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Well, what are the holidays for if not for idle speculation and random musings? This year, my thoughts have...

If I ruled the Wine World

Well, what are the holidays for if not for idle speculation and random musings? This year, my thoughts have turned to world domination and I have decided to let rip about some fundamental things wrong in the world of wine. Not the product (although you can stop making those fruit flavoured wine coolers right now if you like. And the low alcohol wines too) but just a few other associated things which I think we could do better. Appoint me Queen of the Quaffing and behold – my word is now law.

Stop referring to a liquid as ‘dry.’
I mean, really. Wine is SO clearly not dry, but as wet as a fish’s wet bits, to quote Blackadder. If we’re talking about lack of sugar, how about we use the word – ooh, I don’t know – ‘sugar’ maybe? As in ‘it has some residual sugar’ ‘it does not have any residual sugar.’ Calling a liquid ‘dry’ is like calling a politician honest – nonsensical and utterly untrue.  And whilst we’re on this subject….

Stop calling sweet sherry ‘cream’.
What is it with sugar and wine non-speak? Why can’t we just say ‘sugar’? Are we adding the juice of several cows to our wine? Are we suggesting whipping our Oloroso and frosting a cake? No? Then why can’t we just come out in the open and say ‘sweet?’ Creamy lees, creamy texture, creamy MLF if you must, but cream sherry? Moving on…

Barbaresco shall from henceforth be made from Barbera.
I can just picture some wizened old chap with a droopy moustache and a pasta-paunch musing “So how about if we call this grape ‘Barbera’ and then look, in the same region there’s this area called Barbaresco but you know what would be funny? Let’s say that it’s NOT allowed to be made from Barbera, even though that would be memorable and helpful and instead, let’s introduce Nebbiolo into the mix and confuse ALL wine students from now until the end of time. That’ll be fun won’t it?” Italy – you’ve had thousands of years to get your act in gear – from now on – Barbaresco is made from Barbera and that is that.

And whilst we’re on the subject…
Oy! French folk. Don’t think you’re getting off lightly either. What is it with Muscadet, Muscadelle and Muscat?? What – it never occurred to you to come up with something a bit different for the names of two grape varieties which are totally unrelated to each other and one wine which uses neither one? Sacré bleu. You should have sorted it out mes amis so now I shall do it for you. Loire folk – your wine is to be called Melonet sur Lie, and Bordelais, your grape shall henceforth be known as Petit Pas-Très-Important. Cos it’s not.

No More White Zinfandel
I for one, was absolutely baffled as to how America could vote for Donald Trump last year – as inexplicable as Brexit, I thought to myself. And then I realized that actually, all Americans clearly spend their lives wearing some form of reverse rose-tinted glasses because how else can you account for the fact that they call a pink wine white?? Take ‘em off Americans and open your eyes - the ‘white’ wine is pink and Mr Trump was one very, very bad idea.

The Coastal Region of South Africa must have, er, a coast!
Revolutionary idea, I know but enough is enough There are no beach resorts in Paarl, lifesavers are not generally needed on the banks of the Berg River in Franschhoek Valley and Wellington is not the surfing capital of the Western Cape. Stop confusing everyone, accept that you are inland and move on.

So there you have it. Just a few little tweaks but I think you’ll agree that they’ll make the wine world a better, simpler, more understandable place to be. Happy Christmas folks and roll on the New Year and the reign of Queen Cathy!

© Cape Times Friday 17th July 2015 “In a cottage ‘neath the mountain was the seed of Wynberg sown.”...

Schoolyard, vineyard

© Cape Times Friday 17th July 2015

“In a cottage ‘neath the mountain was the seed of Wynberg sown.” This is the school song of Wynberg Boys High, one of the oldest boys’ schools in the Western Cape, which is celebrating its 175th birthday next year. The metaphor develops further and is clearly about nurturing young minds and growing fine, upstanding men for the future, but it seems that these are not the only things growing on the Wynberg campus of schools. Because with the release of their Oude Wijnberg Shiraz 2013 it has become (and I would be very interested to know if I’m wrong) probably the only school to actually grow grapes on school premises and turn them into its own wine. Quite apart from the fact that I have an interest in the school (my son is a Wynberg Junior boy at the moment), this alone was enough to intrigue me – I’ve seen wines labelled as school wine before, but never one actually grown and produced with the help of the children themselves.

The newly-released Oude Wijnberg 2013 is the result of a casual conversation back in 2009 between Andre Rousseau, previously winemaker at Constantia Uitsig and now making under his own label, and WBHS Headmaster, Keith Richardson. During a waterpolo match, the chat turned to how many winemakers are ex-Wynberg boys, and it occurred to Keith that making a Wynberg wine might be a good way to mark the 175th anniversary which was coming up in a few years’ time. An area of land commonly referred to as ‘The Cabbage Patch’ might be a suitable site for a vineyard and Andre was enthusiastic, his only stipulation being that the boys themselves must be involved. Buitenverwachting winemaker Brad Paton, himself a Wynberg Old Boy, was roped in to help and finally they, with an overwhelming number of the boys and their families, planted 900 Shiraz vines at the school in June 2010.

One of those boys, Michael Wilkinson, became one of the first members of the newly-formed Viticulture Club and recalls a day of heavy digging culminating with a row of vines named after him. At the time, he had thought of going into winemaking, something he later decided against, but he doesn’t regret his time spent amongst the school’s vines saying “I think it has given me a greater appreciation for the process and sophistication that surrounds winemaking.” He adds “I really do think it’s a great feature to have on the school grounds, as it adds to our school’s rich history as well as giving us a few more bragging rights - I mean, how many schools actually have a vineyard on their grounds?!” How many indeed?

The vineyards owes much to the passion and enthusiasm of Andre but, with the occasional intervention from staff at Constantia Uitsig, most of the management of the vineyard was undertaken by the boys themselves. And when the time came to harvest the first grapes, another winemaking Wynberg Old Boy, Stuart Botha, took over and, along with two combis full of boys, picked and processed the fruit at his workplace winery at Eagles’ Nest. Throughout the whole project, Andre, Stuart and the teachers were careful to make sure that whilst the boys took an active part in making the wine, they of course never actually tried it, allowing them to concentrate on the processes involved and gain greater understanding and respect for wine and alcohol in general.

Now the time has come for the first vintage to hit the shelves. The school has decided to release 175 double magnums (containing 3 litres of wine, each one bottled by hand by the boys themselves), each one in a presentation box with a WBHS flag wrapped around the bottle. They then made a further 990 bottles which they will be releasing onto the market over the coming months. Competition to purchase, particularly the big bottles, is expected to be fierce so if you are keen, you are advised to get in touch with the school as soon as possible. My tasting note on the wine was that it shows lovely black and red berried fruit and whilst it may not be a wine for the long-term, I would buy it anyway, just to feel I owned a piece of history.

And that is really what this is. Whether it actually is the only wine made from grapes grown on school grounds is possibly academic – it is the one grown here, in Wynberg, next to historic Constantia, the home of winemaking in South Africa. Agriculture and the wine industry are major parts of the economy of this province and whether you drink alcohol or not, there is something intrinsically right about any project which connects children back to the land and helps them understand how it should be farmed, conserved and harnessed for future sustainable growth. ‘Rise above adversities’ and ‘Never give up’ are two translations of the school’s motto ‘Supera Moras’ and it hasn’t always been easy to get this project to fruition. But thanks to Andre’s passion, Brad and Stuart’s input and Keith’s support, this unique wine is now available for the first time. I raise a glass to you WBHS and hope that by the time my son gets there, he’ll get to share in those vineyard-owning bragging rights too!

© Cape Times Friday 12th December 2014 How did you spend the last weekend in November? I was torn...

Cider made from real fruit

Cluver and Jack Cider© Cape Times Friday 12th December 2014

How did you spend the last weekend in November? I was torn – literally – torn this year between what are traditionally two of my favourite events – the Franschhoek MCC & Champagne Festival and the Cape Town Festival of Beer. Holding them on the same days was cruel indeed, forcing me to wonder where my loyalties lie, because I have to confess – I chose beer. Yes, even though my life revolves around wine, it was the amber nectar which saw me spending my day chilling out in Green Point surrounded by copious pints, some excellent empanadas from El Burro and a totally rocking band. And I wasn’t the only one – not only did I see several wine-folk of note milling around the tents, but there was also a growing number of breweries whose brewers are ex-winemakers. There, pouring on the day, were Roger Burton (ex-Tierhoek Wines, now Long Beach Brewery), JC Steyn (ex-Dornier Wines, now Devil’s Peak), Rob Armstrong (still Haut Espoir Wines but now also Ndlovu Brewery), Mark Goldsworthy (ex-Edgebaston, now Red Sky Brew), Chris Spurdon (ex-Rust en Vrede, now Apollo Beers) and there are countless other winemakers dabbling in beer on an amateur basis as well.

You’d be forgiven for wondering if there is something wrong with a winemaker’s lot, since so many of them decamp to other beverages and so it was quite refreshing to hear from two craft cider producers that all three winemakers involved will continue to ferment, rack, blend and bottle their wines as well as diversifying into other alcohol markets. William Everson is an old friend whose wines we used to sell over the years in our restaurant. He started making cider around four years ago and the business has rather overtaken the wine-side with 7 products available, all made from actual fruit as opposed to concentrate (which is the normal, commercial way of producing ‘cider’ in SA) and all tasting delicious. Try the new Gnarr Scrumpy which is handmade from organic apples and aged in chardonnay barrels before release, it’s priced around R140 a (large) bottle from specialist retailers.

If your appetite for real cider is whetted, then you need to try the new Cluver & Jack craft cider which was launched last week. It’s a collaboration between Paul Cluver of Paul Cluver Wines and Bruce Jack of Flagstone and The Drift Wines, it is also made from proper apples, something which is immediately apparent as soon as you open the bottle. Bruce Jack’s great grandfather was one of the first people to plant cider apple trees in SA but the new cider is made from familiar varieties such as Granny Smiths and Pink Lady. Bruce has made cider for many years in SA as well as Ireland but this new cider was made at the Paul Cluver winery. For the Cluvers, it’s a chance to add value to their apple growing facility as well as create jobs and it’s hoped that other different types of cider will follow this initial release.

In a week when craft beer sales reportedly outsell Budweiser in the States and with the global market for cider increasing year on year, it certainly makes sense for winemakers to diversify into new drinks. But as if to reassure us that he wasn’t entirely leaving his roots behind, lunch at the launch (prepared by Bertus Basson from Overture) was accompanied with Bruce’s new Pinot Noir from The Drift. There Are Still Mysteries Pinot Noir 2012 is a smoky, complex, heady mouthful of perfume and spice with delicate oak and an endless finish. Not cheap at R850 a bottle but worth a splash-out this festive season for sure.