Winelands square off in fiery lamb chop contest

Friday, 4 December, 2009
In a fierce and sometimes fiery contest, South Africa's Orange River wine region fought off an assertive onslaught from its Durbanville counterpart to win the inaugural North-South Wineland Lamb Chomp Competition held at Durbanville's Diemersdal Wine Estate recently.
The Wineland Lamb Chomp aims to determine which South African wine region has the tastiest sheep, thereby accentuating the diversity of agricultural produce found among the country's various wine regions.

"Terroir should be seen as an all-encompassing aspect, not only confined to vinous pursuits," says Emile Joubert, organiser of the Wineland Lamb Chomp. "Whilst following the influences of various regions' terroir on wine, it is just as interesting to take cognisance of the effect of climate, soil and plant growth on other tasty things walking around South Africa's various wine regions. And anyone who was at the first Wineland Lamb Chomp would have to agree that when it comes to tasty, the myriad flavours an aromatic intrinsics of a well-braaied lamb chop is right up there with a glass of great wine."

For the competition, rib chops from Diemersdal's flock of lambs were braaied alongside those from the Boesmanland of the Northern Cape in the winelands of the Northern Cape. A panel of esteemed judges including wine writers Neil Pendock (Sunday Times), Jeanri-Tine van Zyl (WINE), Edo Heyns (Wineland), Jaco Kirsten (Weg) and Lise Beyers (Die Burger) judged the chops unsighted and the decision was that the Northern Cape was a clear winner on the day.

"The difference in flavours was remarkable," says Kirsten, who also did duty as one of the braaiers. "The Durbanville meat has a soft, delicate flavour, an obvious influence of the comfortable grazing these lambs do on cut wheat-fields cooled by misty breezes off the Atlantic. The meat from the Northern Cape has a sharper flavour due to the wild, uncultivated brush-land the animals graze on. Here and there one can pick up a hint of adrenaline in the meat from the Northern Cape wildnerness, obviously the result of the lamb’s fleeing from the odd jackal."

Pendock said that terroir definitely has a role to play in meat production. "Two delicious pieces of meat, but an amazing difference in flavour and texture," says Pendock. "Both animals are - well, were, in this case - 100% free-range and organic, and the South Africa winelands are certainly blessed to have produce of this quality to complement their respective wines."

Koos Visser, marketing manager for Oranjerivier Wine Cellar who also farms with sheep, was elated with the victory, but stressed the competition was tough. "For a sheep farmer from the Northern Cape, you can't ask for a much worthier opponent than the Louws from Diemersdal," he says. "Their meat is of extraordinary quality - when I saw those lovely glistening Durbanville chops in their raw state, I knew we were in for a tough contest. Fortunately the Northern Cape's veld gives our meat unique flavours, and I think this is what swayed the judges. But we are not resting on our laurels - when it comes to braaing and judging meat, you are only as good as your last chop. Next year anything can happen."

Award-winning Diemersdal wine-maker Thys Louw said it that when it comes to meat competitions, it doesn't get much tougher than competing against the Northern Cape. "That region is world-renowned for quality mutton, so I knew from the start we were going to be up against it," he says. "They were better on the day, and we must respect the judges' decision. But this is only the first Wineland Lamb Chomp. We'll have to look at ourselves, and put in some hard work during the off-season. There's always next year."