Taste Is In The Palate of the Beholder

A lot of fuss is made annually about numerous awards, about wine guide ratings, about what the learned critics say about any particular vintage from a specific cellar. Can these opinions be used as viticultural law? Should these opinions be used as the begin-all-and-end-all of our perceptions of a specific vintage?

The answer lays not in a yes or no, but rather in the question itself. These are in fact, opinions. Perhaps learned opinions, but a personal perspective nonetheless. Attempting to see these opinions as law, rather than as a guide, is an acute error of the palate; each human is an individual and thus, the palate is individualistic. What is excellent to one, may be mediocre or unpalatable to another.

A food critic who raves about seafood, is not going to convince a meat-lover that his/her favourite restaurant is the best in the world. The same goes for wine; a wooded Viognier lover will seldom convince the Chenin drinker that Chenin is too light and crisp on the palate and not an ideal supper compliment. Yes, there are some general guidelines in wine and food, but none of these are law, they’re open to personal interpretation.

I too have been guilty of wine snobbery, turning my nose up at wine with a higher residual sugar. “What, a sweet Cap Classique? That’s so Gauteng!” I’ve uttered those words before. Yet, I have to keep my Capetonianism in check, as my palate is not everyone’s palate and some of the larger, more promising, emerging wine markets may not be as receptive to the dry, sometimes wooded wines we might deem more ‘noble’ a vintage.

The South African wine industry has been lucky this year. With a poor European crop, despite a stagnant economy in the E.U., South Africa has experienced one of the best export years ever, as our exports made up for the European wine shortage. However, this may not be the case in years to come. As developed markets reach their saturation phase, if we want to grow our industry, we may need to appeal to non-traditional markets; this means, non-traditional wines. China, Bahrain, India and south-east Asia may not have our likes-and-dislikes.

This is the case. I looked at Du Toitskloof’s limited production Vin Deux, a sparkling wine produced for eastern export, that resembles Cold Duck more than our locally lauded Sparkling Brut. We may not purchase the former for our birthday or New Year’s celebration, but another market certainly will.

Does this mean a cellar has sold out on traditional concepts of quality, or does it mean its range appeals to a wider range of palates. In a globalised world, I sincerely believe it is the latter. The Cape, European, S. Australian or Californian idea of a good vintage just isn’t going to cut it as a point of departure for all wine production.

We’re entering a brave new world where we may be producing vintages we would not consume ourselves. However, success is thinking wider than our own needs and wrapping our heads around the palates of others’. This does not mean we should abandon our traditional, well-loved favourites. Diversity is the spice of life and a diverse portfolio makes for diluted misfortune; if our eggs are in many baskets, one basket falling in a specific year will do limited harm. Is it not wiser allowing the consumer to choose which basket he/she prefers more? We think so.

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

Winelands Toll Trap

The proposed tolling of the N1 and N2 in the Winelands has raised the ire of most residents and local government entities in the province. The City of Cape Town and SANRAL (South African National Roads Agency) seem set for another court showdown. The demand for clarity on toll-costs and socio-economic implications is not only fair; all citizens in this province should demand this information, as this project could have significant impacts on the economy and thus, the prosperity of affected areas in the Western Cape, particularly the eastern Winelands and Overberg.

The N1 (proposed to be tolled) in the Rawsonville district

The N1 (proposed to be tolled) in the Rawsonville district

PROJECT SCOPE: SANRAL has declared the N1 as a toll-road from Old Oak Interchange to Sandhills in the Hex River Valley and the N2 from the R300 Interchange to Bot River. Three tolls along each route are proposed. On the N1, these proposed toll plazas are at Joostenbergvlakte, the existing Huguenot Toll Plaza (where fees are proposed to be significantly raised) and Glen Heatlie between Worcester and De Doorns. On the N2, one plaza is proposed near Khayelitsha, one at Sir Lowry’s Pass and the other, at Bot River. Don’t think you’ll be able to get around the tolls, where viable alternative routes exists, like the R101 Du Toitskloof Pass, SANRAL will construct ramp-toll plazas on these exits.

They are planning some significant upgrades to the roads, so why is the Western Cape populace vexed? The anger in Gauteng over the controversial eTolls is still boiling over, yet SANRAL sees fit to set another pot to high-heat in our province. The Auditor General reports on countless billions being misspent per annum, yet SANRAL, a government parastatal, pleads poverty. Furthermore, the stark contrast in this province, where most roads are (Provincial Government – Western Cape) PGWC maintained, from the fiscus. Our infrastructure is generally well maintained, unlike numerous other provinces. The N1 and N2 westwards form the aforementioned points, where SANRAL jurisdiction ends, is in a better condition. In recent years these PGWC sections have seen resurfacing, highway lighting and the significant upgrading of numerous interchanges take place. Thus the resident logically asks, “Why can the PGWC maintain and upgrade our roads with our tax-money whilst SANRAL is unable to do so?”

Admittedly, there are bottlenecks in our infrastructure in these proposed tolled-areas: one being the N1 at the Huguenot Tunnel and two, the N2 through Somerset West and Strand. I am not against greenfields tolling. Thus, the Helderberg Bypass could be constructed without entrapping the Elgin Valley. The opening of the second Huguenot Tunnel (already bored – requires lining and equipping) is not up for debate. This sector is already user-pays and has been so since 1989; road improvements go without saying.

The economic impacts could be serious indeed. SANRAL commissions studies that investigate the economic impact of the “do nothing” or “if they toll” scenarios. This creates a bias in the analysis. No roads agency or governmental entity is entitled to “do nothing” to the infrastructure, as population, road-usage and by inference, revenue increases. Even under this potentially biased analysis, undertaken by UCT Graduate Business School, it is admitted that communities north-east of Paarl would see little cost-benefit in the short to medium-term, as traffic volumes are too light. Even under their analysis, agriculture could experience hardship, the lifeblood of these communities. Even under their analysis, the Hex River and Elgin Valleys would become entrapped to tolls, cut off from their service centre towns, major markets and neighbouring engines of economic growth. Even with this information, SANRAL has to date, made no attempt to move toll plazas to locations that would not hold these communities hostage. They have admittedly, offered Hex River Valley residents the option of toll discounts.

Furthermore, rural tolling is an even crueler pursuit, as public-transit or non-motorised transit options simply don’t exist and probably never will. This seriously disadvantages rural communities and the workforce, such as those under FairTrade’s umbrella. It restricts their freedom of movement and access to economic and service centres in the province, as mobility is made unaffordable.

Grabouw and De Doorns, communities plagued by recent civil upheaval, will be the worst affected. Whatever the reason for the recent unrest, the obvious catalysts remain lack of employment and poor local economic conditions. With spiraling fuel and transport costs, additional tolling has only one outcome for these communities on an economic and social knife-edge. Communities like Rawsonville, where we are located, have had a perennial struggle to attract tourist numbers. The toll tunnel has acted as a psychological barrier for years. Additional toll gates and fees on these routes will only exacerbate the issue. Tourists and Capetonian wine-drinkers will not only think twice before venturing out along the N1 and N2, they’ll think thrice.

Where possible, tourists and residents alike will look to the free-to-use provincial roads to escape the toll; this will severely burden these secondary routes and the provincial transport department. For areas such as the Breede River Valley, no viable alternative exists and businesses and communities will be kept entrapped and tourists, out. For a wine company constantly aiming for value-for-money, this could seriously impact on our business model of bringing products to the consumer at affordable prices.

SANRAL’s public participation process has lacked reach and transparency, where the bare legal minimum is done in consulting with communities. There’s a universal awareness of the intense public opposition to the inequitable user-pays policy. We already pay through hefty fuel-levies which rise annually, along with the spiraling cost of fuel in South Africa. Ring-fence the levy, make them provincially imposed according to local need. It’s the cheapest and most equitable form of roads funding there is, with the least risk of graft or corruption.

My suggestion if SANRAL is unable to fund their infrastructure: cede control of the roads west of Bloukrans River and Three Sisters to the Provincial Government of the Western Cape. Allow the national treasury to grant them that equitable share of SANRAL’s allocated budget for these road-sectors. It is clear our provincial administration is able to maintain the infrastructure under their jurisdiction.

By: Andres de Wet (DuToitskloof Online Content Manager)

Lowest Common Denominator Wine Legislation

Computer mock-up of Penfolds label courtesy AdelaideNow: http://www.adelaidenow.com.au

Computer mock-up of Penfolds label courtesy AdelaideNow: http://www.adelaidenow.com.au

Alcohol advertising has been prohibited in several countries in the last decade. Last month, Australian health lobbyists took matters a step further, demanding graphic health warnings on the front labels of all alcoholic beverages, from spirits and beer to even their genteel ‘lifestyle’ cousin, wine.

In AdelaideNow, prime print media for South Australia’s capital, the rhetoric went thus, “The campaign, led by a range of vocal groups including National Alliance for Action Against Alcohol, the Alcohol Policy Coalition, Vic Health and the Cancer Council of Victoria, has targeted a range of products from beer, spirits, mixers and wine in its aim to combat public health hazards resulting from risky drinking practices.”

I’m certain the Barossa and Clare valleys are in a complete tailspin about these manoeuvres in Australia, thus I find myself weighing in on the debate as their southern hemisphere cousin.

Nobody can deny that alcohol abuse is a scourge. Nobody can deny that irresponsible consumption can lead to health and social problems. Nobody can deny that anything not done in moderation is usually bad for you. Why then, the target painted on the back of the alcohol industry? Same reason why the so-called sin taxes always increase, irrespective of the budget tabled: it is an easy target for tax hikes, public ire and zealous health lobbyists.

It’s easy to label any industry, associated with the production of a non-essential product, as unnecessary, a luxury, or in the case of alcohol, downright socially destructive. Then I pose the question to all sane-minded people, going back to, anything not done in moderation is usually bad for you: Are we to have graphic warnings of hardening arteries and people unable to escape the confines of their bed-prisons on BigMac burger packaging? Are we to have graphic warnings of rotting teeth on Coca-Cola cans? Are we to have graphic pictures on sweet-packets of removed digits and dead-tissue due to diabetes? Do we need provocative warnings on mens’ magazines such as Playboy and FHM of herpes and other STD infections? With debt being the greatest issue in the Western world, should we not have warnings on credit cards?

The point is, in a healthy democracy, the common denominator determines the public need, not the lowest common denominator. In a democracy, the right of the layperson is paramount, the rights of the careless minority, secondary. When this unwritten rule is disregarded, you create a nanny-state. A de facto over-legislated and heavily policed society is created, where freedoms of the many are curtailed, because of the irresponsibility or carelessness of the few.

Would-be alcohol abusers would not be put off by a warning or even graphic imagery. Extreme abuse is an illness, an addiction, something that must be treated clinically and psychologically. Would-be abusers don’t do so, because the bottle looks attractive. They do so, because societal or personal pressures trump their own inherent education about the perils of abuse. Education is the answer; social programmes in badly affected communities are the answer, not defacing brands.

In fact, in the South African context, it is not the branded wines which cause the social ills associated with alcoholism. It is the bulk wine sold by the litre, in nondescript plastic containers. If anything, one should aim to formalise distribution and pack quantities, to curtail the misuse of the product in bulk by individuals, in addition to public education.

Wine in particular is a lifestyle product. Wine is supposed to be a romantic affair, paired with friends, family and excellent food. To degrade a millennia-old product of the vine, the nectar of the gods, to the level of a scapegoat for social ills, seems blatantly reactionary.  This is not to deny that abuse of the product can become barbaric. However, a certain type of person becomes an addict; a certain type of beverage does not an addict make.

I hate to place the wine-label debate in a religious context. At the same time, no other story can illustrate what is being said more clearly than the following: When Jesus multiplied the bread and fishes, when He turned water into wine, I doubt he intended anyone to eat two fishes and three loaves of bread in one sitting. I doubt He wanted anyone to be morbidly obese and develop heart-disease and diabetes. Just as I doubt He wanted anyone to consume three bottles of wine in one sitting. Therein lies the point, even the most righteous of things can become an evil if abused.

Everything in moderation! May sanity prevail; seeking responsible consumption and sales, public education and enlightenment, rather than a convenient scapegoat panacea for legislative zealots.

The State of the Wines Address

Our winemakers unwinding at End of Year function, Chris Geldenhuys, Shawn Thomson & Willie Stofberg

Our winemakers unwinding at End of Year function: Chris Geldenhuys, Shawn Thomson & Willie Stofberg

I have found it particularly tough to write in recent weeks; the writer’s block was due to mutually exclusive reasons. One, the preoccupation with the redesign of our website and two, the spate of rural unrest that swept through the Western Cape in recent weeks.

Our website is a very positive development. It has taken a number of months to come to fruition, as we attempted to communicate “Du Toitskloof’s personality” on a computer screen. Quantifying it and putting personality to design is more complex a process than we had anticipated. However, with much collaboration, numerous marketing meetings and working with wine.co.za, we managed to work within their web-design template and come up with something more visually-stimulating, fresh and streamlined.

We have firmly jumped on the social media bandwagon in 2012 and this is reflected on our improved website, with a “Social Media Toolbox” located at the bottom of the page. With the plethora of platforms that appeal to different people, from Pinterest to Twitter, from Facebook to WordPress, we needed to speak to everyone without creating a cluttered appearance. We’re hoping our clients have found our increasing diversity useful and tailor-made to their needs.

On the slightly unpleasant side, the rural unrest in certain Western Cape farming communities has had us quite alarmed; the gross generalisation of public utterances have been extremely disheartening. As one of the largest FairTrade (Fairhills project) flag-bearers in Africa, with empowerment and best- in-industry labour credentials, it was heartbreaking and disappointing to have the entire industry painted with one broad brush by political opportunists.

Public anger was stirred in certain towns amongst the seasonal rural workforce or unemployed living in informal settlements. So much of the so-called “farm worker strike” was peppered more with rural-town service-delivery issues, structural societal unemployment and political posturing than it was for its media moniker: farm protest. This is evident in our valley, where seasonal work is rare, our community is part of the Fairhills project and where sound labour practices and rural empowerment is priority. You cannot mobilise content people working for mutual benefit, so we escaped the contagion. Through the hard work of farm employees and our accredited producers and their constant, collective engagement, we have escaped unscathed as a community and stronger than ever.

In better news, 2012 has been the year of the accolade. We have been completely humbled by the slew of awards that our wines have accumulated. Just late last week, three of DuToitskloof box-wine offerings made it to the Top10 in South Africa, with our Chenin Blanc taking poll position. This came on the back of a very successful Michelangelo Awards ceremony, awarding numerous of our wines, including an auspicious double gold for our Dimension red-blend. The FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top10 awards named us as one of the best in the nation and the only larger producer to win such a stamp of high-quality approval.  Even our brand new, naturally sparkling range, Cape Beach Club, was awarded as Best Value for Money wine in its category for 2013.

With the last couple of years being the time of austerity, we are pleased to offer wines of distinction at excellent prices. Stressed consumers don’t have to sacrifice their inner sommelier in lieu of their wallet. We will happily oblige no matter what the packaging may be; we do not compromise on excellence between the bottle or box, cork or screw-cap.

We are also getting close to announcing our premier red-blend range. At an exclusive tasting, prominent wine commentators were invited to the cellar to taste Willie Stofberg’s latest and greatest straight from the barrels. Once Quest is launched, we will have all bases covered and we will offer a wine for any occasion.

In the vineyards, things are looking good for 2013. Most vines look particularly healthy and although we had some pretty vicious wind over the last week or two, the damage appears to be minimal. The best Christmas present we can receive is if the weather continues to play ball; we could be in for a good harvest if current estimates are anything to go by. With a good winter behind us, our water reserves are also looking healthy for the latter part of summer.

Finally, but by no means least important, is the role that you, the loyal Du Toitskloof consumer, has played in making 2012 great. Thank you for continually believing in us, our producers, our winemakers, our workforce and other contributing parties. Thank you for rewarding our continued efforts to produce value-of-money wines in a socially responsible manner. Thank you for always arriving at the store and saying, “When in doubt, go with Du Toitskloof.” This vote of confidence in our unwavering commitment to consistent quality, is what keeps us successful and means we too, can look forward to an even better 2013 with your support.

European Pain, South African Gain?

It is tough to gloat off other producers’ misfortune. Being involved in the wine industry means the pain of poor harvests is understood and empathized with, to the utmost degree. Our season is still in its infancy in South Africa, while the northern hemisphere has run its course and harvest has concluded. However, this season is less than stellar for them.

On the back of a very hot and dry summer, many viticulture regions in Spain and Italy have seen significant losses due to the worst drought in 30 years. Much of the Mediterranean was also plagued by record-breaking wild-fires in the scorching summer of 2012. It is estimated that Italy has not seen such a dismal crop since 1950. It is indeed tragic for our European counterparts.

Decanter also reports that the wine glut is almost over. According to Rabobank in The Netherlands, the demand-supply gap, caused by good crops in the years preceding the economic downturn of 2008 and the subsequent drop in demand because of it, is close to being closed. Global inventories of wine are reported to be at the lowest levels last seen a decade ago.

This coupled with a poor Chilean harvest in 2011 and recent reports coming out of Adelaide, that the Barossa Valley has seen significant frost damage during October cold-snaps; this may herald the season of the South African producer.

The UK supermarket chain, Booths and their wine-buyer, Andy Green, have already told The Telegraph that wine is already being actively sought from countries like South Africa. On the back of all the aforementioned, wine from Europe is becoming more expensive and wine is generally in short-supply. Something we have not experienced since the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

China’s increased consumption, the growth of non-traditional markets, like Africa, plus the recovery of the United States economy, is contributing towards closing this supply-demand gap. Experts, according to The Telegraph, agree that wine prices could rise by a further 10% this year in the UK.

Currently, our growing season in South Africa has barely begun. It is often difficult to predict crop-yields this early in the season. However, the weather conditions at this juncture seem to be playing along with the South African producers. We have seen a relatively cool, benign spring with moderate winds and light rainfall. Winter was unusually, more on the wetter side of the scale, meaning drought conditions this summer are highly unlikely. The El Niño Southern Oscillation, the weather phenomenon which drives El Niño (Pacific-warming) and La Niña (Pacific-cooling) weather events, is also in stasis. This means our Southern African weather patterns should remain close to normal into 2013.

All the above factors could mean 2013 may be the year for the South African producer. If all predictions hold up, the weather cooperates, local producers play their cards right and wine-demand is anything to go by, we could be in for a great year. Although this comes off the back of some dismal crop news from Europe and some hiccups with our southern counterparts, South Africa’s wine industry seems to be mooted to fill the gap. If we can do this in 2013, hopefully we can show off our quality and win over some permanent new clientele; Keep them buying South African wine, even when crops in the northern  hemisphere improve.

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.