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 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.

Debutant DuToitskloof: A Coming of Age

Vintage gift of Hanepoot Jerepigo at the 50th gala dinner

Saturday evening begins with a flurry of excitement. Honoured guests dressed to the nines confidently strut up a red carpet towards two friendly individuals, one handing them a glass a bubbly, the other checking their names off a guest list. As they enter the elegantly decorated foyer, they’re greeting by the soothing, yet contemporary sounds of a French-gypsy-jazz fusion band, Manouche. This is not Los Angeles, even at a push this could be Stellenbosch… but no: This is Rawsonville! A town more synonymous with the “Raw” of its first syllable, than anything else; yet this event is anything but.

DuToitskloof Wines was an unknown entity just over a decade ago. It was nothing more than another bulk producer on that side of the mountain. Being on that side meant the climb was that much more precipitous to gain national acclaim; geography almost suggested you should be forgotten. Something shifted seismically nonetheless over the preceding decade. This red carpet event did not feel foreign to this team, often lauded as the winery most experienced at producing wines of consistent quality that never breaks the bank.

This was not a 50th Anniversary gala event, this was not a sophisticated dinner party or an awards ceremony. This was more of a debutant ball, a coming of age if you wish. DuToitskloof Wines had grown up, was dressed to the hilt in the best fashion and damn, did she look spectacular. She was mature and she was glowing with pride in a way only a self-made success could beam with such confidence.

From all the staff, the invited guests, the members, down to the keynote speaker, company chairman Johan de Wet, all you felt was an air of pride and satisfaction. There was nothing this group was embarrassed about, not a wine they produced they wouldn’t recommend, not an achievement they did not work hard for. Everything this cellar is today was done through pure dedication, taking some serious calculated risks and many a time, being forced to walk the road alone, when other industry insiders said it could never be done.

The cellar’s history was lauded, with founding members being fondly remembered, talk of the days when building facilities cost thousands, not millions of rands. Not a chapter was missed, including the days when the KWV controlled every aspect of wine production, vineyard planting and even wine prices.

After an informative lesson in South Africa’s often difficult wine history, the food was served. Paired meticulously with the best wines DuToitskloof has to offer. The starter of Duck with a ponzu sauce on a bed of egg noodles was simplistic, yet inspired. Paired with the cellar’s Chardonnay/Viognier blend, one could not go wrong. This robust white blend with complex citrus tones and depth was evenly matched by the intense Asian flavours and citrus notes of the ponzu sauce. Neither was overpowered and the combination danced in your mouth to the delight of the taste buds.

Main course refused to be overshadowed. The lamb roll delicately placed atop a potato and pea mash, with a stunning red wine reduction, with two baby carrots contributing a burst of orange on the plate, made the plate a work of art. The only red that could possibly match this was DuToitskloof’s double-gold Michelangelo award winning Dimension. This red- blend is like velvet on the palate. The tannins are already subdued, making this wine ready for enjoying immediately; despite this subtlety in the wine, the ever powerful Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz provided complexity and spiciness, the Merlot, a wonderful soft fruity tone. It was the perfect partner to the flavourful lamb. The red wine reduction and the Dimension seemed to fall in love with each other somewhere between the tip of the tongue and the tummy; the happiest tummy in recent months after the class-act that was the starter and entrée.

Francios Botha, DuToitskloof’s vice-chairman, proceeded to thank all those who made not only this night, but the cellar as a whole a success. A special mention has to go to a talented young woman, Elzaan Geldenhuys, who in her organisation skills and attention to stylistic detail, may be in danger of being snatched up by the Academy Awards organising committee in Los Angeles.

Desert was a to-share chocolate fondue with the most scrumptious and adorable biscotti, shortbread, nougat and fruit selection. It was a fun and interactive way to end the culinary part of the evening. People laughing as the noshed on the sweet delights held precariously between chopsticks, as they savoured the always appealing DuToitskloof Red Muscadel.

Marius Louw, the managing director and Shawn Thomson, lead winemaker, looked as proud as punch. One could only compare the glint in their eyes to what one may have if one’s daughter had just graduated cum laude from Harvard Law. As Johan de Wet stated in his keynote speech, DuToitskloof’s success is in its people. After such an evening of generous hospitality, this is indisputable. These are people who live, work and breathe DuToitskloof. They’re not personnel, members or directors, they’re family; their metaphorical daughter had grown up and what a phenomenal woman she has become.

Our winemaking team proud as punch with recent accolades – celebrating at 50th Anniversary. Left to Right: Jaco le Roux, Willie Stofberg, Alain Cajeux, Chris Geldenhuys, Shawn Thomson

Petrol vs. Wine: The Real Cost of Staying Close

Aerial of western Breede River Valley (our region), with 1995m high DuToit's Peak looming behind.

With the price of desert-juice from Saudi Arabia rising at alarming rates, the ability to buy that which is illegal there, namely fermented juice of the vine, is becoming more and more difficult. In fact, it’s frightening to note that bulk wine can cost up to five times less that of petrol.  Scary! Perhaps we should start synthesising bio-fuel from grapes?

That aside, the wine connoisseur is left wanting; often having to choose between the flagship red, or having enough money for Caltex. Drive and drink like a pauper or walk and drink like a sommelier.

Keeping a Capetonian from the Winelands is like keeping a penguin from the water. Most need their weekend pilgrimage to the estates to see what’s on offer; to taste something delicious and new. After all, we pay the “lifestyle tax” of earning less in the Cape compared to our Gauteng compatriots, so we need to take advantage of that which we pay this “tax” for.

The logical conclusion for the petrol-wary-wine-seeking Capetonian: stay close, we’ll save. This logic is understandable; Constantia, Durbanville, Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek all seem too alluring. People seldom blink an eye departing for a daytrip to the gorgeous vineyards of the Huguenots in ourFrench Corner. However, what few fathom is, that when you turn off the N1 onto the R45 (in Paarl) to explore the wineries of Franschhoek, the time taken to reach them is almost identical to pushing on through the tunnel to Rawsonville.

Yes, Breedekloof Wine Route and Rawsonville is not much more effort, yet the psychological barrier of the statuesque mountains keeps people in a mindset of: “It’s too far for a daytrip.” It simply isn’t!

The cost of petrol and toll; this is understandable fuzzy-logic again. However, Breedekloof runs on quality and value, whereas regions on the other side run on acclaim. What little extra is spent at Caltex or Engen is saved on value-for-money. Embarking on a wine tour in the hinterland will leave your wallet a little heavier upon leaving, yet not compromising on quality.

DuToitskloof Wines is a perfect example, once again announced Best Value for Money Cellar. It has been forced to build its name on giving the consumer more than they expect. It cannot run on the fame of Rawsonville; who’s heard of Rawsonville outside the Western Cape? Few, except the most geographically minded. So, local Breedekloof Wine Route producers have to pursue quality over fame to get their share of the competitive wine market.

Nevertheless, the genuine-feel of Rawsonville and the Breedekloof region of being off the beaten track, means visitors feel like guests, not like Disney-ticket holders waiting for the Winery’s-Wild-Ride.

Do yourself a favour and spend a little more at the pump, but get so much more at the cellar. The hinterland has much to see and do and even more to taste. The mountains erupt from the valley floor in a more spectacular fashion, the drive is almost unworldly in its beauty, the people welcoming and the wine, comparable to those from “that side of the berg,” but at half the price.

A little initial investment will yield great returns. Invest in a trip through the Huguenot Tunnel, but don’t tell the Huguenots in our neighbouring valley I told you to.