The thriller of South Africa’s lacking wine market: the US


Why don’t Americans drink extra South African wine? It’s a query that I’ve been asking myself, and any American wine drinker who will hear, for a while. The world’s greatest wine market was solely the sixth greatest importer of bottled South African wine final yr, taking fewer than a 3rd as many bottles because the UK, and beneath two-thirds the variety of the comparatively tiny Netherlands.

I’m such a fan of South African wine that I’d like everybody to understand it. And producers and growers there actually do want each bit of economic encouragement to maintain vines, lots of them venerable, within the floor.

Peter-Allan Finlayson who, alongside along with his brother Andrew, makes the beautiful Crystallum wines, was in London not too long ago. He warned that, though grape costs have finally been going up, farmers have discovered it extra financially interesting to develop citrus on the west-coast land that has been more and more prospected by quality-conscious wine producers and that “even rooibos is more profitable than wine”.

Operating in a decidedly shaky economic system, South African wine producers desperately must export. One brilliant gentle for them not too long ago has been China, which appears to have stuffed a number of the hole left after Australian wine was saved out by discriminatory tariffs with imports from the Cape.

It appears, nonetheless, as if some canny traders are seeing the potential of South Africa’s undervalued winery land. Eben Sadie, an early exponent of the now-fashionable Swartland area, additionally visited London not too long ago, for the primary time in 5 years. He informed me that “lots of money is coming into South African wine now, including from eastern Europe. Buyers can choose between one hectare of insignificant Pomerol or a huge estate in South Africa.”

He is taking a completely proactive method to those incomers who, one assumes, have very rather more money than any native wine producer. “They’re appointing good consultants, so they get the planting right. But is the winemaking philosophy right?” Sadie provides that if he thinks one thing goes unsuitable, he’ll decide up the telephone and intercede as a result of “it’s in the interests of us all that they succeed”.

By “us all” he means a tight-knit group of wine producers, all making an attempt to advance exports. Finlayson, as an illustration, was travelling around the UK in a gaggle of 4 who, between them, make a complete of six manufacturers of wine. I had the pleasure of seeing them with a choice of their choices in our flat. What was most fascinating was that three of the producers — Finlayson, who makes Crystallum and Gabriëlskloof wines, John Seccombe of Thorne & Daughters and Marelise Niemann of Momento — are very a lot a part of the brand new wave answerable for reigniting curiosity in South African wine within the UK. The fourth member of the group, Charles Back, is rather more skilled.

Back is a third-generation, 66-year-old wine producer primarily based at Fairview property in Paarl, which was first planted with vines in 1699. He was an early adopter of Fairtrade, worker-participation, oenotourism, vinification in clay jars. He’s the kind of man to have been given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Wine Challenge on the age of 58.

Yet Back appeared most keen to listen to what the youthful producers needed to say and, when presenting his personal wines, confessed that “after 44 years I’ve just realised that owning all your own vineyards is not the best idea. It limits your flexibility and cash flow. I have 550 hectares of vineyard now and I’ve tried to find unusual sites, but it hasn’t been easy.”

He admitted to all kinds of different errors, resembling initially making the Viognier he pioneered in Cape vineyards within the Nineties similar to Chardonnay, which resulted in “flabby” wines. He additionally rued what he did when he purchased the Swartland farm that may grow to be Spice Route. “I made a big mistake. I pulled out all the bushvines, including old Chenin! I just left the oldest block, planted in 1965, of Sauvignon Blanc. I replanted with Grenache based on my travels in the southern Rhône, and with the prediction of climate change in mind. Grenache is more drought-resistant because the bigger berries absorb more water.”

As we tasted his Fairview Sauvignon Blanc 2021 from Darling, Back defined a particular expertise he employs to foretell precisely which evening the grapes must be picked. “Imagine that luxury,” sighed Marelise Niemann who buys grapes from 9 growers and 15 vineyards for her Momento label.

She is one other large fan of Grenache, not simply crimson however white too. In reality her finest 2021 white is her Grenache Blanc that’s a lot zestier than a typical southern French instance (however gained’t be within the UK till September). “The grapes are so well suited to the South African climate,” she enthused, including, “especially for the future.” She additionally produces a tremendous Grenache Gris, a spread that’s uncommon in South Africa.

All three of the youthful producers within the group have made their wines in the identical vineyard, Gabriëlskloof, which is owned by Finlayson’s father-in-law. Doesn’t that impose a sure uniformity, I questioned, solely to be informed that Niemann and Seccombe as soon as made wines from precisely the identical lot of juice from the press and so they turned out fully in another way.

Seccombe’s Thorne & Daughters wines have a very distinctive character. He shouldn’t be particularly considering highly effective aromas however goes for understated magnificence and drive on the palate. He additionally has a gray (gris) speciality, Sémillon Gris, a spread that’s even rarer than Grenache Gris, although it’s not recognised by the South African wine authorities so the wine must be labelled merely Sémillon.

It was attention-grabbing to listen to about their issues; above all, sustainability in an period of local weather change. They identified that, within the vineyard alone, it takes between six and eight litres of water to supply a litre of wine, with out taking any irrigation into consideration (although Swartland vines are usually dry-farmed). But the transfer away from clearly oaked wines has apparently resulted in a nationwide scarcity of used barrels.

Seccombe studied at Plumpton College in England with winemakers on the celebrated English wine estates Gusbourne and Hattingley, so could be very accustomed to South African wine’s primary market. Both he and Finlayson had not too long ago been to attempt to promote their wine within the US. According to one in every of them, “the US sommeliers are now aware of South African wine”. Though the opposite added ruefully, “even if there are only about 800,000 cases of it in the whole country”.

South African favourites

  • Ataraxia Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2021 Hemel-en-Aarde
    £13.99 Bancroft

  • Baleia Sauvignon Blanc 2021 Western Cape
    £18.49 Bancroft

  • Cederberg, Five Generations Chenin Blanc 2021 Cederberg 13.5%
    £31.49 Bancroft

  • Crystallum, The Agnes Chardonnay 2021 Western Cape 13%
    £25.50 The Good Wine Shop, £25.95 Wine Republic and Cambridge Wine Merchants, £26.99 Handford Wine

  • David & Nadia, any Chenin Blanc 12%-13%
    From £26.68 Justerini & Brooks and Lay & Wheeler, £27.50 Huntsworth Wine

  • Gabriëlskloof, Landscape Series Cabernet Franc 2019 Walker Bay 14.5%
    £33.99 Wines of Cambridge

  • Hartenberg Chardonnay 2018 Stellenbosch
    £15.49 Bancroft

  • Lismore, Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2018 Cape South Coast 13%
    £24.28 Lay & Wheeler

  • Momento Grenache Noir 2019 Western Cape 13.5%
    £27.88 Lay & Wheeler, £29.95 Frontier Fine Wines

  • Thorne & Daughters 2021s — any white besides maybe Sémillon
    2021s anticipated any minute. 2020s are fairly extensively stocked

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