New blood

Roger Federer, recently turned 36, appears to be the eternal Peter Pan; Rafael Nadal, now 31, isn’t too far behind him. Neither has managed to remain injury free, but by rights neither should be playing tennis at the level they are after all these years. If their bodies have held together (just), their fans remain as enthusiastic as ever. As exciting as are the ‘Next-gen’, including Dominic Thiem (23) and Alexander Zverev (20), the decibel level has yet to reach the same intensity as it does for the older duo when they walk on court.

What has this got to do with wine? The power of reinventing yourself after years of being in the public eye, acknowledged as something special.

If any event has been in the public eye for years, 43 to be precise this year, it’s the Nederburg Auction. After getting stuck in the doldrums, it has had to re-invent itself several times: from one auctioneer to two; from a local panel of selectors to one including a palate of MWs, local and international; from a two-day event to one in 2017 (deliberate, or fewer entries?); from Auction of the finest Cape Wines (1976 catalogue) to Pursuit of Perfection (2017 catalogue). First auctioneer, Patrick Grubb MW, set up a bursary initiative to help those from disadvantaged communities in the wine industry; current auctioneers, Anthony Barne MW and David Elswood are involved with a bursary initiative to help promising viticulturists. These and many other changes have been effected by the auction team to maintain the event’s quality and prestige.

One move that pleased me particularly was to hold a walk around pre-auction tasting rather than a more formal, conducted tasting. Coming, as it does, during Platter season, my walk-around is far from comprehensive. Two things struck me this year: how few whites compared with reds are on offer and the recent vintage of some wines – even as young as 2015. Business Manager, Dalene Steyn, assured me that, once selected for the auction, producers commit to not selling any more of the wine on the open market; that’s one thing, but I’d be very surprised if some of these youngsters aren’t still on retailers’ shelves.

Since we’re told in the catalogue that the auction: ‘Has a special focus on promoting older South African wines,’ I find these younger wines detract from its specialness. Our white wines are now proving their ageability; why not make it a minimum of five years for white wines to be on the auction? Those meeting that criteria which impressed me were De Morgenzon Chenin 2005 from magnum, Zonnebloem Chenin Blanc 2011, as well as two blends: Nederburg Ingenuity 2008 and Vondeling Babiana 2011. As a vintage, 2011 whites are generally maturing particularly well.
Lanzerac Cabernet 1970 and Chateau Libertas 1967 satiated my satisfaction for old South African reds; both in fine shape and likely to command the sort of price our wines should be attracting, the younger ones too.

For me, the core issue does not lie with the auction wines nor primarily, top-end Nederburg wines themselves – after all, they have earned the farm Platter Winery of the Year twice – but who and what is Nederburg? Who is the face of Nederburg? Yes, the brand has a good name, but is it viewed as an exciting brand, always causing a buzz among winelovers? I’d suggest not, and that, for me, has a rub off on the auction. Think back to Gunter Brozel’s days; Nederburg’s image then was more positive and focused.

From Nederburg a quick segue to pinotage. The wine itself has come a long, long way from the days of, was it ‘rusty nails’ some MW dubbed it? There are diverse styles from Koen Roose’s elegant, pinot-like Spioenkop 1900 to the classic Kanonkop to Daniel de Waal’s richer, but finely-honed Thomas se Dolland: each has its place and will mature as well as some of the golden oldies international visitors still gasp in wonder about. Yet there remains an image problem, one I’d suggest comes back to the power of re-inventing itself via the personalities behind it. Of course, there are some great enthusiasts on the Pinotage Association and, on a one to one level, I’m sure do a great job. But it needs new blood, new ideas. Compare www.pinotage.co.za with www.chenin.co.za for just one sense of why this is necessary.

Meantime, Federer is out of the US Open (sob!); Nadal is still in but whatever happens in this or future tournaments, both will remain huge favourites with the crowds.

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