It’s been quite a while since I last read through the background to the Wine of Origin system, but wanting to remind myself of some details, I turned to the Wine of Origin file in my SAWIS folder.
The ultimate paragraph in the Introduction reads: ‘Certain basic principles were taken into consideration when the system was formulated. It was for instance necessary to comply with EU regulations because a great deal of South African wine were (sic) exported to Europe. Principles such as honesty in business, factual terms, titles, adaptability, local, marketing truths and free participation were addressed.’
While acknowledging that South Africa still remains ahead of the rest of the wine world where origin hasn’t been as tightly defined as in the traditional world, it’s true that not all those principles outlined in the last sentence have always been rigorously followed.
It’s no surprise that like wine itself, so some areas enjoy a better (more sexy) image than others. Franschhoek immediately comes to mind. Originally, it was demarcated a Ward within the District of Paarl. Even today, Paarl sadly has an image problem; this led to many producers who fall under Simonsberg- Paarl WO, joining the Vignerons de Franschhoek for marketing purposes. Franschhoek itself also felt the need to divorce completely from Paarl and got itself re-demarcated as a District. Then there was all sorts of nonsense about wanting to extend its reach to the N1, but I think the message is clear, as I wrote above; some of the principles have not been as faithfully followed as they might have been.
What I see as a similar piece of cynical marketing was the demarcation of Cape Town as a district, promulgated on 26th May 2017. It embraces the Wards of Constantia, Durbanville, Hout Bay and Philadelphia. The opinion was that Cape Town would have greater resonance than these (than historic Constantia??), but much of the push came from Durbanville, which itself had been demarcated a Ward on 26th May 1989, 28 years earlier than upstart District Cape Town. Now, few Constantia producers can use WO Cape Town, as they have their own, proudly Constantia-labelled bottle mold; nor can all Durbanville producers use it, as Durbanville is part of their name.
But my real anger – no, sadness – is epitomised in a new wine from Meerendal Estate. This Durbanville farm, founded in 1702, with the first vineyards planted in 1714, was one of the first 14 farms to be awarded Estate status after the introduction of the Wine of Origin scheme in 1973 (not 1993, as on their website). Then there’s the Heritage Block of pinotage, planted in 1955, which wine now bears the Certified Heritage seal of the Old Vine Project.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first bottling of Meerendal wines in 1969, a new pinotage was introduced: ‘The Pinotage Vine’ 2016, as it’s labelled. A heavy bottle with a big punt, that in themselves send an image message, are matched by the back label which advises; ‘This unique wine, already 11 months in barrel, went through a third fermentation on the lightly pressed skins of wine made from our Pinotage vineyards that are more than 60 years old,’ indicating inclusion of the Heritage Block. Then: ‘A Wine grown, made and bottled at Meerendal Wine Estate – The home of Pinotage,’ firmly locates the wine’s origin.
The front label would seem to refute all that, showing the silhouette of Table Mountain with Cape Town printed across it (not one I’d be attracted to pick off the shelf). A total divorce from all the heritage of vines and land highlighted elsewhere.
This strikes me as not only bad marketing, but cynical marketing at its worst and not upholding the Wine of Origin principles. A pity, as the wine with its typical, bright red pinotage fruit, fresh leesy weight and medium body, makes for a pleasant, different interpretation of pinotage.