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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 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.

To all Johannesburg Wine Clubs In welcoming the Wine Societies to the 27th Juliet Cullinan Standard Bank Wine Festival...

Exclusive offer for Johannesburg Wine Club Members

To all Johannesburg Wine Clubs

In welcoming the Wine Societies to the 27th Juliet Cullinan Standard Bank Wine Festival we outline your benefits exclusively for wine club members below:

The special offer for the Club members

  • Discounted rate of R165 to your members.  Public pay R200 online and R220 at the door.
  • Bookings should be co-ordinated by the wine clubs and the number of tickets you require with the names sent to events@julietcullinan.co.za by 8 May.
  • The tickets will be available at our Webtickets Festival reception under the Wine Club name.

Extended opening times

Earlier opening times exclusively for wine club members.  16h00 - 21h00 

Tutored classes
The first offer on the tutored free class, before we announce it to the public.

Join the Institute of Cape Wine Master’s for tutored tastings to highlight the diversity and quality of wines giving you a glimpse into flavours, terroir and cellaring.

16th May 2017
18:30 - 19.00   The resurgence of Chenin Blanc
19:30 - 20h00  Shiraz or Syrah?

17th May 2017
18:30 - 19.00   Cape White Blends.
19:30 - 20h00  Red Blends, Classic vs Modern

For Bookings contact: Derek Ramsden on derek@onewinecellar.co.za

Food on offer:
The Oyster Lady will display her fresh West Coast oysters paired with elegant MCC's.
Gonedsa Award winning Gouda cheeses from cows in the Doornkraal, Cullinan District, made according to a traditional Dutch recipe.
Pierre Jourdan Ice Wine Popsicles 
Pierre Jourdan Cap Classique Brut;  and Pierre Jourdan Tranquille Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blend.

Jem Caterers
Please order your dishes from lorna@jemcatering.co.za

  • beef stir fry with peanut sauce corn, broccoli served on egg noodles R85
  • mix vegetable stir fry with homemade teriyaki sauce and egg noodles R65
  • sweet chili marinated chicken served with egg fried rice R75
  • grilled fillet of beef served on butter roasted potatoes with mature cheddar sauce R110
  • charcuterie plate (Selection of cheese, cold meat and fruits with biscuits) R75

Thank you for bringing your knowledge and experience to the show.  Winemakers engaging with you and you inspire many new wine lovers.
We look forward to enjoying the wines with you.

Best wishes in wine

Juliet

***************************

The latest press release below:

May, autumn harvest of mist, mellow fruitfulness, and the feuillemorte, is also the month of the much-anticipated annual Juliet Cullinan Standard Bank Wine Festival at Summer Place on the 16th and 17th.

South Africa‘s longest running, most elite wine show has enjoyed Standard Bank sponsorship for the past 17 years. Together we have transformed a novel concept ­­ ‒ bringing top talent to the attention of connoisseurs ‒ into a desired annual event.

The key to our success is fourfold ‒ a small vitrine of the finest wines, a limited number of boutique wineries, an intimate showcase of the leading labels, and winemakers discussing with guests the best time to drink their old vintages, among other pressing viticultural questions.

The emphasis is on terroir, fruit-driven wines, world winemaking techniques, and upcoming winemakers. Distinguished guests come to taste ‒  and buy ­‒  bespoke internationally-acclaimed wines at discounted show prices.

New wineries this year are Holden Manz, Kings Kloof, Epicurean, Lovane, and Pasarene. Rascallion, Broad Valley. Also debuting are Môreson, Mont Blois, Uva Mira, Benguela Cove, Paul Wallace, Perdeberg, Doolhof, Benguela Cove, Overhex, Mont Blois and so guests are in for a treat!

You will discover nuances in the MCC - Méthode Cap Classique bubblies from Haute Cabrière, Simonsig or Charles Fox,

Traditional values continue to bolster the festival with Bouchard Finlayson, Bosman Family Vineyards, Creation, Dewetshof, Avondale, KWV, Ormonde, Raka, Thelema, Vrede en Lust, Avondale, Constantia Glen, Charles Fox, De Grendel, Doolhof, Drift Farm, Idiom, Mont du Toit, Journeys End, Alto, Stellenzicht, and Neethlingshof, La Motte, Hillcrest, Zevenwacht, and Vondeling, still party stalwarts.

Guests will have the enjoyment of unveiling the fruits of the vine and nuances of fruit and flavour in the wines by an array of attractively priced gastronomic options for the hungry from Jem Caterers, The Oyster Lady and Cullinan cheeses.

Speaking of tradition, I could not have done this without Standard Bank’s generous sponsorship for the past 17 years, so thank you, as always.

As we handpick our exhibiting wineries, the festival is today more about style preferences than quality as every label shows distinction.

Cheers! See you there ...

Juliet 

 

 

 

© Cape Times Friday 18th November 2016 As I write this in the wake of the American elections, I can...

Exploring Cape Blends

© Cape Times Friday 18th November 2016

As I write this in the wake of the American elections, I can think of no more fitting wine style to talk about than a Cape Blend. The world is still processing the implications of a Trump and Republican victory which has divided the US and polarised the rest of us. So it is with something of relief that I turn to wine, the beverage which unites and cheers, to Cape Blends which truly reflect the melting pot of society which is South Africa and to white Cape Blends in particular which are, like many other African ideas, leading the world in innovation, excitement and potential for the future.

So what is a white Cape Blend I hear you ask? We’ve all kind of got used to the idea of a red Cape Blend which involves a generous helping of our local grape, Pinotage, but the backbone of a white Cape Blend isn’t an indigenous African grape (I tried a new one from Stellenbosch Vineyards the other day called Therona – unusual and not bad at all so go and try it!), instead it’s Chenin Blanc. At the moment, there is no legislation as to what constitutes a Cape Blend of either colour but a goodly dollop of Chenin Blanc seems to be the way to go when it comes to these exciting white wines. Add in Chardonnay, Viognier, Semillon, Roussanne, Marsanne and more and you have something very special indeed.

I think by now most people have got over the idea that a blend is a way to hide inferior wines or unpopular grape varieties and are fairly cognisant of the fact that most top wines of the world are combinations of different grape varieties – as I say to my wine courses, the essence of a good blend is that 1 + 1 = 3 so the result is greater than the sum of its parts. And what makes white Cape Blends so exciting is that South Africa is able to combine grape varieties which no-one else can. Unhampered by restrictive European appellation laws, we can blend the grape varieties of the Loire Valley, the Rhône, Burgundy, Bordeaux and more into truly individual wines which are given even more distinction by containing our heritage grape of Chenin Blanc. Often using old, dry-farmed vines, giving incredibly low yields of ultra-concentrated and utterly-delicious fruit, a white Cape Blend is a celebration of the very best South Africa can make.

Well I think so anyway and I am pleased to see that I am not alone. Winemag.co.za is the only specialised South African wine magazine and editor Christian Eedes has been running a series of report-style competitions for the past few years. Generally focussing on single grape varieties – as do most competitions in SA – the reports now include a red blend one, a white Bordeaux blend one and finally, what I think will become the flagship category, the Cape White Blend report which was announced earlier this week. This is the first year of the competition and I would dearly love to see this grow and overtake all the others – by the way, they are looking for a sponsor for the next one so if your company wants to be associated with all that is innovative, exciting and proudly South African, you should drop Christian a line.

In the meantime, try the winning wines. The Lammershoek Terravinum Reserve White 2015 was overall winner with an excellent 95 points, closely followed by two personal favourites, the DeMorgenzon Maestro White 2014 and the Muratie Laurens Campher Blended White 2015, both on 94. Other favourites in the top winners include Thorne and Daughters Rocking Horse 2015, The Fledge & Co. Vagabond 2015 and Springfontein Limestone Rocks Dark Side of The Moon 2014, but overall, the standard of wines was incredibly high and there was nothing I wouldn’t have happily drunk a bottle (or more) of on any given occasion. As this is my last column for the Cape Times, I don’t think I could end up on a much higher note if I tried.

© 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!

After much debate on the best way to spend our last morning in Ningxia - to hedge bets &...

China Winelands – Day 3 – Silver Heights by Leigh-Ann Luckett

After much debate on the best way to spend our last morning in Ningxia - to hedge bets & stay near the city, visiting Silver Height's original facility before our flight or get an early start & venture an hour toward the mountains to their new location built in 2014. We chose the latter & were well rewarded for our sense of adventure. From very little on the way to the next village to the sudden bustle around the local tourist attraction, a film studio used for many period movies; and back to almost nothing; right at the wooden watch tower & we were there. There being a large, low, red warehouse-like building, 8 times the size of the facility in the city.

We were met by a bubbly American, Alexa, who heads up marketing & communications. An interesting contrast to our previous experiences, with fast flowing English and outsider insights into the industry. Winemaker, Emma, shared extremely insightful anecdotes around the industry - both past & present. From government controls over varietals imported (explaining the high concentration of Bordeaux varietals), to terroir, pricing to recover costs of setting up wineries by the current generation & the Gold Rush for land in Ningxia.

Silver Heights began as a bit of a premonition on the part of winemaker, Emma's, father. He planted some of the first vines in the area, with the belief that there was potential for successful winemaking, and promptly shipped Emma off to Bordeaux to study winemaking in 1999 where she met husband, Thierry, who returned to China with her. Husband & wife team are now responsible for the increasingly well-reputed wines thanks to Emma's previous employer, a wine distributor, who told her to bugger off & make wine full time after tasting some of what she was making in her spare time.

And it's easy to see why.

From a floral yet fresh Chardonnay (the first vintage released), to beautifully structured & layered reds - The Summit (Cab Sauv, Shiraz, Merlot blend) being described by dear Jancis Robinson as "just the wine to confound prejudices".

And, overall, the wine we experienced in China did just that. Gan bei, Ningxia!

More images on Google Photos

As the day drew to a close, we had one final stop ahead - the first our driver was...

China Winelands – Day 2 Zhihue Yuanshi by Leigh-Ann Luckett

As the day drew to a close, we had one final stop ahead - the first our driver was actually certain of the location of.

Also, certainly the most beautiful we had visited to date. The chateau, the largest in the region, is a tribute to the owner's (who never drinks a drop of wine) love for rock & stone, showcased in a multitude of forms. From the buildings themselves, to intricate carvings & artworks tastefully dotted throughout; and soon to include a rock museum as well. Construction on the chateau began in 2008, to be completed in 2014. This seems an awfully long time on paper, but a walk through the winery & surrounds quickly reveals the extreme attention to detail, accounting for the time spent. From stone & rock collected throughout China, to ceilings lined with interwoven twigs to buffer sound & boundary walls constructed from rounded  tiles to allow birds to nest.

Accompanied by winemaker, Sujie, we toured the production facility, comprising only machinery imported from Italy; the extensive cellar & private cellaring for clients who purchase whole barrels & bottle with their own labels; through a number of tasteful displays to the tasting room where the ceiling is crafted from the skeleton of the hull of an old ship, with the tables & chairs crafted from the same wood.

Here, we tasted through a lovely, bronze Decanter winning unoaked  Chardonnay, of which very little was bottled due to limited demand for white wine in the local market (the rest of the harvest was used for brandy production); a 2013 Cab Sauv with a spot of 2014 added to perk it up; the estate's flagship red blend, Soul Mountain (Cab Sauv, Cab Franc & Merlot); and a very interesting private project of Sujie's - an unfiltered & unfined Cab Sauv 2014 of which only 800 bottles were produced. While we were delighted at the honour & impressed by each wine in turn, Sujie remained critical of her work.

We felt this was a fantastic end to a fascinating & highly rewarding day. We looked forward to day 3.

 

More images on Google Photos

© 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.

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China. Named after a poem...

China Winelands – Day 2 – Joyful Jing & Jia Bei Lan by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China.

Named after a poem about 1 of the 8 revered landscapes of the Ming Dynasty (no, I'm not clear on the details of what that means), Helan Qingxue claims the best view of this landscape at the foot of the Helan Mountains.

Established in 2005 by a viticulturist, winemaker & business manager, the winery was the first in China to win an international accolade in 2011 in the form of a Decanter International Trophy. The wines, called Jia Bei Lan or "Little Feet" in honour of the birth of dynamic winemaker, Jing's daughter, have continued to grow from strength to strength since, with growing export opportunities & a stream of praise from international wine lovers. All of this we learned from the obligatory corporate video with a few tidbits from Jing herself.

Our host was happy to meet South Africans after playing host to a South African winemaker in 2012 during the inaugural Ningxia International Wine Challenge - a competition created & funded by the local government with a little help from the participating wineries; which allows a selection of winemakers from across the globe to produce a vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon over 2 years with a cash prize awarded to the wine judged as best. There are 3 South African participants in the current challenge.

We toured the, again, immaculate cellar, tasting the new vintage of entry-level Cab on its way to bottle as we made our way around; passing locally made bee-hive shaped tanks (which Jing was the first to use due the shape being ideal for red pump overs & press downs due to the shape) & barrels signed by the many notable international visitors while discussing the enthusiasm of Chinese wine-lovers to gain their WSET Level 4 qualifications, with over 20 Level 4 graduates to date.

This led us to the Cellardoor which is set to launch in the next year including a simple food offering. Lined up to taste, we had an unwooded Chardonnay in a Riesling bottle (tinned peas & lime on the nose with apricots & citrus on the palate); a Cab Franc Rosé (slightly sweet despite its savoury nose); a Cab Merlot blend (Moroccan spice & grippy tannins); & a Reserve Cab (eucalyptus & light violets). Again - all Bordeaux varietals. From Jing's perspective, these are the best varietals for the area which requires grapes with a short growing period to allow sufficient time for the vines to rest after harvest,  before being buried for winter (an activity which accounts for 30% of the production cost of the wine). Thoroughly enamoured with the wines, the winery & the winemaker, it was unfortunately time for us to bid farewell. No time for us to rest; our next stop beckoned.

 

More photos here - Google Photos

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China. Legacy Peak, our next...

China Winelands – Lovely Legacy Peak by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China.

Legacy Peak, our next stop, could not be more of a contrast to Changyu. Simple & understated, the only show of pomp being a row of empty wine bottles from around the world which the director prized (including a Vilafonte Series C 2008) & a small plate of Iberian ham on the table laid out for our tasting. There was even shock at the idea of not being allowed to taste when we enquiries whether there would, indeed, be wine on the cards.

The first winery in the area to export their wines, Legacy Peak is also the oldest vineyard in the Ningxia province with vines planted in 1996, set amongst the 1000 year old Xixia King Tombs. This certainly adds to the scenery but puts the vines & expansion plans at risk should the government go ahead with plans to reclaim the land the farm occupies. Not that there isn't enough risk as is with the icy cold winters - every year approximately 20 - 30% of vines up to 6 years of age don't survive despite being bent over & buried up to the first trellis line. Sometimes all that survives are the cement posts - preferred to wood as they're cheaper, easily available & last longer than the traditional wooden posts. The 450 mu (approximately 3,75 ha) of organic vines sit at 1246m above sea level & consist mainly of - you guessed it - Bordeaux varietals Chardonnay, Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon with a spot of a French hybrid grape, Marselan (a hybrid of Cab Sauv & Grenache). There's also a sense here that China is still finding its feet with which varietals are best suited to the land and what the defining characteristic of Chinese wine will be.

We dutifully set about exploring this. The Chardonnay beautifully floral on the nose with fresh litchi & elegant citrus on the palate; the rosé a little sweet (thanks, market) tinged with geraniums; the Cabernets - Estate & flagship, Kalavinka, both bold with slightly spicy red fruits & to be afraid of ageing.

We further explored the wines with many toasts, over a generous lunch of local lamb with the team. We were back in luck, twice over.

© 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.

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China. Bellies full of noodles,...

China Winelands – The Chateau of Changyu by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China.

Bellies full of noodles, we were ready for an 08:00 start at Changyu's Chateau Moser XIII. The Chateau was named in honour of Mr Moser XIII, the pioneer of trellising, and grandson Lenz Moser XV currently stands as chief winemaker. Moser is one of 6  chateaux in China, 2 in France & 1 each in Italy, Spain & New Zealand. And they're not kidding about the chateau part. Changyu's founder, who brought wine vines to China in 1892, went on to win a gold medal at the international exhibition held in San Francisco in 1915 at the opening of the Panama Canal. The flair for showmanship has lived on. Moser boasts an in house theatre; museum; an interactive wine education centre where you can test your smell recognition, learn about taste receptors & pair varietals with foods; and of course an imitation ship to celebrate that gold medal. You can custom label your own wine bottle, take wedding photos, grab a bite at the restaurant & stroll through the gardens while the endless staff of lovely young ladies in old fashioned green dresses with lace cuffs & collars flutter around. But you cannot taste more than 1 wine - an average medium-tier red blend. Not without a conversation with the director. We feared we were truly out of luck on our Chinese wine adventure.

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China. Arriving in Yinchuan, Ningxia...

China Winelands – A Day in the Winelands of China by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China.

Arriving in Yinchuan, Ningxia with a plan to visit wineries (which we had a loose idea of the location of) but no confirmed way of actually getting to them without paying the rather ridiculous amount quoted for a driver turned out to be no problem. A helpful tour guide, with a passable grip on English, at the train station offered to drive us to our hotel & was easily convinced to spend the next 3 days ferrying us around; starting with a local spot for a breakfast of hand-pulled noodles.

Next stop - Pernod Ricard's Helan Mountain. Kitted in our luminous orange safety vests, we toured the immaculately clean & well ordered production facility which is undergoing extensive expansion to include a visitor centre. One of the older wineries in Ningxia, the majority of the vines, which are spread across 3 sites in the area, were planted in 1997 with a strong focus on Cabernet Sauvignon accompanied by small pockets of Chardonnay & Merlot - typical Bordeaux varietals which seemed a little counter intuitive given the hot, dry conditions. Winemaker, Linda has been with the farm for 16 years with frequent exchanges to New Zealand & Australia. While Cab is the driving force at the winery based on consumer demand, she believes there is scope for experimentation - an idea strongly agreed with by Kiwi viticulturist, Mike Insley, whom we met with the next evening. Where Linda is most concerned with the balancing act of harvesting late enough to ensure phenolic ripeness (mostly the bit that makes your wine smell like lovely things) before the vines have to be buried for the winter (yup - we learned that's a thing in the area; more about that later), Mike is facing the challenge of a serious shortage of labour in the coming years thanks to repercussions of the one child policy & urbanisation. Never a dull moment, it seems.

But back to important matters - there was wine to be tasted. In the form of 3 barrel samples of the Helan Mountain Reserve range Chardonnay, Merlot & Cab. We were more than pleasantly surprised. The wines all had more time to spend in barrel before official bottling & release but each one was showing great potential. From the floral prettiness of the Chard to the already gentle profile of the Cab, we certainly were off to a great start in China!

Unfortunately, our luck seemed to have maxed out for the day. Our next stop would not deliver as we'd hoped. While extremely impressive, with architecture reflecting the vineyards in winter when they are little more than undulating ground with trellising posts poking out; not being able to taste any of the wines despite purchasing left much to be desired from our Chandon China experience.

Perhaps our luck would return tomorrow, we hoped over a late lunch of noodles.

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine…. next stop, China. The fact...

The China Planning Challenge by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine…. next stop, China.

The fact that wine is produced in China seemed a bit of a shock to most people outside of China. And, seemingly, most people we encountered in China, even those in one of the most concentrated wine producing regions. At time, based on the hassle to arrange visits to the wineries, I was almost convinced it came as a shock to the wineries themselves.

Don't let that put you off though - I will say that the wine was worth the hassle in the end. Most of it, at least.

As I've subtly hinted, planning a trip is not quite as simple as doing a quick Google search. China is massively vast. Ridiculously so. Meaning wine regions are also ridiculously far apart. Where to start? We grabbed the Asian Wine Review & plotted which area had the highest concentration of  award-winning wineries (will AWR become the Platter Guide of Asia?). This extremely scientific approach led us to the city of Yinchuan in the Ningxia province - a finger of desert sticking into Inner Mongolia alongside the Helan Mountain range. That part was easy. Finding contact details & planning an itinerary, however, was not. A 3-day itinerary eventually came to light through multiple emails; cold-calling wine writers; WeChats to winemakers, professors, tour guides; & endless map guesswork.

At last, with a few days to spare & no means of getting to & between the wineries, we were set to board the train & taste some wine - or so we thought...

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine.... next stop, Vietnam. With our...

Vino in Vietnam by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine.... next stop, Vietnam.

With our wine consumption mainly limited to 6 winery visits over 2 months, with a few bottles which had made their way from South Africa in between (notably a bottle of Luddite Shiraz 2009 consumed at an altitude of 3900m in Nepal); Vietnam was a veritable playground of wine. Actually, more of an overpriced theme park due mainly to tax & transport costs - but there was decent wine & we were very happy to spend a little more than the quality deserved for the pleasure.

While not actually producing any wine that we could track down, the wine drinking culture was much stronger than we had encountered thus far. With a bit of searching, it was possible to find wine shops, wine bars & restaurants with actual wine lists. Some were, of course, a little off the mark & most quite limited in the options by the glass, which is not uncommon in most countries.

Our most valuable finds in both Hanoi & Ho Chi Min were boutique wine stores  with fairly wide Bordeaux & Chilean wine selections with the odd bottle of South African here & there.  Staff here were enthusiastic & happy for you to have a seat & drink the wine you purchased, saving restaurant mark ups & corkage fees. They also often had interesting tastings going on in the evenings. Chilean wine being a familiar sight to most wine drinkers here due to it  apparently being the first country to target Vietnam  in terms of wine once trading opened up & Bordeaux because, well, Bordeaux.

With a burgeoning restaurant & bar scene combined with enthusiastic & aspirational wine lovers, there certainly are pockets of great excitement around wine with plenty of scope to grow - pity, though, about the prices.

Kind regards

Leigh-Ann Luckett

More photos can be found here at Google Photos

Leigh-Ann's blog can be found here Finding Wining

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine! An excellent plan, this time...

My Oh My – Myanmar Makes Wine by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine! An excellent plan, this time reporting from Myanmar.

China Winelands - Day 1

Arriving in Yinchuan, Ningxia with a plan to visit wineries (which we had a loose idea of the location of) but no confirmed way of actually getting to them without paying the rather ridiculous amount quoted for a driver turned out to be no problem. A helpful tour guide, with a passable grip on English, at the train station offered to drive us to our hotel & was easily convinced to spend the next 3 days ferrying us around; starting with a local spot for a breakfast of hand-pulled noodles.

Next stop - Pernod Ricard's Helan Mountain. Kitted in our luminous orange safety vests, we toured the immaculately clean & well ordered production facility which is undergoing extensive expansion to include a visitor centre. One of the older wineries in Ningxia, the majority of the vines, which are spread across 3 sites in the area, were planted in 1997 with a strong focus on Cabernet Sauvignon accompanied by small pockets of Chardonnay & Merlot - typical Bordeaux varietals which seemed a little counter intuitive given the hot, dry conditions. Winemaker, Linda has been with the farm for 16 years with frequent exchanges to New Zealand & Australia. While Cab is the driving force at the winery based on consumer demand, she believes there is scope for experimentation - an idea strongly agreed with by Kiwi viticulturist, Mike Insley, whom we met with the next evening. Where Linda is most concerned with the balancing act of harvesting late enough to ensure phenolic ripeness (mostly the bit that makes your wine smell like lovely things) before the vines have to be buried for the winter (yup - we learned that's a thing in the area; more about that later), Mike is facing the challenge of a serious shortage of labour in the coming years thanks to repercussions of the one child policy & urbanisation. Never a dull moment, it seems.

But back to important matters - there was wine to be tasted. In the form of 3 barrel samples of the Helan Mountain Reserve range Chardonnay, Merlot & Cab. We were more than pleasantly surprised. The wines all had more time to spend in barrel but each one was showing great potential. From the floral prettiness of the Chard to the already gentle profile of the Cab, we certainly were off to a great start in China.

Unfortunately, our luck seemed to have maxed out for the day. Our next stop would not deliver as we'd hoped. While extremely impressive, with architecture reflecting the vineyards in winter when they are little more than undulating ground with trellising posts poking out; not being able to taste any of the wines despite purchasing left much to be desired from our Chandon China experience.

Perhaps our luck would return tomorrow, we hoped over a late lunch of noodles.

Kind regards

Leigh-Ann Luckett

More images can be found here Google Photos

Leigh-Ann's blog can be found here Finding Wining

© Cape Times Friday 22nd July 2016 Okay, come on – ‘fess up. When was the last time you drank...

Making a case for versatile Chenin

© Cape Times Friday 22nd July 2016

Okay, come on – ‘fess up. When was the last time you drank a Chenin Blanc?? Chances are that you’re either going to say “last night” (you hipster trendsetter you) or, more likely, “fifteen years ago at ‘varsity when I couldn’t afford anything else”.  Despite so many people’s best efforts, it seems our best asset is still lagging behind the bucketloads of yawn-making Sauvignon Blanc when it comes to choosing our daily tipple. Should we just give up and resign ourselves to a lifetime of teeth-searing acidic Sauvvies? Hell no. Should I join the ranks of those putting the case for Chenin and explaining why we should drink more of it? Hell yeah, why not?

“You see, the problem with Chenin Blanc is its diversity” as all we wine experts will agree, nodding sagely into our beards - which is the biggest load of rubbish to start with, and yes, I am as guilty of saying this as the next person. Sure, Chenin is a versatile grape, capable of making lots of different styles of wines to suits lots of different tastes - but since when has the ability to offer customers exactly what they want been a problem?? Henry Ford made his millions offering his new car in only one shade of paint (“The customer can have any colour he likes, as long as its black”) – imagine what he could have done if he’d had a rainbow palette to choose from?

Because that is what Chenin is – a rainbow palette of flavour for the palates of this Rainbow Nation and beyond. At the recent Chenin Showcase, a regular event which brings the diversity of the grape to the attention of lucky journalists and retailers, I tasted a fabulous range of different wines and I promise you – there really is something to suit everyone here. If you can’t bear to abandon your Sauvignon Blancs – there are Chenins which taste almost identical in terms of lip-smacking freshness and vibrancy (try Stellenrust Chenin Blanc 2016 R50). If you like a wooded Chardonnay – there are Chenins which taste very similar with oodles of yellow stone fruit balanced by creamy, spicy oak (give the delicious De Morgenzon 2015 a whirl for R225 or the more affordable Delheim 2014 for R110).

If you like sparkling wines, then there are Chenins which do that too (Ken Forrester’s engagingly-named Sparklehorse for R200) and if you prefer off-dry or semi-sweet, there are plenty of Chenin options, balancing sweetness with lively fresh acidity to make a more complete wine. If you like it sweet and sticky, luscious or unctuous, there are noble late harvest Chenins of real richness, depth and complexity, coating your mouth with haunting flavours, tantalising your tastebuds with a cat’s tail whisk of acidity and freshness. And finally, Chenin is the King of Blending and my find of the day at the Chenin Showcase was the Riebeek Cellars Short Street CGV 2014. At a ridiculously-cheap R50 a bottle, this should be everyone’s fridge stalwart this summer.

So I don’t think there’s anything lacking in terms of the actual Chenin wines themselves. In fact, I think the problem lies not with the grape, but with us instead. We don’t drink more Chenin because we’re lazy and it’s easier to stick to our same-old, same-old wines with all their faults rather than find something new which may possibly suit us better.  We allow ourselves to be confused by diversity and have our confidence dinted by differences in style, price, packaging and labelling terms, when in fact we should start every glass with the belief that it’s going to be amazing and simply take it from there. When it comes to Chenin Blanc, that’s almost certainly going to be a worthwhile journey to make.

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, has decided to take some time out and travel the world in search of wine!...

India – where there’s a will, there’s wine by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, has decided to take some time out and travel the world in search of wine! Excellent plan so we start with a few of her experiences in India.

Better known for curry than Cabernet, India is certainly making moves to catch up with the Western wine world. Currently home to 77 wineries producing just over 17 million litres of wine per year with consumption growing at a rate of 30% year on year, wine is becoming all the more popular.

Being wine-loving South Africans, we decided a trip to the winelands had to be a part of our India trip. A few hours by car takes you from the madness of Mumbai to the "heart" of the winelands, Nasik, where around 80% of the country's wine is produced.

Following a few recommendations & being guided by time constraints thanks to religious dry days cutting our tasting time short, we visited 4 wineries in the area - 2 of the 3 biggest producers in the country, 1 of medium size & reputation & 1  new small boutique estate.

The country's only sloping vineyard can be found at Grover Zampa while the only Riesling in the country is available at Sula. York sounds particularly western but the name is made up of the initials of the Indian owner's children & Vallonne uses only locally made tanks to produce their small selection of fine wines.

From sugary Chenin Blanc driven by consumer demand to create the "sour sweet water" they expect, to experiments with barrel fermented whites; from Brut Tropical to small volumes catering to the niche of curious young wine appreciators; there's huge contrast between the wines & the philosophies of the wineries in the area. The brave young winemakers face many challenges in the vineyards & in the marketplace. Competing against hugely successful commercial brands means adjusting quality of wines; ensuring quality in the vineyard means close vineyard management including dropping 1 of the 2 crops grapes produced by the vines per year; & lack of cooling during transport & storage along the supply chain means risk of wines spooling before they've even reached the consumer. Fortunately, little things like alcohol content can be adjusted with a little extra "encouragement" to the authorities approving the labels.

At the end of the day, the wines are interesting with a huge scope in terms of quality. There are the quaffable crowd pleasers, there are some I'd prefer not to drink again & some I would happily take home & line up against some of my favourites from South Africa. If this is what how far the industry has come in the last 32 years (that's even younger than our controversial young grape, Pinotage), there's definite scope for some exciting things from the vineyards lying far beyond the traditional latitudes for producing wine, especially given the inherent optimism & resourcefulness of the Indian nation.

Kind regards

Leigh-Ann Luckett

More images can be found here Google Photos

Leigh-Ann's blog can be found here Finding Wining