Gugulethu: not the Good Food and Wine Show

Monday, 6 June, 2011
Neil Pendock
Neil Pendock reflects on last weekend's Gugulethu Wine Festival.
They say that nature abhors a vacuum. Bacchus too, if bubbly consumption at last weekend’s Gugulethu Wine Festival is anything to go by. For while Graham Beck was conspicuous by its absence from the roof of the Gugulethu Square shopping centre, Naughty Girl made by Linley Schulz (recently chief winemaker at Distell, now relocated to 5000ha Alvi’s Drift in Worcester) stepped into the breach and poured funky fizz for a crowd of hip, black, twenty-somethings. An audience for Lady Gaga and Bacchus’s gift to wine marketers and most surely the future for SA wine. So who’s a naughty girl now, Mr. Wine Marketer? Is Germany really an easier sell than Gugs? London a better bet than Langa?

While honkies queued to kiss the ring and ogle the deconstructed medieval cuisine of UK celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal (whose dad went to SACS in Cape Town) at the CTICC, tweeting each other for free tickets, Nederburg and Tops at Spar led the charge to the future in the townships, facilitating the hippest wine festival yet staged in the Cape according to Sharon Cooper from Hot Salsa Media in Pietermaritzburg who handled communication and sponsorhips for the show. So have the separate but equal facilities of the old Apartheid era returned to the Cape or are peninsula wine shows like BRT buses – nothing for ages and then along come two at the same time.

Ticket selling was halted in Gugs before the sun set on Saturday as the white tent housing the tasting counters heaved like a Southern Right stranded on Noordhoek beach. The Cape Argus estimated the capacity crowd over two days at four thousand and next year a larger venue will clearly be needed. But as Spar liquor executive Ray Edwards commented “what a way to start a festival” before speculating on a venue for a sister show in Durban.

But where were DGB, whose many value for money brands presumably match the demographic? Robertson Winery filled that void. Little wonder they sell 100 000 cases of Chapel (pronounced “shapel”) Red in Gugs and Langa. Likewise KWV must have used up all their marketing cash on that anorexic brochure from last week’s Brandy Festival included in the Mail & Guardian that littered the floor of the Bidvest Lounge at OR Tambo as I whiled away the two hours between my cancelled Kulula flight and its BA replacement.

Luckily I was not late for the show, but stuffing business class full of trolley dollys while fare-paying passengers are crammed into the last row of the plane (where the seats don’t recline) confirms that BA/Comair has several lessons to learn in customer service. But at least they do serve Worcester wine on their flights.

But where was Thandi, the brand that started out as the empowerment project of Paul Cluver Estate? PC himself was pouring Pinot for the punters but took time out to recount a wonderful anecdote over a glass of Pinot Noir 2010 and mini-cheese burgers in the chill-out space.

A keen gardener, PC was recently pottering about in his veggie patch outside his Elgin tasting room, wearing his floppy hat “which reduces one’s perceived IQ by 50%. I saw two well-dressed Germans leaving and offered them some cabbages and a few tomatoes. They came from Berlin and he said he was a neurosurgeon. I used to be one too” related Paul “before I became a gardener.” A real Being There moment.

In fact where were any empowerment brands, the ones WOSA (Wines of SA, the embattled exporters’ mouthpiece) pays to fly around the world, waving the flag. Surely consumption, like charity, begins at home? Quite why Distell is so successful in Africa is clear from their many innovative brands present with Alto emerging as an aspirational tipple for the black market. Randolph Christians, understated winemaker at Rustenberg, was as elegant as his Schoongezicht white blend while Boekenhoutskloof confirmed that Tim Rands doesn’t miss a trick by showcasing the affordable face of the Swartland Revolution called Wolftrap.

On the subject of revolutions, Gugulethu was the storming of the bottle store in the Bastille. A tipping point for local wine shows, the importance of which cannot be overstated.