Category Archives: Tourism

2011: The more things change

Looking back at the past year it is evident that the South African wine industry has seen many changes, controversies and closures but it is important for us to look ahead to the positives that the New Year brings. As stated by Deepak Chopra “All great changes are preceded by chaos”.

This year was not short on controversy, with the most notable of which being the Coffee / Caffeine Pinotage debacle and media onslaught after the University of Pretoria found high levels of caffeine in a few of the coffee Pinotage wines tested in their laboratory. The information was published as a letter in the Sunday Times on the 7th of August. After the publication everyone from WOSA to Harry HaddonNeil PendockOrielle Berry and Cathy Marston commented on the findings.

Another controversial topic that ignited debate in the wine industry was the release of a 96 page report titled “Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries” by an international company called Human Rights Watch. Once again the online media was abuzz with commentary from WOSAVinpro and Fairtrade SA.

The Backsberg Vino Varsity Challenge saw its third year with popular favourites Stellenbosch University failing to impress the judges and losing their undefeated two year champion status to arch rivals UCT. Also in its third year, the Nedbank Green Wine Awards saw a significant decline in the number of entries from the previous two years. The decline could be attributed to a number of reasons, such as the competition’s new home at Getaway Magazine or the fact that it remains a niche market.

2011 was a bumper year for wine festivals with many established festivals standing strong despite a decline in interest (such as WineX Cape Town) and others joining the party for the first time such as the debut Gugulethu Wine Festival. Though there was not a lot of interest from the producers (with less than twenty in attendance), those that did choose to attend were greeted by many eager locals keen to learn more about wine. Every wine journalist and blogger that could attend did and Neil Pendock and Cathy Marston (amongst many) thoroughly enjoyed the festival.

Though there seemed to be a wine festival every weekend, some managed to attract more attention than others. The second Swartland Revolution proved that the ‘cult’ status of the wines from this region is not for nothing. The weekend saw 250 people of a great diversity from across South Africa (and beyond) converge on the small town of Riebeek Kasteel with only one thing on their minds: wine. The well organised and punctual festival was well worth the money as the tutored tastings added value to what could’ve ended up being only a party.

With the world still trying to recover from the economic recession that shows no sign of letting up any time soon, the wine industry has had to adapt to the situation it finds itself in. The industry has subsequently seen a lot of change in the past year. From wineries finding new owners such as Klein Constantia and Mulderbosch to wineries going under the hammer likeQuoin Rock, there has been quite a bit of shuffling around.

Even the two biggest South African Wine Auctions decided to take on new directions. The 37th Nederburg Auction saw a fresh new look and feel with a comprehensive online strategy that stretched across Social Media platforms and a new website. The Cape Winemakers Guild also announced this year that they have introduced new selection criteria to encourage creativity and diversity amongst the wines from their members. This year’s public tasting already showcased some of the guild members’ more unique offerings which indicated that the members had already started experimenting before the announcement was made. This year the CWG Auction also boasted a record turn over of R5 286 700 (up by R1.4 million year on year) indicating that the updated criteria has stimulated some renewed interest.

2011 also saw the last printed publication of WINE Magazine in September and with many other printed publications going the way of the dodo, it is great to know that at least there is an online South African Wine Magazine in the form of Michael Oliver’s Crush!Crush! was also recently shortlisted as one of six finalists in the “Food and Drink Magazine of the Year” category of the 2011 Digital Magazine Awards. Crush! is also the only South African publication to be nominated.

WINE.CO.ZA saw a few big changes this year, with the move to our new offices in April where our entire team and warehouse is housed under one roof. Judy Brower and Kevin Kidson took a three month sabbatical shortly after the move. The team were left to their own devices but managed hold down the fort till Kevin and Judy’s return from Europe.

This year also saw the addition of two new members to the team. Mart-Mari du Preez joined the online shop in February and proved to be not only great at sales and logistics (our online wine shop continues to grow) but also a budding writer/blogger and wine enthusiast. 

Carla van der Merwe took over as WineNews Editor in April and Social Media maven in August, proving she can multi-task like the best of them. WINE.CO.ZA managed to reach several milestones with our Social Media this year with Dusan Jelic managing to get first 1000 and then 2000 Twitter followers while Carla brought the total up to 3000 in November. Our newsletter subscriptions also increased by roughly 1000 new subscribers this year.

WINE.CO.ZA strives to be constantly ahead of trends and embraces new technology, having released free QR-codes for South African wines in September and spotlight focus areas for our Global Partners and Partners in November.

Since the launch of our new website development option in July 2010 our entrepid developer, Garth Hapgood-Strickland, has developed 40 new websites for our clients. Some of the wineries that the sites were designed for include BadsbergBramptonDeWaal Wines,ExcelsiorKen ForresterKleine DrakenLourensfordMiddelvleiRaats Family WinesRaka WinesRidgeback WinesRooiberg WinesRuderaRustenberg WinesSteenberg Vineyards and Waterstone.

Here’s to a festive season filled with good wine, great conversation and amazing memories!

This article was first published on WINE.CO.ZA, please click here to see the original article.

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Exploring heaven and earth in Hermanus

Carla van der Merwe tells of her adventure at the official launch of the Hermanus Wine Route.

Hermanus will soon be filled with teenagers and tourists seeking sunshine and a good time. But this coastal town is not just a whale trail and offers more to visitors this summer. The now officially launched Hermanus Wine Route is packed to the brim with vinous adventures.

The launch of the Hermanus Wine Route took place at Creation Wines on Thursday, 1 December where a few new members were welcomed to the region bringing the total number of wine farms to fifteen. The evening included a tasting of wines from the different farms on the route as divided into four categories; Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Red Blends. Each category was introduced by a Hermanus Wine Route winemaker who broadly defined the varietal and style of the valley. The four categories were also paired with canapés made from local produce by Season Restaurant in Hermanus.

Bartho Eksteen
 from Hermanuspietersfontein (and recent Cape Winemakers Guild inductee) introduced Sauvignon blanc and made the bold statement that South African consumers drink Sauvignon blanc too young and that “we don’t have to force Sauvignon blanc down the throats of consumers in the first year, it should be left to age”. Many of the Hermanus Wine Route producers share Bartho’s sentiments and release their Sauvignon blanc’s later.

Jessica Saurwein, assistant winemaker at Bouchard Finlayson had the following say about Pinot noir; “Pinot noir is the most fickle of grapes that flourishes in a cooler climate with the correct terroir, both of which we have here”.

The task of talking about Chardonnay fell on Kevin Grant from Ataraxia, who recently placed in the top ten Chardonnay’s in South Africa in Christian Eedes Chardonnay Report. Kevin stated that Chardonnay is; “the queen of all white varietals and the most expensive wines in the world are made from Chardonnay grapes”. He further commented on the change in Chardonnay winemaking style in recent years, saying that “consumers prefer the lighter style of Chardonnay due to Chardonnay plantings moving to the coast where this style is best suited”.

Creation Wines’ winemaker JC Martin spoke about the region’s Red Blends and the use of Rhone cultivars to produce these wines in Hermanus Wine Route wines. He continued by saying that the Rhone cultivars, especially Shiraz, has flourished in the coastal climate. This is not hard to believe as the Hermanus Wine Route R320 charity blend consists of predominantly Shiraz.

In addition to the official launch of the Hermanus Wine Route, the evening also saw the launch of the Hermanus Wine Route R320 charity blend. The blend is made from grapes donated by eleven producers from the valley; Southern Right, Bouchard Finlayson, La Vierge, Newton Johnson, Sumaridge, Spookfontein, Ataraxia, Creation, Mount Babylon and Domaine des Dieux and Whalehaven. Hermanuspietersfontein donated funds towards the production of the wine.

The Hermanus Wine Route R320 blend is made from Syrah (73%), Malbec (9%), Pinotage (9%) and Merlot (9%) and is available at R100 per bottle at a number of local stores and restaurants in Hermanus (see below for a complete list of stockists). The proceeds from the sale of the wine will be used for social upliftment of the Hermanus community and the Hermanus Wine Route aims to raise between R150- and R300 thousand by the end of February 2012.

On Friday, 2 December a few members of the media and I were treated to a tour of the Hermanus Wine Route with local wine enthusiast and tour operator Percy as part of his tailor-made Percy Tours packages. Percy Tours specialise in organising completely individualised tours (and transfers) of Hermanus, Cape Town and Western Cape regions, with a fleet of luxury VW minibuses (and Cars) with Chauffeur Tour Guides on board. Each luxury minibus is able to transport up to nine persons per minibus, which you will have exclusively to yourselves, therefore allowing you loads of space to spread out in comfort while on tour with Percy Tours. For more information on what Percy offers visit his website at www.percytours.com.

We visited six wine farms on our tour that included Hermanuspietersfontein, Southern Right, Hamilton Russel Vineyards, Bouchard Finlayson, Newton Johnson and La Vierge. Our personalised tour started off with a scenic drive to the top of Hamilton Russell Vineyards where we were treated to a breathtaking view of Hermanus and a pair of Blue Cranes feeding on the indigenous fynbos vegetation.

Next we headed off to Bouchard Finlayson where Peter Finlayson conducted a tasting of his multi-award winning wines. Peter even opened a bottle of his 1991 (his first vintage) Blanc de Mer for us to taste and compare to the latest release 2011 vintage. Both wines are Riesling driven and it was amazing to see the evolution of flavours that the wine had undertaken over the past twenty years. The 2011 was fresh, zesty with a dominant fruit and floral character whereas the 1991 has settled into the secondary characteristics associated with an aged white, peas and vegetation were dominant.

Our next stop was a brunch at La Vierge where winemaker Marc van Halderen entertained us with his cheeky humour and equally cheeky wines. After lunch we headed to Newton Johnson where we enjoyed a tasting of their newly released 2008 Full Stop Rock paired with the Sao Tome DV chocolate.

When our tour ended I collected my bags from Sumaridge where I had the fortunate pleasure of spending the night on Thursday. The incredible view and African inspired decor is well worth the visit as the guest house has five bedrooms and can sleep ten people. The staff (and rescued animals) were very welcoming and I even got a send off from Daisy the donkey when I left.

I had an amazing time exploring all that the Hermanus Wine Route has to offer and would recommend a visit to all wine enthusiasts. If you’d like to find out more about the wines and wine farms on the route please visit www.hermanuswineroute.com.

The fifteen wine farms that make up the Hermanus Wine Route are; Ashbourne, Ataraxia, Bouchard Finlayson, Creation, Domaine des Dieux, Hamilton Russell Vineyards, Hermanuspietersfontein, Jakob’s Vineyards, La Vierge, Mount Babylon, Newton Johnson, Southern Right, Spookfontein, Sumaridge and Whalehaven.

To view more pictures from my trip, please click here.

The Hermanus Wine Route R320 blend can be purchased from the following stockists:

Shops: Wine Village (call 028 316 3988 or email winevillage@hermanus.co.za), Hermanus Liquors (call 028 312 3660 or email hmsliqstore@hotmail.com) and Wine & Company (call 028 313 2047 or email wineandco@whalemail.co.za).

Restaurants: Season (call 028 316 2854), Burgundy (call 028 312 2800 or emailinfo@burgundyrestaurant.co.za), Fabios (call 028 313 0532 or email fablen@mweb.co.za) and Harbour Rock (call 028 3122920).

This article was first published on WINE.CO.ZA, please click here to see the original article.

WOSA 2011 USA Workshop

On Tuesday, 6 September; Wines of South Africa hosted a workshop on the intricacies involved in entering the USA market. The title of the workshop was “Demystifying the American Market – Critical Pathways to Success”.

The opening speaker was Wines of South Africa’s Market Manager for the Americas and Africa, Mr. Matome Mbatha, who introduced the day’s proceedings to the delegates. He started off by saying that “the US market is very important but it poses a challenge due to strict legislation”. Matome then continued by saying that though the market is tough it does offer many opportunities as “it is the fastest growing market in terms of consumption”.

Andre Shearer, the CEO and Chairman of Cape Classics, was the speaker for the day and raised quite a few interesting points with regard to the US market. Andre started off by saying that the US market will help define the South African global brand just as it helped to define the Australian global brand. He continued by pointing out that the Australian market is not as successful as they once were and that their wave of success is receding. This creates an opportunity for South Africa to promote our wines due to the gap in the market.

Andre did however also caution that the American consumer is not as familiar with South Africa as the British and European consumers and those we would need to introduce them to both our country and wines collectively. Andre also pointed out that the lack of a coherent brand image for South African wine puts us at a serious disadvantage.

Other new world markets such as New Zealand, Australia and Argentina have been successful in the US due to them creating a collective brand identity around their cultivar strengths. For instance New Zealand has a price point monopoly in the US with regard to Sauvignon Blanc; similarly Argentina dominates the Malbec market and Australia the Shiraz / Syrah market.

Andre also went on to mention that we should perhaps focus on Chardonnay as the South African identifying cultivar as recent write ups in the US by influential wine critics such as Neal Martin have created a buzz. He also mentioned that Chardonnay makes up 30% of the US wine market and that this cultivar has proven to be South Africa’s most consistent white grape with regards to style and quality. Andre then stated that “if South Africa wants to develop a great weapon in the US, we should focus on Chardonnay to raise our profile in the US”.

After Andre’s very interesting talk on the US market we had the opportunity to taste eight of the best selling wines in the US to be able to identify what to look out for in our wines that would appeal to the US consumers. All eight wines were bold and had a great aromatic expression. Andre pointed out that “America is not a wine consuming country that prides itself on subtlety”.

The eight wines which we tasted were chosen because they are market leaders in their categories in America, all the wines were purchased in large quantities and were commercially successful.

The wines were as follows:
(For more information on each wine please click on the wine name)

2010 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand which sells at a retail price of $14.99
2009 Bogle Chardonnay from California which sells at a retail price of $9.99
2009 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay from California which sells at a retail price of $19.99
2010 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier from California which sells at a retail price of $13.99
2009 Purple Moon Merlot from California which sells at a retail price of $3.99
2009 Folie a Deaux Menage a Trois Red Blend from California which sells at a retail price of between $9.99 and $12.99
2010 Alamos Malbec from Argentina which sells at a retail price of $10.99
2009 Layer Cake Cabernet Sauvignon from California which sells at a retail price of $16.99

Andre ended his talk by saying that we (South Africa) should be celebrating what we can do and that we should “consciously decide what we can achieve with good wines in terms of our image in the US”.

It is a pity in my opinion that Andre’s message was only heard by a handful of producers in a half empty room at Backsberg. The inside information and industry ‘tips’ which were dealt were of great value to those lucky enough to hear it. What is even more surprising is the fact that the event was over booked (on paper more than 100 people paid to attend) yet only a marginal amount actually pitched up.

Please click here to view images from the event.

This article was first published on WINE.CO.ZA, please click here to see the original article.

Best of Wine Tourism Tour

On Saturday (27 August), I had the opportunity to join the Great Wine Capitals Global Network bus for a tour of the South African winelands with a group of bloggers to help in the evaluation of five wine farms that have entered the Best of Wine Tourism 2012 awards in various categories.

The initial motivation to offer the Best of Tours (or farm trips) to Best of Wine Tourism Awards entrants was twofold: firstly, to reach a different audience as opposed to traditional media in order to create awareness of the Best of and Great Wine Capitals; secondly, to alert wineries to the existence of this initiative, and to the value and promotional opportunities it offers, not only through possibly winning a category, but also the extended exposure via social media.

The initiative to include the opinions of bloggers, tour operators and general consumers in the evaluating of the various estates and their offerings was an initiative of Wines of South Africa (WOSA).

This was the second year that bloggers were included and they fulfilled a dual role of evaluation and advertising as most of the bloggers that were invited to partake over the past three weekends (there may be a fourth) are also very active on Twitter.

According to Andre Morgenthal there was a combined audience of around 12 000 Twitter followers spread over the three Saturday’s (not including re-tweets). This resulted in a captive audience and a measurable value to the promotion of the awards. The majority of the followers that make out the Twitter audience are consumers who view the industry ‘tweeple’ as opinion leaders and value their comments.

Our bus was one of two that was touring the winelands on Saturday, 27 August. Each of the buses took a different route and the route I was on was ‘home’ territory for me in Somerset West.

Our first stop was the iconic Waterkloof Estate perched on the edge of a mountain overlooking False Bay. It is no wonder that this breath-taking building has entered the Architecture and Landscapes category (along with Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices and two other categories as well).

We tasted five wines at Waterkloof (the usual tasting experience includes six wines for R30) and were mesmerized by the view from inside the current tasting room (we were informed that the tasting room and restaurant would soon be split into two different floors in the building).

The five wines which I tasted (we each chose different wines) were:

Waterkloof Sauvignon Blanc 2010(their Flagship)
Circumstance Viognier 2010
Circumstance Chardonnay 2008
Circumstance Cape Coral 2010 (a Blanc de Noir made from Mourvedre)
Circumstance Syrah 2008

Waterkloof offers a selection of tour options which include a walking and lunch tour, a cellar and biodynamic tour or a horse riding and lunch tour. These choices definitely put them high on the list of competitors for the Innovative Wine Tourism Experiences category as these options are not (to my knowledge) widely available in the region.

Waterkloof follows biodynamic farming principles and this was wonderfully demonstrated by the sheep I saw grazing in the vineyards before we left. Waterkloof’s minimalistic approach to winemaking also helps to express the terroir in their wines.

Our next stop was Vergelegen where there is a lot of new development going on as they are busy building a brand new Wine Tasting Centre. The stand in tasting room is being shared with the library and gift shop.

We elected to partake in the weekend’s special tasting in honour of the camellia’s on the Estate which are currently in full bloom and at their best. The Camellia Tasting (at R30) included four wines, each matched to its camellia equivalent.

The four wines were as follows:

Vergelegen Chardonnay
Vergelegen White
Vergelegen Shiraz Reserve 2007
Vergelegen Red 2004

Vergelegen is certainly a great contender for the Architecture and Landscapes category as the old oak trees (over 350 years old) give an unrivalled ambience to the estate. Vergelegen also entered three other categories including that of Art and Culture.

Our third stop for the day was Rust en Vrede. As this was my first visit to the estate I was surprised at the layout of the wine tasting room which was inside the cellar. I asked our hostess if the tasting room operated during harvest time to which she replied yes. After quizzing her on the logistics of the matter she replied that yes they do sometimes get sprayed with water and wine and that it is extremely chaotic but they all make it work.

We decided to go for their shorter wine tasting option which included four wines for R40.

The four wines we tried were:

Rust en Vrede Merlot 2010
Rust en Vrede Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Rust en Vrede Shiraz 2008
Rust en Vrede Estate 2008

Rust en Vrede has entered both the Wine Tourism Services and Restaurant categories.

Our lunch stop was at Spier where we dinned at their Eight Restaurant. I elected to have the free-range chicken pie which was accompanied by fresh veggies and home-made pastry. We did not have a wine tasting but rather chose to have some wine with our meal; we tried two of Spier’s premium wines:

Spier Private Collection Chenin Blanc 2009
Spier Private Collection Chardonnay 2009

After feeling quite satisfied with our meal at Spier (who have entered in five categories including Accommodation and Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices) we headed out to our last stop The House of J.C. Le Roux.

The tasting at J.C. Le Roux was a very interesting match of five meringues / marshmallows paired with five of their sparkling wines. This appealed to me as I have a bit of a sweet tooth and have always been quite fond of their ‘bubbles’.

The pairing was done as follows:

J.C. Le Roux Pinot Noir MCC 2009 with a plain meringue
J.C. Le Roux Pinot Noir Rosé MCC 2007 with a strawberry marshmallow
J.C. Le Roux La Valleé MCC NV with a coffee meringue
J.C. Le Roux Le Domaine with a coconut marshmallow
J.C. Le Roux La Fleurette with a chocolate/espresso meringue

I also learned something new from our very energetic attendant, if you spot a bottle of J.C. Le Roux in a store and it has a ribbon on the label it means it is carbonated wine and if it does not bear this trait it is a wine produced in the classic Méthod Cap Classique style. J.C. Le Roux entered only one category Innovative Wine Tourism Experiences.

For more information on the Great Wine Capitals Best of Wine Tourism Awards please visit www.greatwinecapitals.com and to have a look at some pictures from our day out please click here.

This article was first published as a blog post on WINE.CO.ZA, please click here to see the original article.