Building Trust in Critical Thought

Johan de Wet (DuToitskloof Wines chairperson) left with (2013 winner) Tim James right.

Johan de Wet (DuToitskloof Wines chairperson) left with (2013 winner) Tim James right.

On the 22nd of November, Du Toitskloof Wines and Standard Bank awarded the first annual Wine Writer of the Year Award to Tim James. A prize of R30,000 was given for his critical piece on the impacts of climate change on the South African wine industry. The actual article is still under embargo, for the exclusivity of publishing houses.

Wine writers do not have it particularly easy. Their reputation as leaders of critical thought may proceed them, but the payment for the value they add is not always forthcoming. The South African wine industry is notoriously small. This can complicate the environment for those who wish to point out inconsistencies in the industry, who wish to be critical of cellars or appellations, or those who wish to push the envelope of free thought.

When one believes one’s work is not adjudicated without bias, is can be disheartening. There is nothing greater that shackles the creative-mind more, than the notion that independent opinion is stifled and that free thought goes uncelebrated. However, this slight negativity has been turned on its head by the ironclad vetting, strict auditing and administrative integrity of the Du Toitskloof Wines and Standard Bank Wine Writer of the Year Awards.

The awe was palpable at the awards evening, held on the 22nd of November at Terra Mare in Paarl. There was a relieved disbelief that Du Toitskloof Wines and Standard Bank, the convener and headline sponsor, had no knowledge of who the entrants were, until that night; that names were only given by the independent auditors PriceWaterhouseCoopers, to the PR agency, for invitational purposes only. Entrants were astounded by the organiser’s lack of inside information.

This is how it should be done. This allows that free thought and independent opinion to be just that, free and independent. The fervor with which PriceWaterhouseCoopers kept any details under lock-and-key rendered undue influence impossible. 

It is also important to note, that the judging panel was academic-heavy. If the judging is seen as being populated by industry insiders, credibility goes a begging. However, when you have the esteemed Dr. Gawie Botma, chair of the Stellenbosch Department of Journalism, convening a panel of academics and writers, like Erns Grundling, Maureen Joubert and Prof. Ian Glen, the quality of interpretation of opinion is cemented. Despite the reported high-quality of each entrant, the judging panel was unanimous in its decision of the 2013 winner, highlighting the exemplary nature of Tim James’ writing.

It came to light that only five entrants were received; albeit a small step forward, a cursory glance around the venue would have you believe that all the top wine writers were present and this was indeed the case. All the biggest names entered. It is acknowledged however, that new blood is necessary, for new blood is to the body as new thought is to critical opinion.

The value of translating scientific jargon into layman’s terms is unquantifiable. The research, effort and subsequent simplification of Climate Change terminology is invaluable, as it is now within easy reach of the industry and those interested in it. The publication possibilities and knowledge gained, by writing about such a critical issue, cannot be underestimated.

It is also hoped, the competition will gain traction and fame as the years go by, transforming the notion that the-other-side-of-the-mountain is ‘that lesser part of the Winelands,’ to being ‘a region synonymous with excellence, global-reach and innovative ideas.’

One cannot expect the wine writing fraternity to fall in love with another competition overnight. Trust and respect is earned. We hope our respectful actions will embolden that trust. It is clear for us and for Standard Bank that 2013 was just the beginning for Wine Writer of the Year. The affections from those who entered gave us a similar indication of long-term commitment. That 2014 will see a greater influx as credibility of the process is made known.

We raise a glass of Brut to the custodians of free thought. We raise this glass to those who had initial confidence in us. We raise the glass to those who will follow suit in 2014. As long as we are the purveyors of value-for-money wines, we will be the purveyors of progress and excellence in a notoriously difficult industry, for without critical self-reflection, we cannot hope to grow and improve. 

By Andres de Wet

Building a Nation, Plate By Plate

South Africans celebrated National Heritage Day on the 24th of September. In a country with notorious divisions, yet famous for its diversity and ability to overcome differences to create a peaceful, cohesive nation; celebrating a singular South African heritage can be problematic. Can a single tile in a colourful mosaic be singled out to typify the entire artwork? Definitely not!

It has been a constant debate amongst thought-leaders, politicians and even large brands in South Africa; how do you typify ‘being South African, bringing all South Africans together for a common purpose?’ Despite the warm-and-fuzzy anthemesque adverts for certain beer brands, South Africa is not homogeneous and creating the ideal demographic togetherness, with so many varied cultural preferences, is difficult. So, bring on the food!

There are two things South Africans have in common, irrespective of linguistic preference, cultural ancestry, belief system, whom is chosen to love, or melanin content of the dermis: A moth-like affinity for fire and magnetism towards good, hearty food.

If there is any ubiquitous typecast for a South African, it would be burning wood or charcoal and a meaty meal; we don’t do vegetarian with great finesse. Thus, the National Braai (English: non-gas-fire barbeque) Day moniker, synchronous with National Heritage Day, being a pastime we all enjoy. Bring in Muratie Wine Estate and Du Toitskloof Wines and their hosting of the 2nd annual Cape Cuisine Cook-off on 19 September; celebrating Cape and South African heritage through the fruits of our soil and toil of our cooks.

Although a closed event by invitation only, it is a perfect opportunity to show off what our region is made of and showcase its diverse viticultural and gastronomic heritage. Less so a marketing opportunity and more about getting two exemplary wineries together to celebrate food and wine with some healthy competition; this time, to take on a Cape Malay Curry, a dish with Eastern, Western and African roots, reflecting the diversity of our country.

As quoted from the Muratie and Du Toitskloof joint press release:

Celebrity guests included Benny Masekwameng, highly-acclaimed chef and MasterChef SA judge; Arnold Tanzer, chef extraordinaire and Culinary Producer of MasterChef SA; and Cass Abrahams, well-loved foodie and specialist in Cape Malay cuisine. 

Du Toitskloof paired their Cape Malay curry with their 2013 Beaukett, an aromatic blend of muscat de frontignan, chenin blanc and gewürztraminer. This muscat-scented semi-sweet wine holds a combination of tropical fruit flavours with hints of honeysuckle and rose petals. Crisp and invigorating, this vibrant wine ends with a lovely refreshing finish. The 2013 Du Toitskloof Beaukett is also well suited to pairing with piquant cuisine and retails for about R30.

Muratie selected their flagship Laurens Campher 2012, named after the first owner of the farm, to pair with their Cape Malay curry. This aromatic off-dry wine is a seamless blend of four varietals, displaying lively fresh lemon and lime notes from the chenin and sauvignon blanc and fragrant floral hints from the verdelho and viognier. Elegant and complex, its flavours range from honeysuckle, lime marmalade and pineapple to fresh almonds, all wrapped in creamy oak. Zippy acidity runs through the wine until the eminently satisfying, lengthy finish. The fine balance of sugar and acidity makes for a gratifying fresh style. This wine lends itself favourably to spicy cuisine and retails for about R95.

Chefs Elrine Thomson of Du Toitskloof and Kim Melck of Muratie both displayed their culinary expertise, presenting deliciously spiced curries, after which the guests were called upon to cast their votes for the best dish of the day. Muratie was named the ‘2013 winelands cook-off champion’ having taken the vote by a narrow margin. The 2013 Muratie Du Toitskloof ‘winelands cook-off’ was a follow-on from their inaugural 2012 waterblommetjie bredie ‘cook-off’ hosted at Du Toitskloof where the home team took the honours with a one-vote lead. 

Article (1st half) by Andres de Wet

Team Du Toitskloof cooking up a storm in the kitchen...

Team Du Toitskloof cooking up a storm in the kitchen…

Our special guests...

Our special guests…

Muratie's award winning Cape Malay dish

Muratie’s award winning Cape Malay dish

The CO2 Belch

I always seem to find myself in the unfortunate position of punting a Climate Change agenda in the coldest time of the year. This gains me little traction with the Cape-majority, begging for the onset of spring. Being in the minority as a winter-person, who relishes the cool, green, freshness of the June to September season, writing this remains critical, as winter only lasts so long and our summers have become vicious indeed.

With the Wine Writer of the Year competition deadline looming on the 27th of September at 16:00 SAST, it is critical to explore this subject one last time. It’s implications are R30,000 for the winning scribe, but millions, if not billions of rands for South African viticulture.

With the Cape winter entering its final month, it gives us time to reflect on the rainy season up until now. Our region is currently on 75% of its annual precipitation. With additional rainfall anticipated for August, we should be able to attain, at or near, average rainfall this year. What we have critically lacked, is cold-days and mountain snowfall. On both counts, this winter has been both erratic and downright dangerously below-average.

Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve in Ceres must be as frustrated is all hell. With no 1,000m snow events for years, it must be harming their winter tourism, not to mention their adjacent cherry farm crop. These snow events used to be a once or twice a season occurrence. This seldom happens anymore. However, does this impact viticulture? Absolutely! If you want to see a wine-farmer freak out, simply see vines trying to bud-break in early-August. This is exactly what we noticed this year, after an unseasonable hot couple of weeks the heart of winter, from late-July to early-August.

The cold, wet and windy weather did return. Albeit not critical at this point, early budding can cause the industry to lose their entire crop. An early-budding event, coupled with late frost and/or a powerful cold front with damaging winds can decimate the delicate grape flowers. The aberrance of the weather can wreak havoc with the industry.

Many urban-dwellers lament the constant cold and rain in the Cape. However, even at my youthful age, I can remember winters of yore, when the sun failed to shine for two-weeks, snow fell habitually on the lower peaks and rain fell almost non-stop. This was the normal Cape winter. What we experience now is a product of human-induced Climate Change. The winter we have today is downright subtropical compared to 20-years ago, never mind in the days of the grandparents.

There are always those who question the human-induced charge, some even debunking change in the climate is even happening. So, let’s look at a nightclub. When the club is empty and the air-conditioner is on, it’s positively frigid. Now pack it with people going ape till all hours of the morning and pretty soon, it is indoor tropical and unpleasantly sticky: Earth, 1800AD, 950-million humans living meagerly; Earth today, 7-billion humans going bananas and still growing. This is case-in-point! The atmosphere is a closed system.

There is simply no logic in the assertion that this unprecedented species-population-explosion would have no impact. Even less logically, when that species is sentient, can terraform thousands of square kilometers in one swoop and that this species loves to “belch” carbon dioxide.

If there’s any doubt that the Wine Writer of the Year competition doesn’t mean the world to us as a climate-sensitive industry, the aforementioned should dispel that. The insights that will be revealed, when the articles are released on the 30th of November, will be an invaluable source of information and may even inform how South African viticulture prepares itself for 2050.

Bud-break and flowering occurring earlier each year.

Bud-break and flowering occurring earlier each year.

Changing Face of Wine Patrons

Long gone are the days when wine-drinking was the pursuit of a certain demographic, a certain age group and a certain culture. Some traditionalists may lament the manoeuvres of a romantic-industry becoming approachable and accessible. However, we find it heart-warming to see the spectrum of wine consumers broadening.

This shift has been evident in the changing demographics of festival-goers in the Western Cape, with the latest Soetes & Soup Festival in Breedekloof being no exception. Change is in the air, or shall we say, in the nose, and it’s not the vintages adding a different flavour to South Africa’s wine industry. The broad tapestry that is South Africa’s diverse populous is coming out in force more readily; it is adding a richer dynamic to wine appellations that were previously perceived to be overtly conservative and monocultural.

This diversification is excellent for the wine regions in question; it diversifies the tourism offering as customers become broader in their amenity needs, it adds multiculturalism to lesser-known districts and forces wine producers to think broadly, creatively and become more innovative.

It doesn’t help only empowering the staff associated with the production of wine, as is the case with FairTrade; consumers of all backgrounds need to feel welcome if a brand is to be perceived as “progressive.” Du Toitskloof has always prided itself on being “progressive.” Thus, our utter joy in seeing the tapestry of whom we welcome into our cellar doors and at our tasting-stands becoming more varied. Slowly but surely, we are becoming a universal brand with universal appeal.

The most successful tourism brands in the world are those that are known as “diverse and welcoming destinations.” It is not the exclusive, aloof and single-minded destinations that warm the hearts of potential visitors. It’s this reason why a city like Riyadh does not attract the same numbers as Dubai does.

This is what we’re aiming to achieve be diversifying our offering, including enlarging our deli, improving our landscaping and tasting room, adding adventure-tourism options and broadening our wine offering with the likes of Quest and Cape Beach Club. We want you to feel welcome in our ‘home’ and we want you to enjoy our fruits-of-the-vine whilst building fond memories. No matter your origin, hue or language, we want you to become part of the Du Toitskloof family. The more the merrier!

FacesofDTK-Jul2013Blog copy

 

By: Andres de Wet

Writing the Climate

This article is one of schizophrenia, tackling the seemingly unrelated topics of wine-writing and climate change. Du Toitskloof Wines launched its own Wine Writer of the Year Competition on July 5th. The topic chosen was “The consequences of climate change for the South African Wine Industry.” Someone decried over Twitter that the subject matter was dry. Correct sir, reduced rainfall and excessive heat is very dry indeed.

 

Summer heat waves becoming unbearable & destructive
Summer heat waves becoming unbearable & destructive

I understand what he meant.  However it became clear, few urbanites realise how bad things could get by 2050. Some city-dwellers only realise the impact the climate has on them, when the municipal taps run dry and agricultural produce prices skyrocket. Few realise this topic is the biggest long-term concern for the industry. Short-term issues like land-tenure legislation and labour relations weigh heavily on the minds of the wine industry; but no other issue could cause a literal viticultural apocalypse, like the aforementioned.

Du Toitskloof wants to be associated with sustainable agri-business practices, hence being a proud FairTrade member. Being associated with creative talent giving the industry and wine-consumer perspectives on all-that-is-wine, is another passion. Thus, we’ve created the perfect marriage of topic and project in Wine Writer of the Year.

Many wine-educated people know basics like: Pinot noir prefers cooler regions than Pinotage does. However, what we need to know in the South African Wine Industry is: what will happen twenty to thirty years from now? How will the weather patterns change? Where will vines still be grown and where not? Will Pinot noir still thrive in coastal areas, or will our future climate render it impossible? Will interior districts still be able make quality Sauvignon blanc? The biggest question: Will we still have seasons and enough water?

Whether we like it or not, grapes are Vitis vinifera, a deciduous vine species endemic to Europe and Asia-Minor, originally found from Morocco and Portugal in the south, to Germany in the north and northern Iran in the east. This area has seasons, its nominate climate is wet and cool winters (with snow in the north of the range) and drier, warm summers. If Vitis vinifera loses its seasons, it cannot thrive. It’s a deciduous plant: no winter, no fruit and like all things, no water… death!

South Africa’s wine regions are particularly vulnerable. Situated precariously around 34°South at the mild tip of an otherwise, very hot continent. There isn’t anywhere to go, but into the Southern Ocean, and Vitis vinifera and kelp are not good companion plants. Unlike Europe, South America or even Australia, there isn’t any land further from the equator to migrate towards. Basically, climate change could force the winter-providing, rain-laden cold fronts south of the continent, as the sub-tropical high pressure system strengthens and moves poleward. If this happens, is the gig up? Does the Cape’s favourable Mediterranean Climate cease to exist and become sub-tropical semi-arid? If it does happen, how long do we have left?

Already, snow levels are rising annually, rainfall is increasingly unpredictable, summer heat-waves are getting unbearable and heat-incursions into mid-winter are becoming commonplace. Autumnal colour-change and leaf-drop is becoming more erratic and dull and early-budding more problematic.

This is where the wine writers will be of extreme value. Many of these questions have not been answered. Much of the science, the climatic analysis and agriculture economics have not yet been fused into a cohesive whole, for easy digestion by the South African Wine Industry. The industry can see things are changing, but few answers or insights are forthcoming on this hot-potato topic.

Du Toitskloof has turned up the metaphorical heat on South Africa’s scribing talent. We trust we’ll get some takers and they’ll provide us with some sorely needed knowledge on this “hot” topic. The goal is fostering creative talent and becoming a custodian of knowledge. R30,000 is one small step for wine writers and one giant leap for an industry seeking answers to such a grave concern.

By: Andres de Wet

Wine Writers’ Competition details, log on to: http://www.dutoitskloof.com/pagelist.aspx?CLIENTID=1088&Type=Wine%20Writers&Title=WINE%20WRITERS%20COMPETITION

Fun Beyond the Boerewors Curtain

Revelry and great wine on DuToitskloof Wines’ front lawns.

Residents of Cape Town’s northern suburbs have had to contend with the moniker of living beyond the Boerewors Curtain for years. For a length of time, I’ve wondered exactly where this curtain is drawn spatially. I’ve hypothetically placed this metaphorical curtain at the N7, but geographic debates aside. Those who live beyond this curtain have one glaring positive; they’re so much closer to the bulk of the Cape Winelands.

If Durbanville residents are beyond the Boerewors Curtain, then surely when one goes through the tunnel near Paarl, you’re in the Offal Section? If the Cape is a giant butchery, are we the liver and kidneys and the Cape Town CBD the fillet mignon? If this is so, offal has never been this good…

Rawsonville and its associated Breedekloof Wine Route are about to pull out all the stops. The second weekend of October is time for any Cape resident or visitor to get out of their comfort zones and explore this ‘exotic side of the butchery.’ If there is any weekend when this lesser-known region shines and dons a cloak of excitement, entertainment and excellence, it is now. The Breedekloof Outdoor and Wine Festival is not to be missed, if finding quality and hidden-gems is your thing.

You may think venturing beyond the tunnel leaves you starved for amenities and options. This simply is not true, especially on this weekend. Many a visitor has commented on how this region’s scenery is awe-inspiring, out-competing most wine regions in shear mountainous beauty. Many also remark how wine quality and price-point leaves them dumbfounded. The genuineness of the valley’s residents, quaint eateries and personable accommodation and wineries leave our guests with lingering memories.

If you haven’t experienced the fun to be had, sipping some of the country’s best Sauvignon Blanc under towering mountains, embarking on outdoor activities next to crystal clear streams, rocking to live music amongst the vines or just traversing an excellent wine route with close friends, this is your weekend. Only R60 opens up the entire region’s wines to you, with festival passes valid from Friday to Sunday; however, if you want to experience the real fun, Saturday’s your day!

Wake up at a respectable hour this Saturday, put on your comfortable shoes, get your car keys and have your R60 at the ready. It’s only an hour’s drive from Cape Town CBD, or a quick-and-easy 45 minutes for those lucky enough to live beyond the Boerewors Curtain and come visit our section. I promise you, the wines, entertainment and hospitality will not disappoint. You’ll wonder why you never chose to day-trip to Rawsonville before!

Consuming the Impossible

DuToitskloof Sauvignon blanc: FNB Top 10 award winner

No matter how one approaches the task of purchasing wine, whether at the cellar or a liquor outlet, one cannot buy a box of wine without a small ounce of guilt. If you consider yourself a bit of a wine connoisseur, purchasing a vintage in non-bottled form is done with a slight flush of red in the cheeks. However, at some stage, we all do it. Sometimes, budget or volume required simply calls for it.

However, when one does this task with DuToitskloof, the task becomes one that causes a bit of viticulture-vulture schizophrenia. As you may or may not know, DuToitskloof has won the Best Value for Money cellar award five times since the competition’s inception in 2001. In addition to this accolade, no other cellar has ever won it more than once. These guys are not mere experts, they are the foremost authority at giving more than you could expect out of a bottle.

So, when pulling out the box at a casual braai, you do so guiltlessly with DuToitskloof’s Sauvignon blanc. They have been awarded with one of the FNB Top 10 Sauvignon Blancs’ in South Africa. It may not sound like much, but for a wine that enters the market at its price-point, a wine that costs three to four times less than their Top 10 competitors, this accolade is unheard of. Plus, this is a 2.2 million litre blend! One cannot help but be amazed. Even more remarkable is that what’s in the box is what’s in the bottle: DuToitskloof puts the same quality into any packaging they chose to go with. Who on earth produces this stellar quality at a price that makes dispensing a “top-notch house wine” an inexpensive affair?

Amazing, considering that when DuToitskloof’s previous winemaker suggested making a Sauvignon blanc in the Goudini (Breedekloof) district, it was thought the region’s climate was prohibitive in producing this excellent and sought-after white wine. Yet, this wine has become synonymous with excellent Sauvignon blancs countrywide. One is hard-pressed to find a restaurant or store without it.

To continue what is clearly an exercise in gloating, the cellar took away a haul of medals at the Michelangelo Wine Awards. Here is a brief look at those accolades:

  • Double Gold: Dimension
  • Gold: Cabernet sauvignon; Merlot; Hanepoot Jerepigo
  • Silver: Shiraz; Chardonnay/Viognier; Brut

Point being, you simply cannot put a foot wrong when reaching for either a bottle or box of DuToitskloof. Nobody can fault you for being cheap, even though the price may suggest otherwise.