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As we look back on the past year, we have so much to celebrate. From another group of amazing...

2018: A Year In Review

As we look back on the past year, we have so much to celebrate. From another group of amazing Pinotage Youth Development Academy graduates to two of our lecturers attending the Wine and Spirits Education Trust Educators course. In no particular order, here are six of our favourite moments from 2018.

Cathy Passes Her Masters Of Wine Year 1:

In June this year, Cathy Marston, head of The Wine Centre passed the first year of her Masters of Wine course. This prestigious and rigorous course is well know for its intensity and difficulty. People become Masters of Wine by passing the stage 1 assessment (S1A) and the three parts of the Master of Wine examination (theory and practical examination and the research paper). Candidates need to achieve a pass in both the theory and practical papers within five attempts over six years. Read more about the course here.


WineLand Magazine Article:

The below fantastic article was written by Tshepang Molisana, a WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 graduate and writer, about the day in the life of a wine educator featuring Cathy Marston for September's WineLand Magazine.


International Wine Challenge Sponsorships:

Eric and Victor from Eziko Cooking School in Langa with Chris and Alex of the International Wine Challenge over from the UK in January giving the thumbs-up for another successful year of IWC sponsorship of WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) training for their students.


Continued Involvement With Pinotage Youth Development Academy (PYDA):

This year we continued our involvement with the Pinotage Youth Development Academy and saw several WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 graduates and the first WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Level 3 graduate, Shannon Fortuin pictured below right with her cousin Flordeliza Fortuin (also a Level 2 graduate).


Cathy Tours Jerez And Becomes A Certified Sherry Educator:

In October, Cathy Marston, head of The Wine Centre, travelled, tasted and learned about Sherry as part of her Masters of Wine training at the Consejo Regulador's Certified Sherry Educators course in Jerez, Spain (Vinos de Jerez Sherry Wines).


The Wine Centre Lecturers Attend The WSET Educators Course In London:

Debi van Flymen and Elizma Myburgh Venter attended the WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Educators course in London in December. We’re so lucky to have such knowledgeable and talented women on our team and can’t wait to see what they get up to with their new qualification.


Catching Up With WSET Lecturers During Cape Wine:

In September Cathy caught up with some WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) lecturers after Cape Wine.

© Cape Times Friday 8thrd October 2010 Everybody loves Sauvignon Blanc. It is the summer tipple, mainly because people...

Sauvignon Savvy

© Cape Times Friday 8thrd October 2010
Everybody loves Sauvignon Blanc. It is the summer tipple, mainly because people can always rely on it to be consistent – fresh, crisp, dry and unwooded . Unlike Chenin Blanc or Chardonnay which can vary hugely in style including (oh shock, horror!) being influenced by oak, Sauvignon is a safe choice the world over for many white wine-drinkers. And as such, I predict a stellar future for a new one launched at The Round House restaurant last week.

Thys Louw, one of the owners and the winemaker at Diemersdal, already makes five different Sauvignon Blancs, all with very different profiles – so why does he need to make another one? Simply an opportunity too good to be missed. Surfing around the internet late one night, he came across a website URL for sale – www.sauvignonblanc.com. Unable to believe that no-one had snapped that up, he immediately did so, at the same time also acquiring www.sauvignon.com. And then he had to decide what to do with them.

His answer was to launch a ‘global wine’. ‘Sauvignon.com’ can be made in any country around the world, using the same packaging, linking into the same website and providing a consistent, reliable expression of everyone’s favourite white wine – so there are plans for an Australian version, a Chilean version, a South of France version etc etc. His maiden South African wine, as launched last week, is a lovely cool-climate example with fresh zingy fruit, balanced acidity and a lip-smacking finish. Retailing at a modest R35 from supermarkets as of November 1st, it’s a great summer quaffer and well worth the money.

To be frank, it is quite some time since I said ‘well worth the money’ for far too many Sauvignon Blancs. With popularity comes greed, and I am getting tired of Sauvignons costing R70+ where little has been done except picking it, sticking it in a stainless steel tank and then putting it into a bottle - if you want to charge those kind of prices, then I think that you need to try a bit harder. You’re allowed to add 15% of another grape variety and still label the wine as Sauvignon, so how about oomphing up the mid-palate with a bit of Semillon, enhancing the aromatics with a touch of Viognier, adding another dimension by putting some of the wine in oak? Something – anything! - to justify charging twice as much as the entry-level versions.

Take, for example, the soon-to-be-released Buitenverwachting Intensity 2009 (probable price R100-ish). Winemaker Brad Paton has not only added 15% of 2010 Semillon to the Sauvignon Blanc, but he has also put the whole wine into oak barrels, using older oak so that the flavours are subtle and complex. The wine has a fabulous ‘furry green peapod’ nose with restrained acidity and creamy citrus fruit. Scheduled for release at the end of the year, I think it will be a perfect Christmas Day treat with seafood.

Or how about the Nitida Coronata Integration 2009 (R115 from the cellar), a blend of 56% Sauvignon Blanc and 44% Semillon? Bernhard Veller blends the wines as soon as possible and then leaves it in barrels for 6 months to allow the flavours to meld and mature. It’s rich yet lively, distinctively Sauvignon, but with a rounded mouthfeel which makes it an excellent food partner.

I don’t suppose that anything I write will make the slightest difference to the popularity of Sauvignon Blanc, and I am also certain that you will still catch me (and plenty of others) with a large glass of it at many a braai this summer. But with rumours of Sauvignon sales on the decrease in Europe and the UK, great value wines like Sauvignon.com entering the market and the words ‘double dip recession’ still looming on the horizon, if you want my share of Sauvignon-spend this summer, you’d better make darned sure you deserve it!

Cathy is wine editor of www.Food24.com. For more information visit www.cathymarston.co.za or follow her on Twitter @CathyMarston.

© Cape Times Friday 27th August 2010 For many winelovers, Cab is king. But after an incredible tasting last...

Is Franc the Future for Cape Wine?

© Cape Times Friday 27th August 2010

For many winelovers, Cab is king. But after an incredible tasting last week, I think that the real question we should all be asking is – which Cab are we talking about? Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most well-travelled grapes in the world, happily putting down roots in both Northern and Southern hemispheres, making wines in practically every winemaking country there is, oomphing up Chiantis and spicing up Cape Blends. But behind every great grape, there is an even greater one and in this case, it’s a variety called Cabernet Franc. And that was the focus of our tasting at the Cru Café in the Cape Quarter last week.

DNA tests have now proved that Cabernet Sauvignon is actually the love child of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Both Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon have enjoyed massive success over the years (if you want to try a few, then head for the Wine Concepts Seductive Sauvignon Festival tonight at the Vineyard Hotel. Call 021 671 9030 for tickets) but Cabernet Franc has rather languished in the shallows of obscurity. It is used in Bordeaux and makes all the red wines in the Loire Valley, but hasn’t really achieved the success of its more famous child.

Last week’s tasting set out to prove that all Cab Franc needed was a new country in which to showcase its talents, and various top wine Twitterers and twittering winemakers convened to discuss the topic. We were joined online by internationally-acclaimed wine guru, Jancis Robinson, along with another celebrated UK journalist, Tim Atkin, both adding their 10c to the discussion. Leading the tasting and towering over us all, both literally and vinously, was Bruwer Raats of Raats Family Wines, widely considered one of the finest Cabernet Franc winemakers in the world.

The tasting covered Bruwer’s wines and another Cape Cab Franc legend from Warwick Estate, and included newer entries to the market such as Haut Espoir’s fascinating versions made from high-altitude vineyards in Franschhoek (these were barrel samples and will only be released in a few years time – get yourself on the list now!). The Signal Hill Cab Franc from new vineyards in Kalk Bay – only 86m away from the sea – was particularly interesting. Owner/winemaker Jean-Vincent Ridon explained that there was so much salt on the grapes, he originally thought he would have to wash them before foot-stomping, but eventually decided to leave them as they were, creating a perfumed wine which perfectly expresses its terroir.

One awesome wine followed another, each one showing style, individuality and elegance,  each one confirming our growing opinions that Cabernet Franc has got an amazing future in South Africa – I was glad that I’d booked those lovely drivers from Goodfellas (www.gfellas.co.za) to take me home because there was very little spitting going on anywhere around the table!  Everyone was passionate about this variety either as a single cultivar which is what Bruwer and Jean-Vincent believe or as part of a blend such as Warwick Trilogy - Neil Moorhouse from Zorgvliet is punting Cab Franc/Merlot blends  as ones to watch so remember where you heard it first!

For those of you who’ve never tried a Cabernet Franc, it is fairly similar to a Cabernet Sauvignon in that it generally has lots of dense, dark black fruits and sturdy tannins, but Cabernet Franc also has a spicy green edge to it which can manifest itself as herbal, perfumed and aromatic giving multiple layers of flavour and complexity. If you want to give it a go, then entry-level priced ones include L’Avenir at R50, Zorgvliet at R65, Eikendal at R70 and Signal Hill Constantia Cab Franc also at R70. And if, you’ve already been converted to Cabernet Franc then you can do no better than a bottle of Warwick at R235, the fascinating Signal Hill Kalk Bay at R250 or  the Raats Family at R280. Give one of them a go this weekend – I’ve tasted the future, and the future’s Franc!
Cathy is wine editor of www.Food24.com. For more information visit www.cathymarston.co.za or follow her on Twitter @CathyMarston.

© Cape Times Friday 13th August 2010 Why don’t we drink more Chenin Blanc? After all, we grow more...

Chenin Blanc – wines in a class of their own

© Cape Times Friday 13th August 2010

Why don’t we drink more Chenin Blanc? After all, we grow more of it and make more wine from it than any other country in the world. We win international trophies and awards – yes, even in the hallowed ground of the grape’s home in France – overseas judges and critics love it, the cognoscenti claim that if SA is to make a truly world class wine then it will come from it, but do we drink it? No thanks, I’ll have a glass of Sauvignon Blanc please.

Part of the problem with Chenin is that it can come in so many different guises. From simple, dry, easy-drinking gluggers, to off-dry, rich, contemplative quaffs, to heavy, oxidative styles to the finest of all expressions of Chenin – the Noble Late Harvest. So when you pick up a bottle, you don’t always know what you are going to get for your money which means, quite often, that people play it safe and stick to something they know.

This point was made particularly clear at a lunch hosted by Kleine Zalze wines. They make two different versions of Chenin for the local market – the Barrel Fermented and the unwooded Bush Vines. The lunch (which was delicious by the way – Haiku) was accompanied by a vertical tasting of their wines going back to the first vintage in 2004. And that’s where the problems began. For starters, both wines actually come from bush vines anyway – some of them over 50 years old which makes for wonderfully concentrated fruit and spice. But the main problem was that over the last 7 years, the sugar levels of both wines has dropped to less than half, which is a major stylistic change. Now, quite apart from the controversy this caused in the Chenin Blanc Challenge which they won earlier on this year, such massive differences just create even more confusion for us poor consumers.

According to winemaker Johan Joubert, the reason for this is vintage variations. Chenin Blanc is one of the best varieties for developing that magical rot, botrytis, and when it does, the grapes lose water and shrivel up, concentrating the sugars inside. This makes for fabulously rich and aromatic wines and, when used in sufficient quantities, makes some of the best sweet wines in the world. Every year a portion of the fruit used by Kleine Zalze is affected by this rot, but the exact percentage is beyond the winemaker’s control - for example in 2007 more than 40% of the fruit was botrytised, leading to a separate bottling under a different label.

Now I don’t have a problem with vintage variation – it’s one of the things which make wine so exciting. But you don’t really expect to see such massive differences in such inexpensive wines. I never thought I would complain about this, but at R33 for the Bush Vines and R58 for the Barrel Fermented, these wines are too cheap to be this individual and interesting, particularly the unwooded version. At that price level, you can normally expect adequate, consistent, anonymous wines and this over-delivery is a pleasant, if slightly confusing, surprise.

Kleine Zalze marketing supremo, Ross Sleet, is very aware of the confusion his wine styles and prices are causing. His answer is to launch another Chenin, this time in the top Family Reserve range and to use the exceptional fruit in there, leaving the other two wines to become less vintage-dependant (the one bone-dry and unwooded and the other beautifully balanced and barrel-fermented). And I bet when he does, even that comes in at a considerably lower price than most other estates’ top stuff, making Kleine Zalze Chenins my bargain wines of the week, however much you choose to spend.

© Cape Times Friday 23rd July 2010 Like they need another one you might say! True enough but no...

Sexism is not sour grapes

Andrea Freeborough © Cape Times Friday 23rd July 2010

Like they need another one you might say! True enough but no less worthy, the Landbouweekblad Woman Winemaker of the Year competition has just been won by Andrea Freeborough of Fleur du Cap wines. As my sister columnist on this paper, Ntsiki Biyela, was last year’s winner and both she and I were involved in the judging again this year, it seemed very appropriate for me to try and give a first-hand view from the tasting room as to how this competition works.

I suppose the first thing to talk about is why bother having a competition that’s only open to women winemakers– as other commentators have said, why not a gay winemaker competition, a black winemaker competition, a bearded winemaker competition etc etc? As a reluctant feminist, I think this is a fair point – there is nothing physically taxing in making wine, no superior strength or height required which might make it difficult for a woman to compete equally with a man, so why bother with the competition at all? Many women winemakers feel that their wines need no explanation or excuse and choose not to join the competition, preferring to let their wines do the talking in all the normal shows and normal ways.

But here’s the thing. There is only one woman winemaker in the Cape Winemakers’ Guild, that bastion of all that is great and good in Cape wine (the fabulous Rianie Strydom of Haskell Vineyards). If you look at Tim James’ list of the Top Twenty wineries in SA as voted by industry professionals (not a definitive list by any means, but certainly a more than reasonable snapshot – www.grape.co.za) there isn’t a single woman winemaker there at all. Are women simply not good enough? I suppose that is a possibility, however unlikely and remote. Or are they not getting enough chances in an industry which struggles with transformation on many other levels? Equally possible, I feel.

I’ve judged on this competition for the last three years. During that time, I’ve heard some very sad and frustrating tales of unequal pay, lack of managerial support and downright discrimination from several of the finalists we’ve interviewed. Like it or not, it seems that sexism is alive and well in the wine industry and a lot of women still have to be better than men in order to be taken equally seriously. A competition like this is not only a way of gaining affirmation and status, but is also a means of giving the winners and runners-up that extra confidence to fight their own corner if they have to and making sure they get the breaks they deserve.

So, back to this year’s winner who, as it happens, needs no extra help to shout from the rooftops just how good she is. Andrea’s winning wine, the Fleur du Cap Noble Late Harvest 2009 just pipped the other wine she entered, the 2009 Unfiltered Chardonnay, to the post – which is further proof, if proof were needed, that blind tasting is the most reliable and effective method of judging wines. Showing concentrated baked yellow fruit (apricots and pears), with balanced acidity and sugar and a lengthy finish. Made from mostly Chenin Blanc, it’s a gorgeous wine, beautifully made by a talented winemaker at the very top of their game – roll on the time when that is all we need to know!