I was thrilled to be awarded the Franschhoek Literary Festival 2012 South African Wine Writer of the Year Award for 2012 on May 11 at a ceremony in Franschhoek.
I’m deeply honoured to be in the company of previous winners Joanne Gibson and Tim James.
I entered a piece I wrote for WINE Magazine about the old vines project in January 2011, entitled Age does matter. If you’d like to read it on line left-click here, or right click here, then click Save link as…. and save the PDF for off-line reading.
The prize included a beautiful original oil by well-known South African realist Denby Meyer, which has pride of place on our living room wall.
The cash prize will fund a trip to the US in November this year. I’ll be spending about a week in Napa and Sanoma visiting wineries and tasting wine, then off to Utah (by road via Lake Tahoe, across Nevada and the Bonnievale Salt Flats) to visit family, and finally home, via Fort Worth, Texas to visit friends.
“Location: Calitzdorp • Map: Klein Karoo & Garden Route • WO: Durbanville/Outeniqua • Est/1stB 2008″ reads the entry in Platter’s 2012 for Garden Route wines.
The bottle in my hand reads “Garden Route Shiraz 2011, Wine of origin Outeniqua” on the front label. The Platter entry lists the 2007 Shiraz, made from Durbanville grapes, noting that the 2011 Shiraz is made from grapes grown in the Outeniqua wine ward, one of the newer wine wards to emerge in the Southern Cape in the last few years. It’s all thoroughly confusing really. What happened to the ’08, ’09 and ’10 vintages I wonder. Where did the grapes come from ? Or did they just not get made?
The wines (I received the 2011 Shiraz and 2012 Sauvigon Blanc via courier a couple of weeks ago) are made at De Krans in Calitzdorp, by the redoubtable Boets Nel, he of De Krans Port fame. Aside from a slew of competition honours, half the De Krans page entry in Platter’s is a solid block of red type, indicating 4 1/2 and 5 star wines, testimony to the winemaking prowess of Boets, and not just in the port and dessert wine stakes. The 2010 Touriga Nacional and the 2006 Redstone Reserve, a blend of Touriga and Cab Sauv, both crack 4 Platter stars.
So it’s entirely reasonable to expect that he should be able to put together a credible Shiraz, which if you taste the 2011, you may well agree he has done. Okay, I don’t believe it’s a 5 star wine, but it is entirely drinkable, inky garnet in colour, with a dense black fruit nose of plums and blackberries on vanilla and earthy spice notes.
The palate speaks of surprisingly dense black fruit, with cracked black pepper notes, underpinned by gentle oak and a vanilla edge. The fruit is mouthfilling, juicy and is balanced by pleasing acidity, the tannins very soft and gentle for a 2011 wine. Ten months in 2nd and 3rd fill French barrels make for well integrated oak. I don’t believe it’ll last for ever, but I doubt it’s meant to. It’s a typical cool climate wine, with bright juicy fruit, made to drink young.
I drank it with a very mild chicken curry, not the ideal pairing I admit, but it was passable good nonetheless. It’ll do well with a traditional roast, beef or lamb, and it’ll also do great with a slab of steak, or with a typical South African braai.
Drinking well now, it retails at R92 a bottle. The 2007 gets 3 1/2 Platter stars, and the 2011 cracked best Shiraz at the Klein Karoo Young Wine Show that year.
It sure is lovely to be right, isn’t it? Three Michelin star British chef Marco Pierre-White, makes smug look humble in his recent gloating rant over the findings of Stanford University in a comprehensive study of the nutritional value of organic versus conventionally grown produce. The study, a meta-analysis of some 200 research papers, found that there is no nutritional benefit in consuming organic produce instead of conventionally farmed produce.
Since the publication of the study however, it has been criticised in a number of areas. Susan Clark, executive director of the Columbia Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the furtherance of public welfare across a broad front, was quoted in an article on The New York Times web site: “The researchers started with a narrow set of assumptions and arrived at entirely predictable conclusions. Stanford should be ashamed of the lack of expertise about food and farming among the researchers, a low level of academic rigor in the study, its biased conclusions, and lack of transparency about the industry ties of the major researchers on the study. Normally we busy people would simply ignore another useless academic study, but this study was so aggressively spun by the PR masters that it requires a response.”
It turns out as she notes, that more than one of the researchers had interesting links to Big Tobacco, having both worked for the powerful Tobacco Institute which sought to “prove” that tobacco consumption posed no health risks.
The aforesaid notwithstanding organic (and biodynamic for that matter) foodstuffs are more expensive. If the Stanford study was in fact accurate this would mean that everybody, not just the less well-heeled in our skewed society, could safely disregard organic produce in future.
But you would be wrong in that notion, because nutritional value aside, it is arguably healthier because of the lack of pesticides, herbicides, and organo-phosphate fertilisers in fruit and vegetables, and the growth hormones and antibiotics in animal products. And let’s not forget the inhumane treatment that is inherent in factory farmed animal products.
What I find most odd is the use of the term “conventional” to describe contemporary factory style farming, when in fact for the greater period of our agricultural history, organic was conventional. When man evolved from hunter-gatherer into a pastoralist and a cultivator of crops, pesticides, herbicides, and organo-phosphate fertilisers did not exist, nor for that matter did growth hormones and antibiotics.
As the world’s population grew, the need to produce more food increased apace, which is the justification for contemporary factory farming. But at what cost?
If you take a look around you at so much of the farm land in the Boland, you’ll see how it is farmed. Fumigated soil, plastic sheeting covering the land, cultivation tunnels, frequent spraying of pesticides and herbicides are rampant. This is now considered “conventional” farming.
So much meat is raised in feedlots these days, in order to cope with demand. The idea behind feedlot farming is to fatten the animals as quickly as possible to prepare them for slaughter and the market. The best way to achieve this is to feed them on grain. This achieves rapid weight gain, plus it results in the much sought after marbling of the meat with fat, which makes it tastier and more tender. It also makes it more unhealthy because of the greater fat content. It is also true that feedlot farming has a much lower carbon footprint than pasture fed animals, but the probable solution to that, is to simply eat less meat. Feedlot farming is also anything but humane, subjecting animals to miserable lives that end in stressful slaughter, after an equally stressful road trip by truck to a commercial abattoir.
I don’t know of any animal feedlots in the area, but I do know of many battery chicken farms, the stench of which assails the nostrils as you drive past them, even from a distance. Animals reared in such circumstances suffer untold miseries, from birth to slaughter. Read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, Hattie Ellis’ Planet Chicken or Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals if you doubt this assertion. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Marco Pierre-White’s point that “conventionally” produced food is cheaper, and therefore more accessible is well taken. Depending where you shop, organic food can be significantly more expensive. But with the continued growth of the organic sector, and the emergence of initiatives like the Green Road, a Biodynamic Agricultural Association of South Africa (BDAASA) sponsored program to reduce the cost of organic produce by bringing producers closer to consumers, the price premium is set to decline.
And the movement back to organic agriculture is not limited to South Africa. At a BAASA meeting I attended last year, I listened to a South African couple who farm in the Boland recounting their experiences during a trip to India, where there is a concerted move toward biodynamic and organic agriculture, and away from what is now considered conventional.
So, for my money, even if I get less in return for it, it’s organic, free range and humanely produced. Mr Marco Pierre-White can spend his money any which way he chooses.
Sunday mornings are usually a lazy start in our household, and today was no different. A pot of coffee (Koutaba from Cameroon, bought at The Coffee Roasting Co in Somerset West) and my Blackberry Playbook Tablet allowed me to read the news and dig into my Twitter stream.
Hunger pangs eventually did get the better of me, and my dearly beloved, who was playing Solitaire on her Playbook tablet, began to mutter about breakfast and/or lunch (read brunch), which finally drove both of us out of bed and downstairs to contemplate our options.
We’d been speculating about chicken mayo something (enough let over chicken from last night’s roast, plus a cup of homemade mayo) or maybe poached eggs, or I dared to speculate, both together…
Thankfully, Mrs M rousted me out of bed with the notion of poached eggs and something, which rapidly morphed into something based on what was in the refrigerator and the garden, to whit eggs, home-baked bread, Danish feta, Pecorino and baby spinach leaves, oh and a sprinkling of chives. And here it is!
The spinach leaves are those green and purplish coloured ones, and the eggs are free range. The Pecorino Romano is an inexpensive alternative to Parmigiano Reggiano which I’d like to eat exclusively, but unfortunately cannot afford.
The rye bread is my own recipe. I bake sourdough bread every week, a 60/40 rye/wheat loaf, which if refrigerated in a zip lock plastic bag, lasts the entire week. It makes a pretty good sandwich – it’s quite a dense loaf – but it makes magnificent toast if you cut it about 5mm thick. We seldom eat shop-bought bread for a couple of reasons, chief amongst which are the flavour, texture, quality and the cost. As a matter of course, I avoid 100% wheat bread as it gives me the most awful heartburn. Pure rye tends to be rather heavy, so my sourdough rye/wheat loaf is for me, the perfect compromise.
I baked it a couple of weeks ago with Sam Linsell (@DrizzleAndDip ), and she assures me she’ll be doing a post on her blog about that particular adventure in due course. My pure rye loaf recipe is here and I’ll be posting my sourdough rye/wheat loaf recipe real soon.
to make this lovely, simple dish to feed two people, you’ll need the following:
4 free range large or extra large eggs: the fresher the better, since this ensures that the egg white will retain its shape and keep the egg “together”.
4 slices toast: any bread of your choice, but the rye or rye\wheat is a tasty, healthy alternative
baby lettuce leaves: a handful well rinsed and shredded
4 sticks Danish feta: by Danish feta, I mean the soft and creamy one, that is usually cut into long sticks. I used an Arista product I bought from Pick ‘n Pay. Cut it into blocks.
4tbsp grated Pecorino cheese
2tsp chopped chives
My poached eggs are made the old fashioned way, in a pan of boiling water. I tossed the poaching pan years ago. This is not the stirred method, by the way, which leaves you with not much more than a yoke coated with cooked egg white, which is aesthetically great, but if you want to eat more of the high protein white, my method works better, even if it looks less tidy on the plate!
Toast and butter your bread.
Heat a pan of water until it comes to the boil. Turn down to a simmer, carefully crack each egg, and place gently into the water. I find using the back of a knife to make a clean crack in the eggshell helps avoid shell shards in the egg, and also avoids breaking the yoke.
Another method to use, is to crack the egg into a large spoon, and then to carefully slip the egg into the water. the idea is to keep the egg as “together” as possible.
Gently wiggle an egg lifter under each egg to make sure it has not stuck to the bottom of the pan. If you’re a Spray ‘n Cook user, you can spray the pan beforehand instead.
Meanwhile, butter the toast slices, and dress with the shredded spinach topped with the feta cheese.
The eggs should be done in about 3 to 5 minutes or so. you can aid the process, by spooning boiling water over the yolks. You want the egg white cooked through, and the yolk soft and runny.
Remove the eggs with a slotted egg lifter, and allow to drain of as much moisture as possible.
Place one egg on each slice of toast, anoint with grated Pecorino and garnish with the chopped chives.
Tuck in and enjoy!
|Preparation Time: 15 minutes||Cooking Time: 20 minutes||Yield: 4|
My response to Mrs M the other day that “I have DONE a meatball recipe already!” did not in the slightest deter her from her chosen course, despite my obvious reluctance to do another meatball recipe.
She had a bee in her bonnet you see, and I’ve learned over the years not to get in the way of that bee. And a good thing I didn’t, because the meatballs that emerged are truly lovely.
I find that Mrs M is inclined to contemplate for some time before finally getting down to the business of actually making the dish and it is that contemplation that results in the final recipe coming together rather rapidly.
I’ve also noticed that if I don’t ask her to document what she’s doing, or indeed do so myself while she works, quantities and method may become a trifle hazy over time!
We have a minor rosemary forest in our diminutive front garden (there is a price to be paid for living in a lock-up-and-go security complex), and the actual genesis of this recipe was Mrs M’s desire to use rosemary stick skewers in some dish or other. If you don’t have a rosemary forest to hand, then conventional skewers will do just as well, but the rosemary skewers definitely add a lovely flavour dimension.
Cut them just a short while before you plan to use them, strip off all the leaves, and cut the top end off at an angle to make a sharpish point. Give them a good rinse to get rid of any ghoulies, then soak them in water until you use them. If you’re using ordinary skewers, you should also soak them in water for a time before using them to prevent them from burning under the grill.
And of course, there is no good reason why you couldn’t do these on the braai, and with the summer almost upon us, why the hell not? Just remember to turn them fairly regularly so they don’t burn.
Ingredients, Selection and Preparation
650g beef mince: lamb or chicken would do just as well.
3 garlic cloves: crushed
3 shallots: peeled and finely chopped
2tbsp parsley: chopped stalks and all
Bread crumbs: four slices of white bread, crusts removed, and blitzed into crumbs in a blender jug, or with a stick blender.
2tsp curry powder
1tsp chilli powder
salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs: beaten
Canola oil: to brush onto the meatballs
Pre-heat the oven to 200 deg C.
Combine all the ingredients in a medium mixing bowl, and squish together until well mixed, but don’t overwork it.
Wet your hands with cold water, and form into small meatballs. Mrs M used a 30ml measure for each one.
Carefully thread four meatballs onto each of four skewers, and anoint them with canola oil.
Grill in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, turning halfway through the grilling time.
They make pretty decent snacks, but a skewer of four makes a nice light meal served with a crisp green salad. Either way, a small bowl of chutney for dipping rounds them of ever so nicely.
Thursday 27, 2012
Well it’s official. Cape Wine 2012 is a roaring success if the comments from exhibitors are anything to go by.
Wandering around the exhibition hall at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, I’m struck by how well organised this event has been, from the surprisingly sturdy cardboard exhibition stands, to the neatly arranged overhead banners.
The floor is abuzz with people, tasting, spitting, talking and at most every table, people are sitting in huddles, clearly talking business, and for an industry that is feeling the pinch of declining consumer spend, both locally and overseas, that is truly a God-send.
Glen Carlou’s Georgie Prout pretty much summed it up when I spoke to her this morning before the doors officially opened on the final day of the exhibition. “It’s been really well organised, from the stands themselves to the delivering of wine from store for our daily use,” she said. “it’s been slick and professional.”
Wine industry guru Ross Sleet told me that this year is even better than Cape Wine 2008, and that it provided a platform for producers to showcase their products. “It’s been great. Well organised and professionally done, and Su Birch and her team at WOSA need to be congratulated.”
Norma Ratcliffe of Warwick and Vilafonte observed that the association with food and wine was far better managed this time around. “You can’t really talk about wine without food, because they go together. This Cape Wine has really done well to emphasise that link. Every event I’ve attended that’s involved food has been so well done with the food pairings working beautifully.”
And Waterford’s Kevin Arnold was equally complimentary. “I’ve looked at the numbers, and this has been a great opportunity for exhibitors to engage with both buyers and the wine media. The WOSA team have done a great job, and deserve to be complimented.”
Jeremy Borg of Painted Wolf, was full of praise when I spoke to him on Wednesday morning. “I had a busy day yesterday, and today I have a number of appointments lined up. It’s shaping up to be a great event.”
Aside from the exhibition itself, the lectures and seminars have been very well received. I arrived at the door of the Old Vines Seminar addressed by Rosa Kruger and Prof Alain Deloire yesterday, and was unable to gain access, as it was hopelessly oversubscribed.
The Soapbox enclosure next to the vibey Swartland Independent corner, built cleverly from empty wine boxes, is also immensely popular, with a tasting or discussion happening pretty much every half hour.
So it is indeed a case of hats off to Su Birch and her team, for a well-organised and productive Cape Wine 2012.
If you look closely at the picture above, you’ll see a prime example of the unity that is so sorely missing from the South African wine industry. It’s a tiny corner of the mammoth exhibition hall at the Cape Town International Convention Centre where Cape Wine 2012 is underway, and it is the place that has the most incredible buzz.
Beyond “Gran Wine Funk” on the back wall of the stand, there’s no branding, but if you look at the bottle back labels, you’ll see a sticker which says “Swartland Independent”, which in a way is a contradiction in terms, because what you experience here is the most incredible display of unity. Chatting to Penny Hughes who is pouring Nativo’s wines, a lovely white blend and an equally lovely red blend, it becomes clear why. “If David wasn’t here,” she says, gesturing at David Sadie standing behind the table, deep in discussion with somebody about one of his wines, “one of us would pour for him.” And that’s what sets this band of innovative clear thinking wine growers apart. They understand the need for presenting a united front to the marketplace, be it local or overseas.
Sitting chatting to Antonio Amorim, president of Amorim Cork in Portugal yesterday afternoon, I ask him for an opinion about what’s missing in our approach to market development. He pauses and reflects briefly: “You lack unity as an industry,” he says, “like the unity you’ll see in Australia and in New Zealand.” And this is coming from a man whose livelihood is dependent on winegrowers using his product to close their wines, talking about two countries who have embraced the enemy so to speak: screw-cap closures for so many of their wines.
I quiz him on that score. “Of course I’d like them to use cork instead of screw-cap, but that’s not my point. Take the Kiwi’s for example. They’re known for making great Sauvignon Blanc and they all insist that screw-cap is the right closure and they all do it. That’s unity, and I respect that, even if they aren’t using cork closures,” he says with a smile. And that’s the kind of unity that is so evident in this corner of the Cape Wine 2012 hall, with a constant stream of people walking up, engaging, tasting, talking, and doing business.
In September 2009 more or less (I’m open to correction on this date) Wines of South Africa (WOSA) CEO Su Birch launched the DNA Handbook of South African Wine, a significant initiative to build a unified brand identity for the South African wine industry. Australian wine consultant James Herrick was flown out to address the launch conference in Stellenbosch, and he made some very clear points. We cannot continue to be the cheap and cheerful bottle of wine on every British table; we must pursue the premium wine segment in our chosen overseas markets; we must relate compelling, believable and true stories about those premium class wines; and above all else, we need to present a united front to the world market.
The DNA Handbook of South African Wine was supposed to be the platform for that united front, which would enable the industry to walk in lockstep into the future with that united front. Whatever it cost to put it together was wasted, including the cost of the seminar and the cost of flying James Herrick out here to talk at the conference. Why? Because it was still born. If you Google DNA Handbook of South African Wine all you’ll come up with is a reference to an article I wrote in Bolander. It’s here if you want to read it.
Here’s a quote from James Herrick out of that story. “From the sheer logistics and cost exercise of meeting the world demand for wine, and with a lot of low cost producers in the world, there is a limit to the extent to which South Africa could continue to be efficient enough to meet that demand for low cost wine.
The countries that end up occupying that market for low cost wines will be the most efficient. South Africa – because of distance, because of its farms, because of its cost of money, and because of its geography and topography – will have a hard time competing.
For the SA wine industry to survive it would help if it could move its production slowly towards the more premium end, because that’s where the margin is, and that’s where the value for the consumer is.”
Herrick also spoke of the need to leverage the unique story that underpins South African wine, something which Antonio Amorim also feels is an essential part of the sustainability of our industry. “You need to be selling your wine where consumers pay for differentiation, for the story you tell them about South Africa, about everything that your wine represent,” says Amorim.
And Tuesday morning, we all sat in the opening seminar of Cape Wine 2012 and watched the elephant in the room which everybody conveniently ignored until Amorim pointed out that fully 57% of our current wine exports leave our shores in bulk.
“As long as you continue to allow a good portion of your industry to be driven by the likes of UK supermarket chains, you’ll have great difficulty building brand presence in the premium sector of the world wine market,” reckons Amorim, and he would be right. With increasing demand for our wine to be shipped overseas and bottled there under a label that does nothing to build Brand SA, what are the chances that we can stem the haemorrhaging?
I’m not suggesting that all bulk wine exports are an abomination. Those producers who ship in bulk and bottle overseas under their own label at least still promote Brand SA, and the likes of KWV come to mind in this regard. Granted we end up losing local jobs, but with what amounts to vertical integration, such exports end up with better profitability because it is so much cheaper to ship in bulk and bottle overseas, rather than to ship bottled wine.
If you take a look at the state of our national vineyard, and there’s a story here which does just that, you’ll see that it has been declining in size since 2006, and the way things are going that trend is set to continue.
Granted, it has been accompanied by an increase in yield per hectare, but that trend is limited by the law of diminishing returns. There will come a time when producers can no longer squeeze more grapes out of a hectare without impacting quality, and when that happens, the price they get will decline beyond the point at which it is economically viable to continue to farm the vineyard. If they’ve not been replacing the 5% of their vineyard which they should be replacing each year – and many producers cannot afford to do so because of the price per ton they’re getting – the vineyards will either lie fallow, or be replaced with another crop.
So when WOSA’s Su Birch says that in 20 years’ time, we’ll have a national vineyard 150 000ha in extent and we’ll be exporting premium quality wine all over the world, I must question where those figures come from.
We live in a water-scarce environment, and it’s getting worse. We’ll have less, not more water going forward. Just replacing what we’ve got with water-savvy clones is difficult enough as it is, never mind growing our national vineyard by 50%. If we’re lucky, we’ll end up with half that – 80 000 odd hectares – in twenty years’ time, the way things are going.
Chatting to Chris Mullineux, one of the Swartland Independent crew in that vibey corner of the hall, he points out that one of the conditions of membership is that you cannot ship more than 20% of your wine production in bulk. There are other criteria, like naturally produced wine, a varietal specification, an ageing regime specification, limitation on the use of new oak, viticulture guidelines, and bottling in specific shapes. It’s no AOC system, but it provides a set of guidelines that ensure that members of the group present a united front to the market, one that buyers and consumers can understand and tap into. And they’re not fighting with each other, cutting per ton prices to get the deal from the next guy.
Charles Banks of Terroir Capital spoke on Tuesday about his decision to buy Mulderbosch Vineyards in Stellenbosch. One of the reasons is that it was a cash-positive business producing wines that he knows will sell well into the US market – like the Steen op Hout Chenin, and the Chardonnay. If he thinks there’s a viable market for Stellenbosch wines in the US market, one which is notoriously difficult in which to establish a brand presence, then perhaps more local producers ought to take a leaf out of his book. And we’re not talking cheap and cheerful wines here. Rather, we’re talking wines that tap into the lower end of the premium segment, which is where we ought to be focussing our attention.
And as Antonio Amorim points out, we ought to be pushing for premium wine market share not only in the US, but in China, Russia and Brazil as well.
“Our vision is that South Africa will be recognised worldwide for producing premium quality distinctive wines in the world’s most biodiverse winelands, in an environmentally sensitive and ethically responsible manner,” is what Su Birch said way back when the DNA Handbook of South African wine was launched.
Three years later, how much closer are we to that dream?
On the eve of Cape Wine 2012, September 24 to be precise, the Chenin Blanc Association (CBA) held its annual conference at The One & Only at the V&A Waterfront.
I attended with much interest, as the program promised that the results of a three year research study conducted by the Institute for Wine Biotechnology would be revealed, and indeed it was.
The pre-cursor to the research feedback, was a panel discussion by Richard Kershaw MW, Frans Smit of Spier, Bruwer Raats of Raats family wines and Neil Grunewald of DGB which debated whether or not regionality is in any way expressed in South African Chenin. Each of the four panellists gave their views on the matter, and although each presenter focussed on different variables – soil, climate, elevation, proximity to the ocean, clonal material, etc. – the ultimate conclusion was that it’s far too early for us to start speaking about regional expression (call it terrior if you will), because of the great differences in soil, climate, elevation and aspect, sometimes in the same ward, never mind in a given wine region. Conclusion? All things being equal, it is not unusual for a diversity of styles – from fresh and fruity to rich and ripe, more about this later – to emerge from a single region.
A compounding factor is the propensity of South African winemakers to buy in grapes from other wards and even other regions and bottle it as their own. An example is Andy Mitchell Wines Swartland Chenin Blanc, made at the cellar in Greyton but with fruit from a Swartland vineyard.
In a number of such instances, such a wine will be an intra-varietal blend, including fruit from the likes of Darling, Stellenbosch, Durbanville and Elim for example. This practice is perfectly legal of course, and it affords the winemaker with a good degree of latitude in assembling a wine of a particular style, and it is this aspect – style – which emerged as the principal driver of Chenin Blanc expression. If this were France, making and marketing such a wine would be illegal. The AOC system in France is far too rigid to allow such practices.
Getting back to the massive diversity with which we must contend, what did emerge was the important consideration that it is perhaps time to revisit our demarcation system, to see whether it would be possible to demarcate more granularly than the current system allows for.
The Banhoek in Stellenbosch was cited as an example, whereby it has both a south and a north facing aspect, not to mention a good deal of diversity in soil type. To what level does one consider taking demarcation to more tightly define the characteristics of a specific area? Do we get as granular as Bordeaux for example, where depending upon which side of the pathway the vineyard is situated, it either is or isn’t a Grand Cru? Do we want our equivalent of the AOC – the demarcation system under control of SAWIS – to become as restrictive? Probably not in the legislative sense.
Having said that, it’s worthwhile taking a look at what’s happening in the Swartland, where a band of like-minded producers have set about defining criteria which, if adhered to, will result in wines of a particular style emerging from the region. Love them or hate them, the Swartland is known for oxidative style wines, which helps to define many of the wines that cone out of the area.
But where does that leave the debate about Chenin and regionality? Nowhere, other than to say once more that style, with a degree of influence conferred by the region in which it is grown, defining the Chenin that emerges from a particular producer. Frans Smit made the point, that counter-intuitively, vineyards close to the ocean, because of longer ripening and hanging times often have greater fruit concentration and purity than hotter drier inland regions. A prime example of how location influences a wine beyond the style pursued by the winemaker.
Interestingly, the research feedback presented by Dr Helene Nieuwoudt, reveals that consumers are able to identify two broad style categories – fresh and fruity on the one hand and rich and ripe on the other. Aside from the parlous level of consumer knowledge about the varietal – Chenin is named around 7th or 8th when consumers are prompted to name grape varietals they know – the finer nuances of style (wooded or unwooded, residual sugar) appear to be poorly understood.
The CBA recently defined five styles for Chenin – fresh and fruity, rich and ripe unwooded, rich and ripe wooded, rich and ripe slightly sweet, noble late harvest, but that in and of itself requires a level of discrimination which appears to escape the average consumer according to Dr Nieuwoudt.
If anything, Chenin style should be defined on a continuum from fresh and fruity to rich and ripe. If such a continuum were to be presented visually on the bottle label, then it becomes easy for a winemaker to position their wine on that spectrum.
Chatting over lunch to Dr Winnie Bowman CWM, the intriguing possibility of another dimension emerged. She feels that as an adjunct to the style continuum, something similar to denote residual sugar simply – a sweetness spectrum – would play an important role in helping consumers make informed choices about which Chenin to buy.
And if you take that one step further, something similar to denote the level of oaking of a wine, would complete the picture.
Point is, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Three simple continua on the label, standardised for all CBA members, with a simple indicator on each to define the wine style in those three dimensions. What could be simpler?
If indeed our demarcation system is to evolve over time to more granularly define specific terroirs, then working with such a multi-dimensional but simple style identification system, might well be the bridge between now and then.