District and even some Regions.
Some of these areas are viewed as being more sexy than others but there’s plenty of competition between them. Paarl, or poor old Paarl as some say, is one of the less sexy; it’s never had the image of Stellenbosch, Constantia, Robertson or Franschhoek.
Franschhoek was originally a Ward within Paarl, but eventually escaped the association by being re-demarcated as a District. It was sometime around then that Allée Bleue and Solms-Delta squeezed their way into Franschhoek WO when the boundaries were extended. Wellington too has been elevated from a Paarl Ward to a District, which leaves just Voor-Paardeberg and Simonsberg-Paarl as official enclaves within the Paarl District (Am I correct in thinking Voor-Paardeberg is probably viewed more as an extension of Swartland than Paarl?).
Long ago the good wine farmers of Simonsberg-Paarl (then many fewer than now) realised that Franschhoek had a much sexier image than Paarl and so approached Franschhoek’s marketing body, the Vignerons de Franschhoek with a view to falling under their marketing umbrella. This probably suited Franschhoek from a commercial point of view, as it brought in much-needed revenue from the Simonsberg-Paarl producers, who sold more wine than the guys down the valley.
Then some young guns from the genuine Franschhoek Valley WO determined to show that their area could grow grapes that made distinctive wines. So was born Appellation Grande Prestige – a less silly name would have lent greater gravitas – with semillon, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon chosen as three varieties historically producing such distinctive wines; in other words it’s an exercise in terroir. The first of an annual competition to find the best wines from each of these three was held last year, all entries, of course, had to carry WO Franschhoek Valley.
I know the initiative wasn’t universally popular with Franschhoekers, particularly among owners but it did focus on Franschhoek fruit rather than the valley’s image of gaining ‘terroir by truck’ as bringing in fruit from other areas is called.
What the good wine producers of Simonsberg-Paarl WO think of AGP and this competition remains un-noted but they surely recognise it can grow into a positive marketing move.
Given Franschhoek producers’ apparent need for more financial help and the Simonsberg-Paarl producers fervent wish to cast unsexy Paarl out of their name, there must’ve been a fairly easy meeting of minds when the decision was made to apply for yet another extension to Franschhoek Valley WO boundaries.
I should point out that all I’ve heard officially, from Hugo van der Merwe, Secretary of the Wine & Spirit Board, is that Jacques Roux, on behalf of the Vignerons de Franschhoek made application on 23rd April 2015 to increase the boundaries of the Franschhoek district. No mention was made of exactly where they wish those boundaries to be re-set, but it’s not rocket science to believe they take in the Paarl side of the Simonsberg.
Does marketing supersede terroir? Can you buy terroir in this way? Does Franschhoek really need to do this at all? There are an increasing number of wineries using home-grown fruit receiving acclaim: apart from high-profile Chamonix and Boekenhoutskloof, there’s Rickety Bridge, Landau du Val (the Landau’s old, old vine semillon now made by Rickety’s Wynand Grobler), Moreson, La Motte, Stonybrook and Grande Provence (this last producer’s chenin, viognier blend a 5* rating in the latest Decanter). All make wines from at least some Franschhoek fruit.
If the application for extended boundaries does include Simonsberg-Paarl WO, one only has to look at this Ward to recognise it’s emphatically a stand-alone area with its own terroir. For the least knowledgeable consumer, the Helshoogte Road clearly divides it from Franschhoek.
How are the Franschhoek Vignerons going to justify increasing their boundaries, which are already stretched to the limit and wherever they intend setting them?
I find this move desperately cynical; it makes a mockery of the Wine of Origin system and frankly will make Franschhoek something of a laughing stock.
I sincerely hope the Demarcation Board makes them see sense and turns down the application. If not, I shall be one who raises an official objection.