Let’s face it, marketing never has been and, mainly, still isn’t a strong point of the South African wine industry.
But even with smart marketing people, who do everything as it should be, not all have the personality to lift their wines from the depths of the vast array of just South African wines available today and place them in the forefront of consumers’ minds when they choose wines from the retail shelves. I believe the value of personality is under-rated within the marketing sphere.
If asked to think of the personalities within the industry, I guess most would head to the younger set, those who are always out there and creating a storm in person or on social media.
But they’re not the only ones with the ability to engage an audience, as was proved earlier this week at the launch of Basil and Jane Landau’s Landau du Val Semillon. Basil, for those who aren’t well-versed in the business world, has held such positions as CE of Toyota and Gencor, was a partner in a Japanese Consultancy firm, as well as being Chairman or on the board of many other companies – and so on. The right personality as well as capability is surely required for such success in business.
He and Jane purchased La Brie in 1986 and undertook restoration of the beautiful homestead and vineyards. The Landau du Val name was adopted for the wines due to the late Michael Trull then owner of nearby La Bri taking that name for his wines.
In the early years both a sauvignon blanc and a semillon were produced. Today, just semillon takes centre stage. No ordinary semillon either but one produced from a five-hectare vineyard planted in 1905 on its own roots. The accompanying photo, taken around three years ago, shows off well the character of these venerable vines.
If the wine has been off the general radar, it’s because there’s so little of it; the yield never exceeds 1.5 tons/hectare and, until 2012 there were several changes in winemaker: the late John Goschen, Jean-Luc Sweerts, Karl Lambour, Jean Daneel and Anina Guelpa have been followed since 2012 by Wynand Grobler, winemaker at Rickety Bridge, himself a lover of semillon and well-versed in cajoling the best out of it.
The semillon we had come to taste, enjoy with Chris Erasmus’s perfectly paired dishes at Foliage (simply a must-visit restaurant if you’re in Franschhoek and looking for a spectacular meal), and to send off into the world, was Grobler’s second vintage, 2013.
Harvested in two tranches to capture freshness and the variety’s trademark silky spread, the grapes were pressed as whole bunches, the juice allowed to undergo spontaneous fermentation in small French oak, just 25% new, whereafter it spent a year in barrel with occasional lees-stirring before a dose of sulphur was added before bottling. It couldn’t get much more straightforward a process, with the result that the wine sings of old vine concentration, with its citrusy joie de vivre and just a peep of the silky viscosity that will emerge with time. Anyone who insists on opening it now, Yellow Fin Tuna tartar à la Foliage will do it justice.
To ensure we understood just how the wine does transform with time, the Landaus kindly brought along older vintages: 2012, more evolved in colour and texture, but still with plenty of life left and a magic match with Erasmus’s Dukkah-crusted Karoo lamb shank; a fabulously elegant 2009 still way off its best, a stage the 2003 was reaching in its luminous greeny gold colour, mushroomy-toned bouquet, silky waves and extensive savoury tail. Sadly the bottle of 2002 was shot, but we’d had sufficient evidence of the calibre of vineyard and wine in the others.
To complete the marketing/personality circle. We were a very small group at the lunch, just six media plus the Landaus, Grobler and three others. This allowed for shared conversation across the table and there was no escaping when Basil Landau, in his always charming but determined manner (he’s a businessman, remember), requested each of us to offer an honest comment about where the wine could be improved; to date we’d been politely but honestly, complimentary. Now, how many hosts would dare to do that, expecting each guest to put their thoughts on the line?
There was talk of making more of the vineyard’s heritage, while my point was that due to the limited quantity of the Landaus’ wine, and as there are other semillons from old vineyards in Franschhoek, there should be a joint effort to promote these wines. Price is also an issue; only Boekenhoutskloof (R333 in the mixed case of 12) and Landau du Val (R250 ex-farm) are anywhere near properly priced. Both might appear high and leave the wines well outside the possibility of every-day drinking, but given the quality as well as rarity, the Landau du Val especially deserves more.
I hope the others got the same impression as I did that our comments were taken to heart, will be considered by both Basil and Jane, re-jigged where necessary and enacted.
Oh, and, by appointment, the Landaus welcome visitors to their farm and to see the famous old semillon vineyard. It’s something I’d urge anyone visiting Franschhoek to do; they’ll doubtless come away with Landau du Val Semillon very much to the front of mind when a special bottle of wine is required.