Annareth, Annelize, Ellen, Elzabe, Frieda, Jenny, Jolene, Melissa,
Melody, Michelle, Monika, Taryn and Trudy are the most dynamic band of
ladies since the Spice Girls.
While exports of bottled wine may battle overseas (down over 10% last year) - this in spite of WOSA being dominated by the fair sex - when it comes to local marketing, the various regional wine routes are helping to keep local sales bubbling, up 4% in a year.
Winemakers are predominantly male, wine route managers constitute an active sorority who meet monthly at alternating venues to compare notes. Not that wine routes are the only bodies producers use to reach local consumers, but they are certainly well supported by producers. Some Co-ops on the unfashionable side of the Du Toitskloof Mountains cough up R150k a year to fund them.
But they are certainly not Big Boys Clubs run by Girls as annual membership of the Swartland Wine Route, for example, starts at R2 500 a year. Some of that appellation’s highest fliers, like Adi Badenhorst and Chris and Andrea Mullineux, are members, so that’s only a couple of cases of wine for them.
These Swartlanders are also among a group of boutique producers on the Paardeberg who formed the Swartland Independent last year. The Independent recently decided to join the system and take a stand designed by the bohemian boekhouer of Riebeek-Kasteel, Anton Espost, at Cape Wine 2012. It is sure to be the most provocative stand at the fair, even if Anton does leave his oxidized Chenin called “SAWIS” out of the equation, as he is battling to get it certified.
Anton’s loud gypsy brothel aesthetic has provided the vinous highlight of Ross Douglas’s Food|Wine|Design fair in Hyde Park, the most stylish wine show in a crowded calendar, for the last couple of years.
Portuguese winemaker/writer/broadcaster/judge Aníbal Coutinho and I had first-hand experience of the power of these wine route women last month as we embarked on a blind tasting of terroir wines in situ for our upcoming Neil Pendock’s Winelands Guide 2013. We’d invited that lavishly punctuated sommelier/events organizer Jörg Pfützner, but he bowed out with family commitments after his children starting asking who he was.
Co-ordinated by Annelize from Paarl, we started off with Michelle in a rainy Durbanville at Cassia Restaurant on Nitida farm and ended up with Jolene in the boardroom of the Swartland Co-op which has the largest spittoons in the business – four foot high lengths of blue pipe that play an ascending scale of notes as they fill with expectorated wine during an extended tasting. Annareth, Annelize, Ellen and Jenny will follow in September.
Our idea is to map SA terroir by blind tasting various wine styles in the different appellations. So only “wine of origin” vintage wines – no tank or barrel samples and no multi-appellation blends like many of the big brands.
Not that they’re worse, just no place specific. Next year we plan to invite winemakers to blind taste along with us and hear our comments first hand – a feedback which is missing from the various pay-to-play wine shows and quite frankly inexcusable, given the lavish entry fees charged. Perhaps even invite some wannabe sommeliers to do the whole trip with us. Nobody pays to enter and we’ve no sponsorship. We must be mad!
Our project is a local implementation of an annual wine guide we write in Portuguese each year, travelling around the different appellations with tastings arranged by the various Portuguese wine commissions. For a wine to be recognized as a true expression of Dão, for example, it is blind tasted within the appellation and is certainly something for SA wine routes to consider in order to develop regional wine profiles.
For starters, regional certification would be a neat resolution of the current cause célèbre on the Paardeberg, where Craig Hawkins has had his Testalonga El Bandito Cortez rejected for certification, a second time. Perhaps a Swartland Wine Route panel would be more sympathetic – even to Anton’s SAWIS wine.
Wine routes are a valuable resource for the whole SA industry and deserve to be used far more than they are. The annual Stellenbosch tasting at Summer Place in Johannesburg is eagerly looked forward to by bribeable Metro cops who man the profusion of roadblocks hastily erected around the venue when the winemakers roll into the Big Smoke. A lockdown Langlaagte style.
Judging by the quality we tasted blind last month, Bot River would be most welcome at the Bunny Park in Benoni, Vredendal should hire some Venter trailers and trek to Vereeniging while that Durbanville does not kuier with its namesake Durban, has been a colonial confusion that escapes me. With amazons like Annareth and Annelize at the wheel of the bus, success is assured.