Thursday, 21 July 2016

National wine tourism strategy to be unveiled at The Business of Wine and Food Tourism Conference

The inaugural “The Business of Wine and Food Tourism” Conference will be held in the heart of the Cape winelands, South Africa, in November of this year. The conference will be opened by Minister Derek Hanekom, and features a list of international and local experts who will share their knowledge on various aspects of regional food and wine travel. Minister Hanekom will also be presenting the first-ever national wine tourism strategy, as developed from the South African Wine Industry strategic exercise (WISE).

The conference marks the first time that industry players and government from national and provincial level will come together to discuss the promotion of South Africa as an international wine and food tourism destination.

“South Africa can become a key player in the food and wine tourism arena. Our wineries can already compete with the best in the world, and it is time that these gems are discovered by national and international visitors. We’re very excited by this venture”, said Siobhan Thompson, CEO of Wines of South Africa.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Seriously Fabulous Cinsault

 Red wines have got bigger and bigger in the last few decades to the point where one 'sukkels om dit in jou lyf te kry' * my legendary viticulture lecturer Vitis van der Westhuizen once said.

They often lack poise and finnesse, can have gloopy textures and finishing a glass, particularly without food, can be challenging. Not nearly so with Waterkloof's Seriously Cool Cinsault.

One of the most remarkable things about this wine is the sensuous texture at only 12,5% alcohol - that's easily 2% lower alcohol than so many modern reds without loss of intensity, weight or texture - it also means you can drink more of it but it's the sheer drinkability that's intoxicating.   

On the nose expect plumbs and purple flowers, some spice,  meatiness and earthiness. The palate is juicy with lively acidity and elegant tannins in support of those delightful aromatics. It's also ridiculously good value for money - only R105 ex cellar.

95/100 on sheer drinkability scale. 

* 'struggle to get it into your body'

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Ultra Misleading

Recalling my innocent consumer era thrill of a fine wine at a bargain price I dashed off to buy multiple Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show winner Secret Cellar Chenin Blanc 2015 Selection No 235 for a mere R32.99 from Ultra Liquors - Secret Cellar is their buyer’s own brand or BOB as it is known in the trade. In this case Bob is Mark Norrish and the wine garnered no less than three trophies including International Judges’ trophy (highest scoring trophy on the international judges’ ballots).

I first asked Ultra liquors on Twitter about price and where the wine was available and their reply (since deleted) referred to the price and that it was limited to three per customer without mentioning which branches had stock. Goodwood branch is the nearest to Stellenbosch, which is where I managed to buy what I assumed was the award winning wine.  

When I tasted it that evening (1 June) it seemed very ordinary, particularly for the standard of judges assembled by Michael Fridjhon, so I wondered if there was more than one bottling - Ultra Liquors responded on 3 June as follows:

The Secret Cellar Chenin Blanc 2015 has 2 bottlings so far. Both of these bottlings have been from the same tank which was SAWIS approved.

The first bottling certification number on the seal starts with 7525.
The second bottling, which is the winning OMTWS wine, has the seal number starting with 7660.

We are currently not sure what which bottling each of our 16 stores that have in stock.  There is a strong possibility that they could be mixed between the above mentioned seal numbers.

Both bottlings are under the same Selection number which is Selection ‘235’.

Just to mention we are not putting any of the stickers on the winning Chenin as we are sure that most, if not all stock will be sold out by the time we receive the stickers.

The wine will be on show at the CTICC this evening.

I hope that this answers your question.


Rather miffed that I had the ‘wrong’, rather ordinary wine, I set off, on 3 June, to their Green Point branch where I found many incoming cases of batch 7525, none of 7660, with floor staff insisting it was the Trophy winner and that I could only buy three bottles.

Off I headed to the Wynberg branch, where I was confronted by an empty shelf with a temporary sign again regarding the three per customer limit for the trophy wine. My first request for the wine produced bottles of 7525, but my second request for 7660 to a more senior staff member yielded three bottles from their backroom storage.

That night when comparing them side by side, it was apparent that they were very different wines – yet being retailed as the same award-winning wine – so on Monday 6 June I had them analysed by the Cape’s leading wine lab which yielded some interesting results - 7525 has a residual sugar (RS) of 1,71 g/l while 7660, the trophy wine, has 4,53 g/l of RS. Other marked difference included extract of 20,73g/l v 24.05g/l and hue (420nm) of 0,06au v 0,10au – no question these are different wines yet Ultra Liquors is clearly retailing them at multiple stores as the same award winning wine.

Following email correspondence with Dale Louwsma and Mark Norrish starting on 2 June, I gained sight of an email dated 8 June to all the stores instructing them to display a sign (including an image of a bottle bearing the correct seal) as follows:

Dear Valued Customer:

Please note that the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show Trophy Winning Chenin “ Secret Cellar 235” has the seal number as shown on the below picture. The seal number starting 7660---

Any other Seal number is not the Trophy winning wine.

Due to limited stock, only 3 bottles per customer.

Thank you for your understanding.

Yours Sincerely
Ultra Management Team

Then, this morning Mark Norrish wrote:

The day after the Award announcements, we checked our stock holding of the total Chenin stock in Stores and our Depot. I must mention that the Trophy wine stickers had not been received at that time to place on the wines for correct identification purposes. Also, based on my experience of sales on a winning wine at this price, I expected all our Chenin stock to be sold out by that same weekend.

There was very little stock of  the 1st bottling left in Stores at the time, so I immediately allocated the new "award winning "stock to the Stores on Wednesday 1st June ( 180 x6 cases)on a 3 per Customer basis.

In hindsight, I fully acknowledge that I should have removed the remaining stock of the 1st Chenin batch to avoid confusion with Managers and Customers, as they automatically accepted that all the Chenin 2015 was " trophy" wine.’

One wonders why they didn’t add this information to their original signs limiting customers to three each?  Is this a case of sloppy stock control, intentional fraud to mislead customers into buying ordinary wine or the reality of FMCG retail?

Although winners can order additional bottle stickers indicating their accolades, Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show organisers print stickers in advance, in anticipation of the first batch of orders.  Anybody want 3 bottles of 7525?  

At the time of publication the writer was awaiting Ultra Liquors permission for SAWIS to corroborate their claims that both 7525 and 7660 came from the same tank while the Green Point store apparently had stock of 7660. 

From their website

Friday, 22 April 2016

Cape Entering New Viticultural Era

The dominance of International varieties in the new world is under attack.  While in many new and old world own countries, an enlightened minority has long bemoaned their colonisation by international varieties, powerful wine buyers and other commercial realities have seen the virtual extinction of local varieties or the exclusion of varieties more suited to local conditions.

Supermarket buyers have long since been on the lookout for something new and now generation Y is on the hunt for the extraordinary to endorse and share on their social networks while winemakers are looking to differentiate themselves in a crowded market. Routes to market have also diversified including the growth in online sales and wine clubs.
The Cape is no different. Following last century’s stifling regulations, decades of sanctions and a recent export boom off the back of International varieties, Cape growers and nurseries are preparing for a new reality - and there is much to choose from and contemplate considering the Cape’s diverse terroirs and the number of varieties either currently or imminently available.

Vititec’s contract with French nursery Entav-Inra, Distell’s sale last year of in-house plant improvement facility Ernita to private nursery Bosman Adama (Pty) Ltd, and the likes of leading winemaker Eben Sadie and viticulturist Rosa Kruger, ensure that Cape viticulture is entering a very exciting age.

Following their contract with France’s Entav-Entra, private plant improvement business Vititec are importing 10 new varieties and/or clones every year. New varieties available from 2013 include Macabeau/Viura, Marsanne, Roussane, Petit Manseng, Piquepoul Blanc, Terret Noir and Vermentino; from 2014, Counoise and Marselan; from 2016, Cinsaut Blanc, Grenache Gris and LLedoner Pelut; from 2017, Agiorgitiko, Arriloba, Asyrtiko, Caladoc, Ekigaina and Sauvignon Gris.

“We have suffered from Bordeaux envy for too long,” says Kruger, one of the main instigators of cataloguing the Cape’s old (35+ years) vineyards and the importing of new varietal material from Europe. “We need varieties better equipped to withstand our drought and heat while retaining acids until they reach ripeness,” says Kruger.

Sadie is at the “embryonic stage” of what appears to be a life’s work – and commitment – of trial and error plantings of new and exotic varieties. “I started eight years ago and it’s been a complex task of soil mapping and terroir assessment, plus the frustration of dealing with vested interests, politics and bureaucracy.”

From 2016 Sadie will be planting exotic varieties, new selections and new clones every year for five years up until 2020, with the new varieties – many of them Mediterranean – being tested in up to three different sites. “Once they are planted we will quickly be able to make viticultural notes but notes from experimental wines will take a little longer,” says Sadie.

Kruger has had similar battles in her mammoth project of cataloguing old vineyards culminating earlier this year in her website detailing all of the Cape’s old vineyards. Besides locating the vineyards she was, for example, required by the authorities to contact every single grower to get their permission to publish the details.

Sadie has produced critically acclaimed wines from some of these vineyards known as Die Ouwingerdreeks (The Old Vineyard Series), which sell out on release each year, but is more famous internationally for his red and white blends Columella and Palladius.

Last year Michela and Attilio Dalpiaz, the Italian owners of Ayama Wines of Voor Paardeberg, after working with Italian viticulturist Augusto Fabbro and Johan Wiese of Voor Groenberg Nurseries, planted South Africa’s first commercial block of Vermentino. They believe it to be a good match with Sardinia’s terroir, which includes its tolerance of wind and warm summers, and compatibility with decomposed granite soils. Voor Paardeberg also recently saw the planting of over four hectares of Marsanne. Three years ago AlbariƱo/Alvarinho was established by the Newton Johnson family in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley outside coastal town Hermanus.

Varieties available from Lelienfontein (Bosman Adama) include Nero d’Avola, Irsai Oliver, Marsanne, Folle Blanche, Prosecco (varieties) and Aubun. There are other varieties that are either planted or in quarantine that are subject to confidentially clauses between the grower and nursery until they are released commercially.

Meanwhile the Cape boasts the largest plantings of Chenin Blanc in the world but given its growing popularity and versatility this is unlikely the change.  Cinsaut – the most widely planted red variety during the United Kingdom’s reign and generously used in the Cape’s legendary red blends of the 70s – is making a return to fashion, via new plantings and highly sought after old vines.

Regardless of the outcome, there is no question that Sadie and Kruger are doing pioneering work, not least because nobody else is doing anything like their scale of experimentation. “Given the Loire’s climate, who would have thought Chenin Blanc would be so suited to the Cape? We have never been in a better position to experiment and we can find varieties that are far better suited to our terroirs than what we currently have. I will be very happy in 20 years time even if only 10% of the plantings prove a success. Too many of our varieties are out of spec. We need varieties that better retain their fruit and acids.’ says Sadie.

Jonathan Snashall