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

Leveraging Seasonal Tourism

In the Cape, we’re extremely adept at doing summer. As a person who is a vehement foe of excessive heat, I don’t quite get it. I understand most enjoy the constant sun and heat of lengthy days; however, we are typecasting the Cape to our seasonal detriment. The Secret Season movement has had a limited impact.

This lopsided view of what quantifies as an asset to the Cape, is evident in Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, Edelweiss and Air France withdrawing and many other air carriers offering a reduced service during the austral winter.  Is May to October in the Cape really that bad? Whose view have we listened to on what is good weather and what is not? If it’s our fellow South Africans, then we’re getting the wrong advice from a biased source. The rest of South Africa knows the milder days of bone-dry winters; of course they’d lament ours.

Northern European summers often resemble our good winter days and some countries are crying out for 16°C highs between May and September. BRICS-nations, like India and China, are stiflingly humid and hot during these months and obviously, the Gulf States are like blast furnaces. The Indians and Chinese would relish our off-season. Although our friends from the UAE, Oman and Qatar may not indulge in the wine, they’ll revel in the associated amenities and other tourism activities.

The Cape is one of the few places on the African continent that truly has seasons, and seasons are a valuable asset. Just ask the town of Bright in Victoria, Australia. Its tourism marketing is focused on the town’s plethora of northern hemisphere trees that change vivid shades in the austral autumn, exceedingly rare to see in our hemisphere.

Locally, the West Coast and Namaqualand does this well during the springtime. Granted, some areas of this region can appear pretty barren during the rest of the year; daisies popping up on any open piece of land are a welcome scenic respite and an obvious draw-card.

The Cape Winelands and the Western Cape as a whole, should be making a more concerted and consolidated effort to debunk the myth that seasons = bad. Not that the provincial tourism authorities haven’t tried, but the entire tourism/conferencing industry, and even local governments, need to help in debunking this myth, to build a more calendar-ubiquitous tourism economy.

Seasons offer diversity and choice. Durban may offer ‘South Africa’s warmest welcome.’ However, where we can offer a warm welcome, a mild welcome or a refreshing welcome, Durban only has a warmest and outright sweaty welcome on offer. Seasons are an asset, we should use it.

No insult intended – just not a personal fan of humidity with heat… Some like it hot ;-)

Urban and some rural landscaping in parts of the Western Cape have failed to cement this. There has been a huge push nationally to use indigenous trees only. This has often resulted in towns planting Fever Trees and other odd choices as street trees. Guess what landscape designers? A tree knows no geo-political boundaries. A tree, although classified as South African indigenous, if from the Lowveld (or elsewhere in SA), is still as exotic to the Cape as an Oak or Liquidambar. If it’s not from the Cape Floristic Kingdom, to nature, it’s foreign. Plus, the aesthetic treatment given to our Winelands towns is the Phalaborwa-look; neither unique, nor apt. A town good at preserving Wineland’s heritage, is Stellenbosch, ardently preserving the Eikestad (oak city) moniker and using urban landscape as a tourism draw.

Other towns can and must do the same, especially those struggling to get on the tourist map. Let’s leverage every asset we have; the blossoming orchards in spring, the warm, balmy grape harvest of summer, the vivid tones of changing leaves of autumn and the verdant fields and snow-capped peaks of winter. Lastly, we need to sell it!

The passage of seasons near Du Toitskloof Cellar - from the same spot at 9:00am in May, July, October & January

The passage of seasons near Du Toitskloof Cellar – from the same spot at 9:00am in May, July, October & January

By: Andres de Wet

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

Master-Coup For Winelands

Arnold Tanzer (MasterChef: Food on the Move), Samantha Linsell (MasterChef Food Stylist: Drizzle&Dip), Benny Masekwameng (MasterChef Judge)

Arnold Tanzer (MasterChef: Food on the Move), Samantha Linsell (MasterChef Food Stylist: Drizzle&Dip), Benny Masekwameng (MasterChef Judge)

MasterChef season two began airing on M-NET with great fanfare, being heavily punted by the South African pay-TV broadcaster and well-received by the South African viewing public. What can be said with the greatest conviction is that the production quality of this hit reality TV-series is beyond compare. The food styling, wine presentation, culinary complexity, camera work and post-production mastery have not been seen on this level in local South African productions, until now.

How lucky are we that this reality TV masterpiece takes place at Nederburg in Paarl, a huge coup for the Cape Winelands. We can only hope that international TV-stations will snap up this series from M-NET, to give our region some exposure outside of Africa and DStv’s footprint. The show puts the Cape on show, both scenically and culinarily. Seafood on the West Coast, to traditional Cape-cuisine in the Winelands, Cape Malay in the city’s Bo-Kaap to food on the open fire at Mzoli’s in Gugulethu – it is proudly South African and boastful of the diversity in a mere 150km radius of Cape Town in every possible way.

MasterChef has popularised food and wine. It has turned its creative masters into overnight sensations. We have been fortunate enough to host the friendly, knowledgeable and talented Benny Masekwameng (MasterChef SA judge) at DuToitskloof Cellar, at a culinary competition in August 2012. It has made food and wine “hip and happening” again, taking the passion out of 5-star restaurants and classy wine estates and right into people’s hearts and homes.

I had reservations about the show, prior to season one’s launch in March of 2012. The Australian version of the show is stellar, albeit extremely lengthy, and tops their national viewership rankings. The American version, although boasting Gordon Ramsay, was an epic fail. The U.S. need for speed trumped the format, with the series feeling rushed, one was unable to emotionally attach to the contestants and the challenges and culinary complexity was lackluster to say the least. Not with MasterChef SA however. They opted for a hybrid between the Australian and American versions and their season two, seems to be following the successful former’s format more closely than season one.

The largest reservation was about South African broadcasters’ Johannesburg-centricity. As much as the economic juggernaut has the bulk of local television infrastructure; a culinary, viticulture and fresh-produce capital it is not. Any thought of a culinary contest being held on the Highveld was as absurd as having a mining-entrepreneurship ‘Apprentice’ series set in Cape Town. To my delight, Paarl emerged bright, mountainous and carpeted in vines, on screen; a mere twenty minutes drive from our cellar’s front door.

We hope the start of season two will bolster interest in the Cape Winelands even more, as a scenic culinary and viticulture destination beyond compare. It is hoped it will broaden the scope of people’s perceptions of the region, of being more than just Stellenbosch. When you’re struck by the helicopter-shot panorama of the approach to the MasterChef kitchen, notice the mountains beyond. There lies the gateway to our region, just a few kilometers over the peaks.

Hopefully, our region too, can learn lessons from this show. Popularisation can be positive if it’s done sensitively, fusing the genuineness of what you have to offer with intense public interest. Given that MasterChef is only a mountain range away, here’s to foisting our region into the popular spotlight.

By: Andres de Wet

Green Secrets of Winter

Hex River Valley from the N1

Hex River Valley from the N1

February is always too scorching whilst June is always too wet and frigid: Capetonians can be a fickle lot. We live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet, blessed with weather that most people find utterly temperate; with neither the stifling humidity of Miami, nor the thermo-fan oven that is Dubai, nor the blast-chiller that is Toronto nor the chilly, gloom that is London. Yet, we often confine ourselves to the office, shop and home when the “mild winter chill” sets in from June to September.

Yet, this is when the Cape really goes to town; this is when she dresses

Fonteintjiesberg above Worcester from Nuy

Fonteintjiesberg above Worcester from Nuy

in her winter best, when hardly any tourists even sneak a peek. Taking a break into the country is truly awe-inspiring when the Cape adorns her green garb of the Secret Season. At no other time of the year are the colours more vivid, the atmosphere more crisp and clear and the pursuit of great cuisine and fine reds, more fulfilling.

Take the N1 east from Cape Town. As you travel through the rolling hills of Joostenbergvlakte between Bellville and Paarl, an emerald-green landscape greets you in a genteel fashion reminiscent of Ireland. The N1 then turns slightly northward as it enters the beautiful Berg River Valley of Paarl, with the mountains looming larger now – if lucky enough to make the trek after a winter storm, snow will greet you on the Klein Drakenstein Ranges. Paarl has numerous hidden tourist gems like the language monument and a plethora of excellent restaurants, serving all manner of tasty fare.

Venture over the mountains. On a clear day, opt for the R101 DuToitskloof Pass in lieu of the N1 Huguenot Tunnel. The waterfalls, green fynbos-clad mountainsides and high-altitude vistas are unparalleled. Here, the mountain snow becomes more evident, with the 1995m high DuToit’s Peak often poking into the clouds as a frosted, jagged spire.

Late-autumn colours at Du Toitskloof producers

Late-autumn colours at Du Toitskloof producers

The Breede River Valley opens up on the other side, with a patchwork of stark, dormant vines, with the deep green of winter grass covering each patch of open earth. The mountains are higher, their snow-capped summits, more beautiful. Turning off at R101 Rawsonville, you begin to take in the Breedekloof Wine Route. Here is where you’ll find DuToitskloof Cellar. Take in a scrumptious deli lunch and dabble in some of our value-for-money wines, our multi-award-winning Dimension red and our lauded fortified wines, like Hanepoot Jerepigo, Red Muscadel and Cape Ruby (Port). Do not turn your nose up to the sweeter wines. Given a cold snap, a fire place and appropriate hors d’oeuvre or dessert, there is no better option to warm the heart and enhance the ambience.

Venturing through the surrounding wine route is rewarding, most visitors being dumbfounded by the quality of wines at prices that are at a fraction of other regions. The vistas are truly unique, often looking more like one is touring in the southern Alps, than the Cape Winelands. Do yourself a favour and track the winter storms. If snow has fallen, make your way to the interior Winelands soonest, for the ultimate picturesque experience and bring your camera!

Heavy snowfall at Klondyke atop Swaarmoed Pass, Ceres

Heavy snowfall at Klondyke atop Swaarmoed Pass, Ceres

If time allows, continue up the R43 towards Wolseley, taking in the breathtaking Mitchell’s Pass on the R46 en route to the queen-of-the-snows, Ceres. The Warmbokkeveld Valley opens op rapidly, above the summit of the pass; after storms, snow creeps down to the base of the mountains. The valley is an assault of white and green on the eyes, with a European-like briskness to the air. This region should be a pilgrimage every Capetonian should make once per winter. Through Ceres, venture up Gydo, Theronsberg or Swaarmoed Passes, to take in your slice of a South African winter wonderland.

Make the Cape Winelands interior part of your winter breakaway plans. You can’t beat the winter; so embrace it, revel in it, wine-and-dine it and photographically document it. There’s no more gorgeous a place, where the South African winter comes in its full splendor, than the Breede River, Hex River and Ceres Valley’s.