space: the crucial frontier.
These are the endeavours of Vitis
Vinifera. It’s relentless mission: to explore every new option, to
seek out great wines from exciting producers, to boldly go where
no competition has gone before.
On Thursday morning I was fortunate to attend a
Great White tasting at Allée Bleue in Franschhoek where Cathy van Zyl MW was
the guest speaker. It was a bit of an
annual event, Fiona McDonald former editor of Wine magazine explained as she introduced some of the winemakers
who presented prized whites from their cellars.
I fondly remember the issues of that magazine that featured only white
wines of all sorts and styles.
There was a line-up of six wines:
Adi Badenhorst’s White, a multivarietal
wine made from Voor Perdeberg grapes;
Adam Mason’s Ka-Pow, a blend between Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay/Viognier;
Alheit’s Carthology, a blend consisting mostly of old vines Chenin Blanc;
Ian Naudé’s White, always a blend of
Chenin Blanc/Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon;
Bloemendal’s ultra-low yielding Suider Terras Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend;
Avondale’s Cyclus, a Viognier-based wine with Chenin Blanc/Rousanne/Semillon
The winemakers’ take on their wines and what they
consider influential in their crafting of what we had in the glass was as
diverse as the result we swirled and sniffed.
For Adi the Voor-Perdeberg as a quality growing area and patiently
waiting for the components to integrate over almost a year in large vats was
important; Adam remarked that sometimes a playful angle on a serious wine would
get people’s attention; Chris was enthusiastic about aging white blends made
from vineyards geographically remote from one another in very old barrels; Ian spoke about the pursuit of the perfect white
blend and doing so for almost two decades now; Francois was really enthusiastic
about yields that made no financial sense, but delivered grapes of immense
concentration of fruit and aromas and Corné was passionate about selected="true"
organically grown vineyards contributing to complex full whites in deliberately
more oxidative style.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Cathy spoke about how to approach international
markets with quality wine that will sell at a premium based on the merit of
what’s in the bottle. She referred to
the Beautiful South tasting to be held in London on 11 and 12 September, a two
day event that will showcase some of the finest Argentina, Chile and South
Africa has to offer. But she also
stressed that one international show alone would not persuade the world to pick
a South African white blend from the shelf or choose us as a wine tourist destination
over other contenders. We need a point
of difference, a value proposition that will associate South African white
wines with innovation and uniqueness. We
need blends that will differentiate us from both composition and latitude
perspectives. And we need public, not
wine geeks to get what we’re about. Wine
geeks will buy a bottle or two and rave about eccentric detail with a friend
before moving on the next elusive offering.
We need every shopper in the world to take us seriously. Exclusivity has nothing on public opinion,
when sales matter.
Which is where Vitis Vinifera Awards come in.
Interesting people have asked me about who the
judges for the first annual Vitis Vinifera Awards were going to be –
sommeliers, a Cape Wine Master, winemakers, writers and brand owners were among
them. My answer always starts with a
question: do you know the make-up of the panels for any other competition,
local or international? The reaction to
this usually is a frown and a shrug. Of
course you don’t, but you trust the integrity of the competition and its
organiser to gather enthusiasts that understand the mission of the competition
and the parameters of its intention and, of course, are able to convincingly
form an opinion on the wines that pass in front of them on the day of the
While the make-up of other competitions may
prescribe previous experience in tasting panels and authoritative international
background or even academic qualifications, the Vitis Vinifera Awards are
actually judged by wine buyers and consumers.
I have great respect for every competition in this country and for
international panels and tasters who become involved in promoting good South
African wines. But on our panels there
are no wine geeks (to borrow Cathy’s phrase), only people who love wine and
drink nothing else. People who buy
copious amounts of wine and influence patterns of enjoyment of wine in their
considerable social circles. Our panels
consist of people who are in love with wine and seldom let the opportunity pass
to introduce friends and family to quality wine as a part of everyday
life. The panel members for the Vitis
Vinifera Awards are the very people wine producers want critics to
influence. They live wine as an
Granted, as I conveyed this message in more conversations
over the past few months than I can remember, sommeliers and winemakers and
producers – even a Cape Wine Master – volunteered to be part of the final
tasting procedures in 2013. I’m
convinced that there is a trend towards simplifying wine enjoyment, of a less
analytical approach towards singular guidelines or set preferences. I’d even go as far as to say that the more
opinions there are and the more consumers realise that their own preferences
and ability to discern quality wines, the better for the industry. We all can do with some enthusiasm around
solid wines produced to charm various palettes.
That said, I know that many of Vitis Vinifera
Awards’ panel members love Rosé wines and interesting blends that consist of
red and white components. There are many
wines designed for public appeal that are good or even excellent, but they
don’t fit moulds that would interest geeks.
It’s high time wines speak for themselves and transcend criteria that
most consumers would consider elitist babble.
The Vitis Vinifera Awards will commend as many wines as possible
that are good, and making the choice for the consumer much wider. Panel members are hand selected="true" carefully to affect
exactly this philosophy.