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My Level 3 course with The Wine Centre was held at Glen Carlou wine estate in Paarl 2015. It...

Testimonial from Taryn Nortje, Sommelier at Restaurant Mosaic

My Level 3 course with The Wine Centre was held at Glen Carlou wine estate in Paarl 2015. It has been the foundation on which I have been building my knowledge of the world of wines. Passing my Level 3 propelled me into my career as a wine professional.

The WSET certificate course gave me the skill set and confidence to become a sommelier at Mosaic Restaurant one of South Africa's most reputable fine dining establishments.

I am extremely passionate about my studies and I enjoy sharing my knowledge with others. I believe that studying the wine regions of the world is like virtual traveling.

Mosaic Restaurant enrolled me as a WSET Level 4 Diploma student earlier this year. This investment in my knowledge and developing my skills as a sommelier is crucial not only to my interaction with guests and cellar management but is to the benefit of the South African wine industry as a whole.

There is an incredible support network for WSET students in South Africa, MW student and WSET APP Cathy Marston is my inspiration as I hope to teach future generations of WSET students and to one day become a Master of Wine.

Nicolò Pudel is a WSET Level 3 graduate and is currently finishing his WSET Level 4 Diploma. Nicolò shares...

Q&A with Nicolò Pudel, Port2Port Retailer

Nicolò Pudel is a WSET Level 3 graduate and is currently finishing his WSET Level 4 Diploma. Nicolò shares with us how his WSET education has helped him with running online wine site Port2Port.

How has your WSET education helped you with running your own online wine business?

The WSET courses I took, especially Diploma which I am currently busy with, has given me a lot of insight in the international trade which is most certainly helping me as we plan to expand Port2Port abroad. The tastings and workshops we are organizing on the side are also a great opportunity to be exposed to wines that we usually are not able to find.

 

Next year Port2Port celebrates its 4th anniversary, what challenges have you faced during the past years and what are some milestone successes?

Port2Port was founded with the vision to build and establish South Africa’s (and beyond) biggest fine wine marketplace, connecting premium wineries, importers and retailers to a rapidly growing audience of discerning wine buyers.

Our mission has always been to consistently offer the most cutting edge digital platform, world-class service, the biggest selection at the best possible price, all presented through the eyes of the producers, the passionate writers and the critics, utilising our enticing wine stories as our main vehicle. My team and I soon discovered that we had been blessed with a very enthusiastic and loyal following. The interest and demand have been - frankly - beyond our expectation and the numbers speak for themselves. Today we are one of the fastest growing e-commerce platforms in the country. Wine-Searcher has awarded us with the Best Wine Catalogue in South Africa and Price Check nominated us in 5 categories at the 2018 E-Commerce Awards, including Best E-Commerce Service. Our revenue is growing at three digits yearly, we sell over 1600 wines from 12 countries, represent 500 brands and 10 specialised retailers to an audience of 200 000 wine lovers.

 

What advice would you give those interested in opening their own wine business?

Research and planning is important, spend a good amount of time on that before you are ready to release a minimum viable product. Don’t waste time on perfecting your concept, you will do that anyway as you go and get feedback from your audience and customers. Most importantly, plan your financials correctly, you don’t want your dream not to come true only because you run out of money. Flexibility is paramount, you need to be able to identify the opportunities along the way and be able to adjust your strategy. Avoid massive overheads, employ remote workers, save on fixed costs where you can. Invest in the team and in your company culture which ultimately reflects on your service.

 

Your site currently lists wines from 12 countries, are there any countries not listed that you’d like to represent?

We would love to represent every single wine that is out there and that meets our quality requirements. The goal for our marketplace to breach the 10 000 products mark within the next 3 years. We will achieve that by opening our European business and adding marketplace seller there.

 

What are the most popular searches on the site for?

The top of the list are brands, among them Kanonkop, Meerlust, Hamilton Russell, Sadie. Then, wine specific queries include Brunello di Montalcino, Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc.

 

What has been your most memorable wine moment?

I have a TOP  3. My first Sassicaia with my wife in Bolgheri, a bottle of Harlan Estate with my wife and dear friend Francois in Napa and probably the first bottle of a wine we recently had where we are looking at getting involved directly in terms of ownership and management. But this is still a secret.

 

With a career that started with a Masters in Marketing from Toulouse Business School, Cyril Meidinger, a WSET Level...

Q&A with Cyril Meidinger, Robinson & Sinclair Wine Sales Executive

With a career that started with a Masters in Marketing from Toulouse Business School, Cyril Meidinger, a WSET Level 4 student, tells us how he came to South Africa by accident and fell in love with the region and its wines. This then lead to him representing South Africa this year at the Blind Tasting World Championship in Beziers, Languedoc.

 

What inspired you to start a career in the wine world?

Working at a tasting room for a summer job on a Greek Island called Kefalonia opened my eyes and my palate on this amazing product which is wine. But besides the product, I discovered that people in the wine world all share the same values of enjoying good food, good company and share a common way of life.

 

You are currently enrolled for the WSET Diploma, how are you balancing your studying alongside your full-time job?

Luckily my full-time job involves learning about wine and tasting on a regular basis. On top of that, I get to travel every other month overseas and I have the chance to experience foreign wines often. However, every evening and week-ends are dedicated to sit-down studies of the WSET Diploma.

 

How does your WSET education help you in your role?

It gives me more confidence when speaking with both my suppliers (the wineries) and my clients (the importers) and increases my technical knowledge. Also, it broadens my international perspective on wines and on the international trade.

 

You work with both the African and American markets, what would you say are the key differences between consumers and their wine preferences in each market?

As taste profiles, I would say that interestingly enough, both African and American markets tend to go for similar styles, with ripe, round, low tannic wines and sometimes a touch of sweetness. The biggest difference is in their characters and the way to handle the relationships with the clients.

 

What has been your most memorable wine moment?

Hearing the South African National Anthem from the Chateau Angelus bells.

 

What are your plans for your future in wine?

Producing my own wine both in the Southern and Northern Hemisphere.

With a career centered around writing, Malu Lambert, freelance writer and WSET Level 3 graduate, tells us about discovering...

Q&A with Malu Lambert, Freelance Wine Writer / Journalist

With a career centered around writing, Malu Lambert, freelance writer and WSET Level 3 graduate, tells us about discovering wine as a waiter and how her interest in wine grew into a career.

Tell us a bit about your journey on becoming a journalist.

Since 2006 I have written features on food and wine. I was previously employed by Good Taste magazine and Eat Out. Since then I have continued to write features on food, wine and personalities in a freelance capacity, but with a regular columns: I am the wine editor for Food & Home magazine, I also write for Winemag.com, WOSA and wine.co.za

 

When did you first develop an interest in wine?

As a waiter at very fancy restaurant in London I got to taste all the wines before pouring them for the guests as we needed to check for corkage—unlike here at home, where the guest checks themselves. I wasn’t complaining.

 

How has your WSET education helped you in your career?

I’ve so enjoyed the WSET sessions with Cathy and The Wine Centre, it’s such a safe space to geek out on wine. WSET has helped me structure my tasting notes—which I now write around 12 a month! Wine can be overwhelming to figure out, and WSET has helped me think logically and systematically about tasting wine. Plus I’ve found my Level 3 qualification means both magazines and wineries trust my level of expertise to write for them.

 

What has been your most memorable wine moment?

Discovering the concept of luminosity in wine.  Wines with pure crystalline fruit; that fizzle with energy and have acidities that border on electric. Luminosity in a wine is something you can’t quite put your finger on; drinking one feels almost celestial. I recently had this experience at a tasting of the 2017 releases for Alheit Vineyards. Somehow winemaker Chris Alheit has managed to bottle the spirit of the vineyards he works with. The Huilkrans Chenin Blanc 2017 in particular stood out for me. It has an almost metaphysical energy and it sings of its place of origin, the Skurfberg: an isolated mountainous outpost, old vines, and a cliff that weeps when it rains.

 

You won the Veritas Young Wine Writers Competition in 2015, do you think competitions such as these are beneficial for wine professionals’ career progression?

Yes absolutely, it’s the same as a wine getting a gold badge—it doesn’t make the wine inside any better, but what it does is shine a spotlight on it. It’s the same for writers, you can work and work and work, and nobody really pays too much attention until the industry you work in pays you recognition. We desperately need a senior wine writing award in South Africa, any sponsors out there keen?

 

What advice would you give to aspiring wine writers / journalists?

Be willing to work for free. I know this goes against everything millennials believe in, but no one is going to take a chance on you before you prove yourself worthy and willing. I interned at Good Taste for two years while I studied, and I was rewarded with a job at the end of my studies. Even though they kept saying “we don’t have a job for you”.

With a career deeply entrenched in the South African wine industry, Carolyn Martin, co-owner and marketing director at Creation...

Q&A with Carolyn Martin, Creation Wines Co-owner and Marketing Director

With a career deeply entrenched in the South African wine industry, Carolyn Martin, co-owner and marketing director at Creation Wines, tells us about her journey in wine and how the WSET courses have helped both her and her staff.

Tell us a bit about your journey in wine.

I suppose one could say that I’m ‘to the manner born’ – quite literally – as I was born in a red Ford Anglia, at the farm gates of my grandparents’ wine estate, Hartenberg. My dad, Walter Finlayson, had to play midwife!  My earliest childhood memories are of my grandparents’ farm and more specifically, of my grandmother Eleanor. She taught me so much about wine, cooking and entertaining.

I conducted my first wine tasting at the age of five when I was unable to find Grandma to attend to visitors. I knew the guests had to be taken care of, and I reasoned that I’d heard enough to get by. Eventually we found Grandma half way through a cellar tour.

After school I went to study design at the Michaelis School of Arts at the University of Cape Town, and wrote my thesis on champagne. I then moved to London where I eventually launched my own design company, focusing on brand development of world-renowned brands such as Laurent-Perrier. During this time we pioneered canapé and wine pairings, serving petit fours from Le Gavroche with the famous botrytised wines of Tokaj, or Scottish salmon gravlax and caviar with Laurent-Perrier champagne. It was a period of much learning and travelling to different wine regions around the world.

In 1999 I married the Swiss winemaker, Jean-Claude (JC) Martin and we settled in the Winelands of Neuchâtel where JC was a director and co-owner of the famous winery of Grillette. Three years later we bought Creation on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge and set out to turn what was virtually a wilderness, never planted to vines before, into what has become a successful wine estate as well as a popular wine destination.

 

You’ve put a great deal of your staff through WSET qualifications – why do you think they are important?

The qualification is globally recognised and respected, equipping the successful student with in-depth knowledge (depending on the level) of a wide range of subjects – from grape growing and winemaking through to the different styles of wine. We have seven pairing options on offer and it is important that they are presented by knowledgeable and confident ambassadors.

 

Do you think having a WSET qualification helps your staff sell more wine?

Yes. Apart from the above, I want to stress that most of our visitors want to know more about our wines and about wine in general. In our Tasting Room selling is also about educating and building trust. What I also enjoy about WSET is that it gives the staff a chance to explore wines through a structured tasting process, transferring the knowledge and terminology to accurately describe wines. Depending on the level of qualification, they are able to explore specific wines with clients and compare them in terms of type and style to others around the world.

 

Creation is widely recognised for its food and wine pairings, what’s your secret?

Growing up on Hartenberg, a working farm and vineyard, I developed a natural love for food from a young age.  This led to experimentation, using guidelines such as flavour (which includes aroma), taste (which can be broken down into salt, sweet, bitter, sour and umami), texture, colour, balance and even temperature.

While the above properties all play an important role in pairing, I also believe that there is no formula when it comes to finding the perfect match. Both experience and intuition are important and the most unexpected pairings are often the best. Instead of tried and tested combinations, use your imagination and be creative. Also remember that the environment – the mood, the atmosphere and the company – plays a critical role in our appreciation of food and wine.

 

You’re quite the seasoned traveller, how do South African wines fare against their international counterparts?

Very well, but many of the wines are still undervalued. We need to make sure that we recognise their place on the world wine stage. In South Africa, certain winegrowing areas definitely have the ideal terroir combined with know-how to create winning wines that excite the palate and tantalise the imagination.

 

What has been your most memorable wine moment?

Having to step up to the mark when I was five and do that wine tasting!

 

Do you have any advice for cultivating a career in wine?

Do this if you love wine; it is part of a great lifestyle and you meet interesting people on the way! It can open many doors, to the hospitality industry, for instance.

To be successful you need to be passionate, innovative, knowledgeable and multi-faceted. You need to be an individual as well as a team player and definitely a people’s person, as the feedback from clients plays an important role in your success. It furthermore requires good organisational skills and the discipline to enjoy without overindulging.

With a career steeped in broadcast journalism, Guy McDonald, Breakfast Host at Magic 828 AM radio and WSET Level...

Q&A with Guy McDonald, Magic 828 Breakfast Show Radio DJ

With a career steeped in broadcast journalism, Guy McDonald, Breakfast Host at Magic 828 AM radio and WSET Level 2 graduate, tells us what sparked his interest in wine and how he’s incorporated his passion into his career.

 

Tell us a bit about your journey to becoming a radio DJ.

It all began with performing Puppet shows behind the washing-line for my beautiful Grandmother and sitting in a tree house talking into the end of a skipping rope that was connected to a real car battery imagining I was the main announcer at an Agricultural show. After school, I got the Weekend “afternoon drive” on Mfm in Stellenbosch. After 5 years of Community radio I got my first paying gig on a retail radio station, The Sound of Ackermans before moving to Kfm 94.5, then Good Hope FM and now I find myself at Magic 828 AM.

 

When did you first develop an interest in wine?

From a very early age, my Mom always gave me a tiny glass with dinner “so that I wouldn’t feel left out”. My interest was really piqued though in Grade 10 when I travelled the winelands with my Dad during “work experience” week and realised I had a passion for the industry as a whole.

 

As a radio DJ, how would you say your WSET wine education has helped you with your wine feature on Magic 828 and your career in general?

Personally, I learned a lot about wines of the world. I had done other wine courses previously that focused on SA wine and always felt very ignorant because I haven’t travelled to other parts of the wine world. The WSET course gave me solid insight into other markets as well as into the world of Spirits. Hosting a Whisky feature and a Wine feature now, I feel more confident in my opinions. I am hoping it will lead to greater things career-wise.

 

What has been your most memorable wine moment?

Wow… So many! Having Ken Forrester pour me wine in his dining room was special as I had always held his wines in high regard and here he was, the man himself, pouring for me!!

Lunch with Danie De Wet of De Wetshof is another highlight! He kept disappearing into the cellar and returning with something “even more special for you, this time from Portugal”.

 

If you could own a winery anywhere in the world, where would it be, which wines would you make and why?

An American friend of mine spends time with her parents in the Napa Valley and from her Instagram shots, it looks amazing!! So it would be Napa because diverse soils, climate and topography mean I could also make a rich, full-bodied Chardonnay; silky, seductive Pinot Noir and ripe, velvety Merlot. They have also been smacked by floods, an earthquake and, last October, devastating fires. So maybe property prices are cheap!?

 

What is your favourite cultivar and why?

I have an enduring love affair with Chardonnay. As much as other varietals impress and tantalize my palate, and despite the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement, when I read this question the first word to pop onto my tongue was Chardonnay. I think it’s because it can be adapted to many styles, from crisp, citrusy unoaked wine to creamy oaked wine. Being such a neutral grape, it offers a blank canvas for winemakers to paint in any style they choose. There’s a remarkable balance of richness and acidity that well-crafted Chardonnays can achieve.

The problem with the Cape Winemakers Guild, quite apart from an elusive apostrophe which grates me every time, is...

CWG Auction Wines 2018 – Reviewed

The problem with the Cape Winemakers Guild, quite apart from an elusive apostrophe which grates me every time, is that as a group of people, they’re just too darned nice. You really have to taste their annual Auction releases as blind as possible so you can judge the wines without thinking ‘oh but he’s such a lovely guy’ or similar and scoring the wine up. Somebody once said of another illustrious winemaker that ‘the wines never taste as good as they do when he tells you about them’ and when you have such a set of engaging, entertaining and erudite winemakers as this lot, it’s easy to be swayed.

Of course, it’s not 100% blind because it’s fairly easy to spot Pieter Ferreira and John Loubser’s bubbles, and you know that Andrea Mullineux is the Semillon Gris girl and that Bartho Eksteen is always going to make Sauvignon Blanc in one form or another. But I stayed away from social media posts, didn’t read the press releases and did the best I could not to know what was going on before I tasted through all 47 wines today.

As a group of wines, I think they’re pretty solid this year. A couple of other tasters bemoaned lack of freshness and yes, there were touches of jam on more than a few of the reds which was disappointing as there was lack of acidity on a couple of the whites. One thing I did like to see is that the winemakers really seem to be flexing their vinous imaginations more and more. When I first started doing this blind tasting, there seemed to be endless flights of Chenins and Chardonnays, Cabs and Shirazes whereas this year 25 grape varieties featured amongst the line-up which is pretty cool.

Having said that, there were a few styles/varieties I was surprised not to see. Many of the reds were from the stellar 2015 vintage so it was surprising not to see any Rhône blends in the line-up and only 1 red Cape Blend. Mind you, there were no white Cape Blends either – to my great sorrow - nor were there any White Bordeaux, and the only Grenache and Cinsault featured were a Grenache Blanc and as 10% of one blend respectively.

‘So what?’ as an esteemed colleague might say - there was plenty of interest in what was available and lots to entice buyers. For bubbly-lovers, there were 2 options in completely different styles, Pieter Ferreira’s wonderfully-rich Cuvée 105 which enjoyed nearly 9 years on lees and needs no dosage to finish it off and then John Loubser’s Big Dog, to my mind one of the most complete MCC’s I’ve tasted, with a real champagne-quality to the wine. The sooner he gets some fizz released in magnums, the better, if you ask me.

Of the whites, the De Morgenzon Roussanne was showy and confident  with good weight and acidity whilst the Hartenberg Riesling – more Eden than Alsace I’d say – has years ahead of it if you can bear to wait. Rijk’s Chenin Blanc has surely strayed only a short way out of Vouvray, showing lovely woolly evolution already beginning with bouncy acidity balanced by just a touch of sugar. Of the Chardonnays, for the umpteenth year running (and I’m rather chuffed at both Andries’s and my own consistency!) the Paul Cluver Wagon Trail was a favourite with the beautifully-balanced Delaire Graff vying with it for first place.

Scooting through to the reds, it was the wonderful combination of Cabernet Franc and Merlot which caught and held my attention. There were other Bordeauxs (or mainly Bordeauxs) such as Rust en Vrede, Grangehurst (the 2014) and the Kanonkop Paul Sauer which were delicious but the two stand-outs for me were the Cab Franc/Merlot combos of Miles Mossop’s Maximilian 2011 (not the 2013 version which was Merlot) and Strydom Family Wines The Game Changer. I attended a CWG technical tasting of Right Bank Bordeaux wines hosted by Rianie Strydom last year and I think hers would happily stand alongside some big names with nothing to fear – possibly my favourite wine of the day with length, balance, wonderful perfumed intensity and elegant ripe black fruit.

Boschfkloof and Boekenhoutskloof carried off the Shiraz honours with Boschkloof being straight out of the Northern Rhône (albeit a rather alcoholic version!) with aromas of violets, cloves, pepper and perfume and Boekenhoutskloof being velvety and rich with a wonderful tannic seam and sprightly acidity running through it. Big wines with a big future ahead of them.

The final wine which I loved was the Beaumont Mourvèdre. I attended another CWG technical tasting with Sebastian Beaumont who claimed he was still trying to get to know the grape and that many SA winemakers had walked away from the variety, unable to find the charm. Well, Sebastian has found that charm by the bucket-load in his whole-bunch fermented wine, full of ripe, cooked strawberries, juicy tannins with leather and polish – perhaps not exactly everything you’d associate with the grape but there you go.  It put me in mind of my mother’s strawberry pie – something she made when we’d got a bit carried away at ‘Pick Your Own’ farms – and warm memories of summer days and al fresco eating brought the tasting to a happy end.

If you want to buy some of these wines, all the details of how to register and bid are here www.capewinemakersguild.com

© Cape Times Friday 21st October 2016 Is the glass half-empty or half-full? As we all know by now,...

Ranges of glasses matched to varieties

© Cape Times Friday 21st October 2016

Is the glass half-empty or half-full? As we all know by now, the answer is ‘Who cares? There’s clearly room for more wine whichever way you look at it.’ Is the glass nothing more than a vessel for conveying a liquid into our mouths or is it so much more than a mere vessel, instead having the ability to actually change the taste and feel of a wine? Or is this yet another wine myth perpetuated by wine snobs intent on ridding us all of our Paris goblets and champagne coupes?

Weighing in on the ‘a glass doesn’t make any difference to the wine at all’ side would be every single beach trattoria, restaurant and bar the length and breadth of the Mediterranean. Here, wine is as likely to be drunk from a tumbler as a wine glass and I’ve had some memorable times sipping wine in sunny beach resorts, even if I can’t remember the quality of said wine! Here, I would argue, it is the occasion, the company and often the view which makes the difference to how the wine tastes.

In the other corner sits glassmakers such as Riedel, Spiegelau and Zalto who offer ranges of glasses supposedly perfectly-matched to certain varieties. I know of people whose palates I would trust implicitly, assuring me that the exact same wine tastes differently in different glasses and so when I was sent a bottle of Leopards Leap Culinaria Pinot Noir 2014 and two Riedel Pinot Noir glasses recently, I had to give this a go myself.

So much of me wanted this not to work, to be able to say to you ‘the wine was the same whichever glass I drank it from’ but the truth is, that this is simply not the truth. The wine WAS different – more perfumed and fragrant in the Riedel Pinot Noir, more earthy in my Riedel Brunello di Montalcino glass and much less fruity in a nondescript not-quite Paris goblet. Was it better in the correct Riedel? Yes, I guess it probably was as long as you appreciate perfume over power (which I do and the wine was delicious). It was a really interesting exercise and I commend it to you all to give it a go if you possibly can.

Someone who’s gone into this in a big way is Pieter Ferreira of Graham Beck Wines. The days of the coupe, allegedly-based on Marie Antoinette’s breast (not true, sorry guys), are long gone and now it would seem that the champagne flute is heading in that direction as well. The flute is a great glass to preserve bubbles because it has a small surface area from which they can escape but the narrow neck is not so good at encouraging flavour – which is a problem for Pieter and Graham Beck.

In a recent tasting, we tasted three wines, each in two different glasses – the normal flute and another version, striving to find the perfect combination of flavour, bubbles and (has to be considered) cost. Following extensive experimentation by both Pieter and a team of scientists at Reims University in France, the normal non vintage will now be served in an entry-level Riedel  Champagne glass at the Graham Beck tasting room, whilst the company’s flagship wine, the Cuvée Clive, will come in a hand-blown Lehmann Jamesse Prestige tulip-shaped glass.

The difference between flavours and bubbles from the flutes to the speciality glasses was mindblowing, but the best example was to try the Blanc de Blancs (always my favourite GB wine) in the premium Riedel Veritas Champagne glass. Pronounced salty aromas, persistent bubbles courtesy of small indentations at the base of the glass and creamy, citrus lemon flavours which grew and developed over the course of almost an hour, this was a winning combination. As Graham Beck Wines bids to become the world’s leading MCC producer, it makes absolute sense that each wine is showcased appropriately. And on that note, watch out for a Graham Beck bubbly bar and tasting venue in Cape Town in the near future and in the meantime – drink your bubbles out of bigger, tulip-shaped glasses. So that there’s ALWAYS room for more wine!

© Cape Times Friday 16th September 2016 Spring has sprung and once again, springing along with it, comes competition time....

Looking for the best wines

© Cape Times Friday 16th September 2016

Spring has sprung and once again, springing along with it, comes competition time. A whole host of different awards have been judged and announced in the last few weeks from international commentators such as UK journalist Tim Atkin’s comprehensive and thorough SA Report to local affairs such as the RisCura White Hot Bordeaux-style White Blends Awards (one awards ceremony I was very sad to miss – such a delicious category and well done to top performers Iona, Strandveld and Tokara Wines). What to talk about, what to talk about? Well, space is limited so I have chosen just three competitions, all from entirely personal motives.

Pinotage is a big opinion divider as I discovered when I was in the UK five years ago to become an accredited teacher of international wine courses from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). A fellow educator from the Netherlands was stuck in a completely outdated view of Pinotage from the bad old days at the turn of the millennium when it tasted of bitter bananas and had little to recommend it and try as I might, couldn’t be persuaded to change his mind. I was thinking of him when I saw the results of the latest Absa Pinotage Top Ten which were announced recently, in particular when reading the words of Neil Ellis who convened the tasting panel. He spoke of “The diversity in styles of Pinotage - this year we saw many more examples where winemakers are not trying to follow the tried-and-tested methods used by icon wines, instead making Pinotage in styles that best suit the unique characteristics the winemakers are getting from grapes in their own areas.”

I couldn’t agree more. The past decade has seen a meteoric rise in the quality of Pinotage and it’s mainly because people are now feeling confident enough to express themselves, pay attention to the grapes they’ve got and showcase them with appropriate winemaking. There is quality at every level in the Top Ten from perennial stalwarts such as Kanonkop and Rijks (winning Top Ten places for an incredible 11 times each) to inexpensive and fun versions by Knorhoek and Perdeberg, entering the Top Ten for the first time. Let’s hope they can take this show on the road to Holland because there’s at least one chap there who needs to see the Pinotage-light.

Talking of taking wine to Europe, my second competition seems to be going the other way! The Blaauwklippen Blending Competition always gives me the warm-fuzzies – it’s a bit lighthearted and one of the very few competitions where the consumer is the star. Over 70 wine clubs competed to make the perfect, easy-drinking red blend this year and the winner – for an incredible second time – came from Germany! The club, Weinnasen from Rindchen's Weinkontor Uhlenhorst, flew in specially to join other finalists at Blaauwklippen last week to celebrate their winning blend of Malbec, Merlot, Shiraz and Zinfandel. If you want to try it, you can buy it from Blaauklippen’s tasting room where it’s bottled as a magnum with a glorious Frans Groenewald original label and selling for a mere R159.

My final competition is one in which I was personally-involved, judging the country’s finest MCC’s for the fourth year in a row. I love this competition – any excuse to taste bubbles is always fine by me – and it has been most heartening to see the increase in quality over the years with hardly any duffers amongst the entrants and a whole host of wines I would delight in sipping during a sunny summer’s eve. The overall winner is Anura whose Brut 2011 is a fantastically-constructed wine with loads of depth and character. Shout-outs to Blanc de Blanc winner, Colmant and rosé Trophy winner, JC Le Roux who also scooped the Museum Class with their Scintilla Vintage Reserve 2008. Year in, year out the Scintilla is one of my favourite fizzes and if you can get your hands on some of the 08, there’ll be a spring in your step this Spring, that’s for very sure.

© Cape Times Friday 19th August 2016 I can’t think of a more irritating phrase than “If it ain’t broke,...

Transforming the wine industry.

© Cape Times Friday 19th August 2016

I can’t think of a more irritating phrase than “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s complacent, it’s lazy and it and its partner phrase “but we’ve always done it like this” are words which have no place in today’s rapidly-changing society. I was thinking about this when I attended a presentation of a decade of Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé programme a week or so ago. When I first came across the CWG, it was a bit of an Old Boys Club with no female members at all – something guaranteed to raise anyone’s hackles this Women’s Month – but over the years, things have changed, the focus of the Guild has sharpened and it and its members have raised its game. Instead of being a monthly excuse to drink and chat, the Guild is a modern group of most of the best winemakers in SA, leading the wine industry to ever greater heights.

 

One of the newer – and better - initiatives in the CWG has been the development of the CWG Protégé programme in connection with Nedbank. In 2006 it was decided to form a mentorship programme with the aim of assisting with transformation within the wine industry. Winemaking students are selected post-graduation to complete a 3 year mentorship programme which sees them spending each year working alongside one of the Guild members. During this time, they also get the chance to make their own wine, participate in the monthly Guild tastings which exposes them to wines from around the world, judge at competitions and often travel to far-flung vinous destinations to further their studies and experience.

 

But it’s working alongside the SA winemaking legends which is the greatest opportunity all the protégés cited at the event last week. Louis Strydom, CWG member and chairman of the Nedbank CWG Development Trust explains it this way “We have over 940 years’ experience amongst the 47 winemakers in the Guild! It’s our responsibility to share that knowledge with the next generation.” For the protégés to be able to access this knowledge at such an early stage of their careers really gives them an edge. Considering that many of them come from backgrounds outside the wine industry and they can’t call on any connections or old boys’ network, it is this internship which sets them apart and makes them eminently employable.

 

And employable is what they are proving to be. Already the programme has produced 12 graduates now working in the wine industry and there are more coming through all the time. The programme has expanded to include a new viticulture protégé – we couldn’t meet him as he was on a visit to Australia at the time – and in addition a skills development programme for cellar workers is educating 1,500 workers every single year. If you want to taste how the protégés are faring, you can’t do better than try some of the wines made by the current second and third year students which will be sold at a silent auction during the main CWG Auction on 1st October. We tasted a delicately-fruity Pinot Noir made by Chandré Petersen, a savoury and complex Chenin from Heinrich Kulsen, a spicy and aromatic Shiraz from Rose Kruger and a beautifully-balanced Muscat from Thornton Pillay. All proceeds will go back into the Development Trust pot to continue funding even more protégés in the future. And hopefully, before too long, one of these protégés will eventually become a Guild member in their own right, giving back to generations of students to come.

© Cape Times Friday 17th June 2016 For many of us parents, the last few weeks have been particularly wine-filled...

Wine opens doors for students

© Cape Times Friday 17th June 2016

For many of us parents, the last few weeks have been particularly wine-filled as we cajole, encourage, berate and coerce our children to revise for exams. It’s been a first time for us and I have to say, we’ve felt the strain, somewhat eased by a good few swear words and a nice glass of wine at the end of the day. How much more fun it is to teach and learn about wine, when drinking a glass is counted as revision itself!

Which leads me nicely to some students who want to do just that and who are trying to raise money to allow them to do so. Elsenburg Agricultural College, along with great rivals Stellenbosch University, is the training ground for almost all winemakers working in the South African wine industry today. Chief winemaker and head lecturer, Lorraine Geldenhuys and I have worked together over the last couple of years and I know her to be a passionate and inspiring lecturer. Her biggest aim for her students is that they are work-ready when they leave the college. This means lots of practical experience and Elsenburg has made wine and brandy for the past few years under Lorraine’s guidance, with plans afoot for gin to be added to the repertoire as well.

The biggest problem the Elsenburg students have – in fact, the biggest problem most students of wine have in South Africa – is learning how wine is made in other countries, particularly in Europe which has a tradition of winemaking stretching back thousands of years as opposed to our measly 350. European wine laws are generally much stricter than South African, with regulations surrounding grape variety, planting density, pruning, yields, winemaking practices, minimum alcohol and a whole host of other rules all designed to improve quality. The challenge for South African winemakers is to understand the thinking behind these rules and to learn which ones could be usefully applied to South Africa and which are best ignored. And in order to do that best, first-hand knowledge is required.

Lorraine and her nine final year students have planned a trip in November which will take them, and her assistant winemaker Solomon Monyamane, on a technical tour of some of the major winemaking regions of Portugal and France. They are being supported on this trip by various means, including a donation from the Cape Winemakers Guild, but the majority of money should come from two charity auctions, one to be held at Beyerskloof wine farm on July 26 and the other in Johannesburg at a later date. The UK-based International Wine Challenge has donated lots of exciting international wines which have been carefully matched to equivalent, leading South African examples to create really interesting lots. In addition, there will be a series of once-in-a-lifetime lots such as skydiving, wine farm stayovers and other winery insider experiences. The auction is open to all and for more information, contact Lorraine on Lorraineg@elsenburg.com 

And on the subject of students learning about wine, congratulations to the 2016 class of the Pinotage Youth Development Academy who graduated a couple of weeks ago. This is an amazing programme taking young people though an eye-opening practical journey into the wine industry aimed at giving them skills and confidence and ultimately, jobs. On top of their industry-endorsed qualification, two-thirds of the group now also possess an internationally-recognised wine qualification from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, funded by the Cape Wine Auction. Let’s hope the Elsenburg auction achieves equally successful results for their students as well.

© Cape Times Friday 15th January 2016 I’m not quite sure yet what 2016 will be the Year Of...

Best of the Sommeliers

© Cape Times Friday 15th January 2016

I’m not quite sure yet what 2016 will be the Year Of (I’d like to think it would be the Year of the Falling Rand – here’s hoping) but I’m fairly certain that 2015 was the Year of the Sommelier. The official definition of a sommelier is “A restaurant employee who orders and maintains the wines sold in the restaurant and usually has extensive knowledge about wine and food pairings” and it seems that this is a job whose time has now come to SA. We have reached the pitch of sophisticated dining which now justifies new competitions such as the proposed American Express Platinum Taste Awards, and along with an increasingly-elevated standard of dining comes the call for wines and wine service to match. So it shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone that the spotlight is now on sommeliers and their art.

 

Instrumental in the growth of sommellerie (the art of being a sommelier) has been the South African Sommeliers Association (SASA) which was set up in 2010 by a group of SA somms who had all worked overseas before returning home. The current Vice Chairman is David Clarke, a qualified sommelier from Australia who now owns a wine distribution business in Cape Town, selling boutique South African wines. He believes that being a somm is the best job in the world for a wine-lover “How else do you get to try interesting wines all the time without having to buy them all?!” and suggests it is a fantastic career for a lot of South Africans. Being a waiter is generally seen as a dead-end job in SA, but with interest and enthusiasm, any waiter can transform this into a fulfilling career with prospects and opportunities around the world.

 

So how do you become a sommelier? According to David, the first thing you should do is get yourself on the restaurant floor. If you can find a restaurant with a qualified and experienced sommelier and start learning from scratch, this will be the best start. You’ll learn the basics of service (polishing glasses, setting-up the restaurant, pouring wine etc) as well as gradually tasting more wines and more food and wine combinations. Later on, you’ll need to learn how to build up a cellar and manage stock but the essence of the job remains customer-focussed.

 

In terms of qualifications, there are no international sommelier qualifications available in SA at the moment, although SASA has just launched their Foundational Sommellerie course, aligned to international standards and aimed at putting interested students on the right path. They recommend aspiring sommeliers back up service knowledge with certificates from either local institutions or the internationally-recognised Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) – for clarity’s sake, I should say that these are the courses I teach here in SA and which are also the industry-standard in 65 other countries around the world. Which is useful for somms as many of them travel and work overseas so having recognisable qualifications is a big plus.

 

And now we have the first SASA-organised competition to find Africa’s Best Sommelier. This took place on Monday at The Taj Hotel under the auspices of the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale, the international ‘governing body’ of sommelier associations worldwide. International judges put 10 of the country’s top somms through a series of rigorous tests culminating in pouring a magnum of Champagne into 18 glasses, ending up with them all at equal heights, no topping up of glasses and with none left in the bottle – quite a feat I assure you! The winner, Gareth Ferreira who currently works at a private wine club in London, will now represent SA at the World Championships in Argentina next year – huge congrats to him. And if you want to be the next winner, check out www.sommeliers.org.za and start your journey into wine.