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.

Building Trust in Critical Thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Andres de Wet