Musings on 2016

Balance in writing is as important as in wine. So, having recalled memorable bits of this year, time to muse a little on 2016.

If there’s a glaring gap in the chain from grape to table, it’s in the service sector. There is an ever increasing number of top-quality wines, brim with personality and spanning an ever wider range of styles. Involved consumers are seeking out these wines with enthusiasm. Between the two lie the restaurants, hotels, guest houses – anywhere in the hospitality industry where wine is served; it is here where our wines and customers are too often let down.

In his talk at the Ex Animo Address, sommelier Neil Grant spoke about how education is the key. ‘Knowledge,’ he said, ‘is the most important skill in selling.’ Apparently a survey in America revealed an increase in sales per square foot from US$84 to US$142 when a knowledgeable wine steward is employed. Part of our problem is that the demographic of waiters in South Africa has changed with more coming from the lower income bracket who have less education and experience.

First intake of Sommeliers Foundation course
First intake of Sommeliers Foundation course

This is where the South African Sommeliers Association (SASA) will be playing an important role in 2016; in fact, they’ve already started with a basic sommelier course developed by experienced members of their board. According to Board member, Joakim Blackadder, who was instrumental in drawing up the course; ‘For various reasons, including a growing appreciation of the sommelier’s contribution to a restaurant’s success and tighter visa requirements for foreigners wishing to work in South Africa’s hospitality industry, the demand for suitably qualified sommeliers has increased sharply over the past few years.’ The three-day course covers both practical as well as managerial aspects with successful candidates given the title ‘SASA Sommelier’.

Founded five years ago, SASA, under its enthusiastic leadership, will become an increasingly positive, influential body and, hopefully, help to bridge that service gap. ‘We need to have a society driven by service,’ urged Grant, emphasising, ‘we need to change the mentality of mediocracy.’

He also spelt out that the chain should have no weak links. ‘The wineries also have a role to play; they need to tell a story for the restaurateur to pass on to the customer.’

Stories and, sadly, too much mediocracy mingled in a recent line up of newish releases tasted by Tim James and me. Tim’s already commented on a few of the wines here; comments with which I agree.

We were also sadly disappointed with the latest Krone Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2015 (notable for its new Helix cork closure), less notable for its rather soft, ripe flavours and sweetish finish; so different from the more sprightly, drier and appealing maiden vintage – the best of its type then. Rather spend your R59.99 elsewhere. Rather spend just R50 on the Robertson Winery Lightly Sparkling Pinot Noir Rosé: fruitily sweet with a light petillance, offering no disappointments for any who enjoy that style.
Jordan Black Magic Merlot13For the stories and quality enjoyment, one can always rely on the Jordans. There is no magic, just meticulous viticulture and cellar know-how which has produced their latest release, Black Magic Merlot 2013. It’s so wrong to say the Cape can’t produce merlot, let alone good merlot; success depends on site and understanding the grape. This has the taste and texture of dark blue-black plums, ones that remain slightly crunchy as you bite into their juicy flesh; unlike the plums, the wine has a savoury, roundly firm finish. It’s delicious.

The black magic referred to is black tourmaline-rich granite soil. Less prosaic is the tradition which says rub black tourmaline for luck and happiness. ‘Today, African shamans still include black tourmaline in rituals as protection against negative spells or curses.’ I don’t think the Jordans need to chant any spells as their story suggests; their merlot is a winner and well-priced at R132 ex farm.

Jordan vineyards overlooking False Bay
Jordan vineyards overlooking False Bay

Alright, if I could cast a spell for 2016, it would be over wineries directing them to offer vineyard tours. One cellar tour is pretty much like another, maybe a concrete egg here or a large, oval foudre there; vineyards on the other hand give a direct feel of the soil, slope, aspect and temperature – higher lower down, cooler higher up. Such a visit provides a clearer understanding of the wine that grows there, as I experienced on my visits to Olifantsberg and Lismore this year.

In summary, I hope 2016 will see more education – for consumers as well as sommeliers/wine stewards; more attention on producing honest, quality wine across price and style, each with its own story and tours and launches in the Cape’s beautiful vineyards.

May the rest of 2015 treat you well, whatever you celebrate and 2016 deliver good health, boundless energy and great wines.

I’ll be back sometime in January 2016.

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