Shiraz is Smokin’ Hot

Lafras Huguenet

“Where there’s smoke,” Dolf Hershowitz said sitting down heavily on the bar-stool, “there’s a burning piece of Cape fynbos.”

Dolf and Colonel Zaccharias Snodgrass had just returned to Vermaaklikheid from the smouldering fleshpots of Cape Town, joining the rest of us at our rightful place in the Coop Tavern on the banks of the Duiwenhoks River. It was good to see the two old boys, even if Dolf still had a piece of ash on his forehead and the remnants of a half-eaten Bo-Kaap samoosa in his shirt pocket.

“That, Dolf, will be the last time I accept an invitation to visit the City in your company,” the Colonel said. “I thought I was going there for some rest and relaxation, and possibly to find the romance and passion of a lost youth. But the only old flame I saw was the one threatening to burn down my god-son’s house on the hills above Constantia.”

Stienie Greyling looked up from his newspaper. “Like my neighbour’s wife used to say: is that smoke I smell or are you just over here to borrow the lawnmower?”

Dolf sneered. “Not much to laugh about that burning mountain we saw,” he said opening the box he had brought with him. “The flames were as high as a Frans Steyn tackle. And even from where I was standing on Ou Kaapse Weg I could feel the fire was as hot as the Widow Nothnagel’s melktert.”

Despite the gripping account of a burning mountain, we were interested in the box Dolf was handling. And to our relief he pulled out a bottle of wine from it. This was a welcome change: Last time he went to Cape Town he bought each of us a bag of waterblommetjies and a Helen Zille tea-mug.

“Now that’s a sight for sore eyes,” Tielman Kempen said, walking over to the bar to assist in the unpacking of the range of beauties from Du Toitskloof Wines our Dolf had procured. “I see, Dolf, you and the Colonel were in such a hurry to leave the fires of Cape Town that you had to take the road through the Du Toitskloof tunnel.”

The Colonel nodded. “A man’s throat becomes awfully dry while one is telling the firefighters how to whack the flames, especially while you are running down-hill at the same time,” he said. “Du Toitskloof and its wines were needed to regain composure and physical excellence.”

Five glasses appeared. And Dolf began splashing wine of a reddish-purple hue into each of them.

“Du Toitskloof Shiraz,” said Dolf, “this is the best souvenir I could bring.”

Tielman nodded as he took a glass and sniffed. “I see what you mean. While the wine is brimming with fruit and hints of spice, there is delectable smokiness to be had in the aroma,” Tielman enthused, stopping to take a sip. Before continuing, “And on the mid-palate, the Du Toitskloof shows typical Shiraz notes of prune, white pepper and charcuterie.”

Stienie swallowed a mouthful of wine and nodded. “Heavens, Tielman, this wine-bug is biting you deep. Or are you training for this year’s Du Toitskloof SA Wine Writer Competition?”

“In association with Standard Bank,” the Colonel said, irritated. “The bearded, long-haired fellow from Du Toitskloof who made the last delivery kept stressing the important role of Standard Bank in creating a local culture of wine writing.”

Dolf raised his glass of Du Toitskloof Shiraz. “I’ll drink to that,” he said with a twinkle. “Tielman is our man, and a dead ringer to win that writing competition. With the inspiration we fellows give him, he only has to enter to win.” He smiled at Stienie. “And seeing we are splitting the winnings five-ways, I’ll be able to take the Widow Nothnagel with me during my next visit to Cape Town.”

We all had our own thoughts. If the Widow ever joined Dolf, it will not only be the fynbos that will burn.

Du Toitskloof Wines Kicks-off Harvest in New Cellar

Vintage 2015 will go down in the books as a new chapter in the history of Du Toitskloof Wines, the well-known wine cellar at the gateway to the Breedekloof Valley near the town of Rawsonville. With the harvest commencing towards the end of January, the grapes from the winery’s 22 farmer-shareholders are being treated in a brand new harvest facility which was erected on the premises over the past four months.

“Myself and the team have some really awesome equipment to ‘play’ with,” says Cellar Master Shawn Thomson. “The new cellar was built from scratch and has been equipped with everything a winery of our size could wish for. This includes two new pneumatic Bucher presses capable of handling 32 tons of grapes each, six separators and 10 settling tanks each holding 40 000 litres.

“This new equipment has enabled us to do 400 tons of Sauvignon Blanc grapes a day, where in the past 250 tons was a big ask. With Sauvignon Blanc being our first variety harvested, this year’s harvest has gotten off to a great start as far as logistics are concerned. Farmers can off-load their grapes and get back to the vineyards immediately, with no time-consuming queuing issues.”

Du Toitskloof Wines’ new facility will be capable of handling 700 tons of grapes daily if required. The cellar harvests an average of 15 000 tons per annum.

“With the Du Toitskloof Sauvignon Blanc being our calling card, I am really excited about what effect technology is going to have on our wine quality from this year onwards,” says Thomson. Both the new Bucher presses are connected to two flexible containers of nitrogen which is drawn into the presses to ensure fruit is processed in a totally oxygen-free environment. For Sauvignon Blanc, this is ideal and so far the juice has shown wonderful natural freshness which bodes well for our wine.”

Du Toitskloof is the first winery in South Africa to use 32 ton presses of this nature.

Thomson says that to date, yields are lower on Sauvignon Blanc. “Most of the grapes are coming in at between 20.5 and 23 ° Balling, allowing us to spread our combination between the tropical and more brisk, green flavours,” he says. “On the red side the farmers with Pinotage have been bringing fruit featuring tight bunches and berries oozing black fruit flavours.”

This year’s harvest has been characterised by dry conditions, although the legendary Rawsonville heat has largely stayed away.

“Spring and early summer were surprisingly cool in the valley, but when we hit some real 35 degree-plussers in January and we all thought – right, that’s it, here we go,” says Thomson. “But after four days the heat abated and we are back to sunny, temperate conditions, hence the healthy fruit we are getting. Let’s hold thumbs it stays this way.”

Tim James Does it Again in Du Toitskloof Wine Writer Competition

Make that a double. Tim James, well-known South African wine writer and associate editor of the Platter Wine Guide repeated his achievement last year by winning the 2014 Du Toitskloof South African Wine Writer Award which is held annually in association with Standard Bank.

To tie into Cape Town’s status as World Design Capital for 2014, entrants had to submit original unpublished pieces of between 1 500 and 2 000 discussing the role the local wine culture has played in contributing towards the values and aesthetics of design in the Western Cape.

James, from Kenilworth in Cape Town, scooped the winner’s cheque of R30 000 with a piece titled “Getting the Mountains into (and onto) the Bottle” narrating the role the mountains of the Cape winelands play in hosting the vineyards and creating of the regions wines right through to the packaging of the finished product.

Upon receiving the award, James said it is a great honour to receive this prize, thanking Du Toitskloof Wines for the initiative and the organising of the competition, as well as Standard Bank for the generous cheque.

Professor Gabriël Botma from the University of Stellenbosch’s Journalism Department and convenor of the judging panel, said that this year’s entries included a number of gems.

“This year’s topic was of a more creative nature, and the panel really enjoyed reading and analysing the diverse entries from accomplished wordsmiths,” he said. “We felt that the contestants enjoyed the opportunity of being able to express themselves and could see it in the lively nature of the writing.

“The entries used expressive and evocative language to put their viewpoints across, and there was an admirable degree of research and factual thoroughness. We believe that the standard of wine writing is commendably high in South Africa and if our wines command the same amount of respect, the industry is in rude health. As a journalist and academic I am aware of the importance of wine in writing. As American author Jim Harrison says: “The only advice I can give to aspiring writers is don’t do it unless you’re willing to give your whole life to it. Red wine and garlic also helps.”

This year’s other judges were Prof Ian Glenn from the University of Cape Town’s Department of Media Studies, travel writer Ernst Grundlingh from Weg/Go and former Wynboer editor Maureen Joubert.

The four other entrants of the Du Toitskloof SA Wine Writer of the Year, in association with Standard Bank, were Ricardo Gouveia, Melvyn Minnaar, Tshepang Molisina and Joanne Gibson.

The judging was done anonymously and the results audited by PWC.

Mobile Library Takes Shape

When not making wine, we try to do some good for the people in our beautiful Du Toitskloof wine region. A lot of good, actually. And we don’t try, we do it.

It is a well-known fact that we are the country’s largest producer of Fairtrade-certified wine, making our credentials as a responsible employer non-negotiable. But now, together with drinks company DGB Du Toitskloof has taken another big step in improving the lives of the people in our community.

Last Friday a get-together was held at the winery to announce this project: the Du Toitskloof-DGB Mobile Library. Why a library, and why mobile?

Firstly because we identified nine primary schools in our region who seriously need library facilities and reading material. The resources for these items are just not there. And secondly, a mobile library will ensure that the books and reading matter will get to each of the nine schools on a two-weekly basis.

Books, yes, but also computers connected to the internet as well as the “Eye Gym” learning system developed by Dr Sherylle Calder of international sporting fame.

Over 1000 primary school kids will be exposed to a whole new world. Things that other kids take for granted, such as illustrated children’s books, computers and a comfortable chair to sit in while reading, will roll onto the school premises on a regular basis. We truly believe that this will unleash the potential of our area’s children, empowering them with the insight, vision and creativity they need to take on the world.

They deserve it all, and from February next year a new era begins.

Kokkedoor Gets too Hot to Handle

When it rains, it pours. In last week’s episode of Kokkedoor (Thursday, KykNet at 20:00) not one, but two of the reality chefs got the boot. This after the previous episode had created something of a comfort zone for contestants with not a soul being identified for expulsion.

Well, in the last episode the judges were not cruel, but not exactly kind either. Team Chloé and Hestelle were told to “vat your pie and waai” after failing to conjure up a suitable list of culinary delights with which to nourish the exhausted souls of the Prince Albert Tennis Club.

The 10 teams of 20 contestants were required to prepare a spread which had to include rainbow sandwiches, savour or sweet puff-balls and, of course, tea. The stuff had to be tasty, had to be presentable as high teas are not dog shows and had to satisfy the hunger of the sweaty, exhausted tennis players.

There really was some great stuff: date bread, caramelised pears, delicious-looking sandwiches made with various cheeses, puffs stuffed with biltong and – believe it or not – balls of maize porridge. It was a taxing and competitive task as the food required diverse ingredients, logistics in the preparing thereof and teamwork.

Here one could sense the brooding tension, especially between team-mates Chris and Beate. Chris, a perfectionist, had his grapes in a press about Beate’s lace of planning, her messy kitchen and crude flavours. Beate kept cool, just saying she would be surprised if she got the boot. “I’ll eat my hat.”

These two were safe – for now – and judge Hetta did not mince her words when saying Hestelle and Chloé failed on all fronts.

Tough-going. Ruthless. Makes Survivor look like Haas Das.

No matter, Hestelle and Chloé, getting the boot is never easy to swallow. But hopefully you are now sitting back sipping a few glasses of Du Toitskloof Chenin Blanc or Shiraz and reminiscing of a rewarding experience.

Skoukos vir Kokkedore

Loop en eet kan net so uitdagend soos loop en wyndrink wees. Maar dis nou waarmee die deelnemers in die tweede episode van Kokkedoor, die KykNet TV-reeks waarvan Du Toitskloof Wines die wynborg is, moes rekening hou. Ja, hulle moes kook vir Prins Albert se plaaslike landbouskou, met die klem op jafels – daardie ronde geroosterde broodjie-smaaklikhede – en die onontbeerlike boereworsrolletjie.

Sjef Nic van Wyk, een van die beoordelaars, het ook gewys hoe ’n volstruiskerrie “bunny-chow” gemaak word. Maar om hierdie homp kerrievleis-gevulde brood op ’n drafstap te eet is vir mors-soek. Om van die snaakse kyke nie te praat nie.

O ja, die pannekoek – ’n landbouskou sonder ’n pannekoek is soos ’n langarm-dans sonder ’n konsertina. Die deelnemers moes ’n soet pannekoek maak, en kykers wat nog in die warm weer van ’n laatsomer vasgevang is sou hoop die winter kom pronto, want ’n pannekoek bly darem ’n smul-heerlike ding.

Hier by Du Toitskloof hou ons van ons pannekoek eenvoudig: kaneelsuiker en ’n knerts suurlemoensap, baie dankie. Dis al. En dan sluk ons hom af met ons Rooi Muskadel, en jy’s soet agter die ore maar lekker bly lekker.

Met ’n boereworsrol kan mens ’n glasie rooiwyn geniet – Cabernet Sauvignon of Shiraz van Du Toitskloof is nommerpas. En as dit by die jafel kom, wat deur die Kokkedore met gekerriede volstruisvleis gevul is, stry ons hier by die kelder: is Chardonnay die regte wyn om hiermee saam te bedien, of hunker ons na die staatmaker Sauvignon Blanc?

Die Du Toitskloof-span het tydens die tweede aflewering van Kokkedoor net weer eens besef hoe geseënd ons in die wynbedryf is. Chris, een van die deelnemers, het laat weet hy eet nie volstruisvleis nie aangesien hy op ’n volstruisplaas grootgeword het en daardie vleis deesdae nie oor sy lippe kan forseer nie. Wel, ons wat op wynplase geskool is sit gelukkig nie met daardie probleem nie.

Toe uitstemtyd tydens gisteraand se episode aanbreek, wou-wou ’n paar van die deelnemers na die wynglas gryp om die senuwees te kalm. Gelukkig vir hulle het die beoordelaars besluit om niemand uit te stem nie.

Noem ons dit die stilte voor die storm?

Wag vir volgende week se Kokkedoor. Donderdagaande om 20:00. Kyk dit net op KykNet.

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.