New World Wines: Neal Martin on South Africa

Wednesday, 2 January, 2013
WOSA: Neal Martin - www.wosa.us/blog
"South Africa: The Cape Crusaders"
I am occasionally asked: what is the most exciting New World country on the scene at the moment. New Zealand? Argentina? Chile? England? OK…maybe not the last one.

The aforementioned all contribute their clutch of outstanding wines…even England. But if I have to give a single answer then I would reply: “South Africa.” Trust me when I say that I would not believe if someone had predicted I would answer as such several years ago. I should offer some reasoning to my argument.

You see, the unavoidable truth is that South Africa is a country beset by a jeremiad of woes: political instability, conspicuous poverty, accusations of worker exploitation, the lingering stench of apartheid and economic malaise. On that last point, I have heard on several occasions that a worryingly large number of wineries are discretely up for sale as financial reality sinks in, particularly for fair-weather investors who mistakenly assumed setting up a winery would be easy. Then there is the entrenched apathy/prejudice against South African wines. Consumers and journalists spent years mocking the miasma of reductive Pinotage wines and industrial fodder that clogged up supermarket shelves: both tarnishing and stigmatising the country’s international reputation. And writing this report, it is true that many wines hovering around the ten dollar entry-level failed to make the grade. Even so, in my opinion they are generally far more acceptable and attest to an improvement in quality compared to a decade ago.

Against this backdrop, a new generation of winemakers are beginning to make their mark; coalescing to form what you might call a “movement.” These are winemakers in their twenties and thirties with the fortitude, tenacity, talent and determination to realise their own vision of what South African wine can become; what is required in order to create genuine world-class wines; young guns who have worked vintages overseas and return armed with a global perspective. They use South Africa’s disadvantages to their strength. They might not have the financial means to establish deluxe, ostentatious, gilded wineries and a crack marketing team to promote their wares. Instead they use their modest means to eke out high quality, individual, limited production wines that will hopefully find consumers with discerning, appreciative palates. They are waiting to be discovered

I guess you could say that the seeds of this revolution were sown in Swartland by the likes of Eben Sadie, Adi Badenhort and Chris Mullineux. Now their tenets are being adopted by young winemakers and spreading the gospel to regions such as Hemel-En-Aarde, Elgin and that most traditional, conservative of wine regions, Stellenbosch. This bodes well for South Africa’s future, but that is not to say it will be an easy ride…far from it.

With the onslaught of so many regions to cover for this publication, I intended to produce an “intermediary” report in 2012 and author a more comprehensive one thereafter, in order to keep South Africa at the forefront of readers’ minds. Lo and behold, this “intermediary” report is host to nigh 500 wines! Most of these were tasted at the office of Wines of South Africa in London and then, when I attended the Cape Show in late September; I delayed the report so that I could include notes from my brief trip to the country itself. Alas, my daughter donated her cold and remarkably for the first time in ten years, hopes of expanding the report were abruptly curtailed.

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