Oak Valley & the Fish Whisperer, Gong-Nam & Top Drop! Wine Club

Monday, 3 June, 2013
Christopher Rawbone-Viljoen
In Oak Valley's Autumn Newsletter we meet The Fish Whisperer, dance to Gong-Nam and enjoy the exclusive benefits of the Top Drop! Wine Club.
February kicked off with our annual family fishing trip in Struisbaai. This year’s Marlin Tournament would prove to be the most eventful of our 6 year tradition. Once again four Rawbones were left floundering in a tub, comforted by cartons of mini-cheddars, a few kilos of biltong and plenty of Chardonnay to keep the spirits high. With a 5 day diet based solely on these bare essentials, one can easily see how scurvy sets in on the high seas.

The Struisbaai Boat Club requested that we donate 6 magnums of our finest Merlot Cabernet Blend to auction off for the benefit of the NSRI. We duly obliged. I watched in awe as bidding prices rose beyond those of Lafite at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. I couldn’t help but wonder whether Nederburg should send an invite to this motley group of (mostly) brandy guzzling fishermen. The more refined, but thirsty, crew of Marauder bid on two magnums, which, upon returning from the fishing grounds the next day, radio’ed us 40 miles out to sea whilst quaffing their winnings, praising its delicate tannin structure and mysterious dark fruit characters. However, these praises were short lived as the Marauder crew awoke the next morning to find their vessel beached in Struisbaai after breaking anchor in the bay with no one on board to save it. A stark reminder that magnums and skippership don’t mix!

Our own skipper, Gareth Beaumont (his cousin, Sebastian, is the winemaker of Beaumont Wines, home of the 5 Star Hope Marguerite), practices a very unique catch-and-release method.
Watch the video (53secs) to see how Gareth releases a 300lbs Black Marlin like a boss, cementing his place as the Robert Redford of fish whispering. After 5 tough days at sea, we claimed a podium finish, 3rd out of 36 boats, 4 marlin landed and all successfully released. Magic. 

March saw the introduction of the new minimum wage, resulting in a 26% increase in Oak Valley’s overall payroll – with only 30 days notice. Fortunately the fruit market looks promising this year due to shortages, mainly in Europe, coupled with a much weaker Rand. The true test of industry resilience will come when both the demand for fruit weakens and the Rand strengthens. Its years like 2013 where you save for a rainy day. In the coming months, consumers can expect to pay more for their fresh produce as prices realign to incorporate rising input costs, including fuel, electricity, and, most significantly, wages. Agriculture and mining are the two major employers of unskilled labour, both are likely to undergo major structural reform in order to restore sustainable profitability. Here’s a fact; it takes 8 years to break even on an apple tree from the day it is planted. 8 years.

Harvest Report

Winter 2012 was the coldest on record in over 4 decades resulting in budding 2 weeks later than usual. The growing season from Sep 2012 to Mar 2013 was cool with few days exceeding 35°C.
Pinot Noir yields were noticeably up on previous years with our high-density 10,000 vine p/ha block coming into full production. Early Feb saw big rainfall, fortunately we managed to avoid much of the rot that affected parts of the valley. We picked 25 tons of superb Pinot which will take our production from a meagre 7,500 bottles to a more robust 20,000.

The Mountain Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc poses a perennial problem. The quality is excellent but yields are very low (1.4 – 2.5 tons/ha) as strong winds hammer these exposed vines at blossom time. It calls into question the future sustainability of this block and we will reassess this again in winter with the possibility of grubbing the lowest yielding blocks. Sad but necessary.

Overall, after tasting the wines after fermentation it’s safe to say the quality of Oak Valley 2013 promises to be phenomenal.

Gong-nam Style

Well. It’s official. We’ve accumulated more gongs than the Chinese telephone directory. As the South Koreans would say, we have achieved gong-nam style. On the 16th May we were notified by Decanter that our Chardonnay 2011 had won the Decanter Regional Trophy for Best South African Chardonnay, one of only 14 South African Trophy winners. This latest award is our 4th Regional Trophy, including an International Trophy, won in 8 years of submissions to Decanter – a remarkable achievement. Even more remarkable is that a Trophy has been won for every major varietal on Oak Valley which highlights excellence across the portfolio. View our
International & Domestic Awards poster in PDF.

In Dec, Tim Atkin visited our tasting room and in his most recent report published in May, rated the Oak Valley Chardonnay 93 points and Oak Valley Pinot Noir 93 points. Another fantastic pair of gongs. Dolly Parton would be proud. Congrats to our winemaker Pieter Visser.

Oak Valley''s Decanter Trophy Wines

Oak Valley Merlot Cabernet Blend 2004
Gold, Regional & International Trophy                                
Oak Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Gold & Regional Trophy
Oak Valley Pinot Noir 2008 Gold & Regional Trophy
Oak Valley Chardonnay 2011 Gold & Regional Trophy

Top Drop! Wine Club

Our newly launched Top Drop! Wine Club is swiftly gaining momentum. Membership requires a commitment to your very own 24-bottle selection per year, at a 15% saving, delivered free to your door. To sweeten the offer, we’ve included additional benefits exclusive to our members:  

-  15% saving on all Top Drop! Wine Club shipments.
15% saving on all wine purchased directly from the tasting room.
15% saving on accommodation at our 1-bedroom 1902 Cottage.
Free delivery and guaranteed availability.
-  Exclusive access to special
tastings of Wagyu beef, when available.
-  Access to
museum collection wines not widely available.
-  Invitation for you and a partner to the
annual Top Drop! Members Party on Oak Valley.
-  You will receive a personalised
Top Drop! Membership card.
-  You can cancel your membership in writing at any time.

The holy grail of wine marketing is to sell direct-to-customer. Your margin is much better as it removes the middlemen. The more you sell direct, the better and more sustainable your wine business, particularly for smaller wineries like us. Under Top Drop! the member enjoys a significant saving, 15% + free door-to-door delivery, and we earn a better margin than in the trade. It’s a win-win. It’s important to understand the commercial rationale behind any initiative. For some reason most wineries shy away from talking shop. Perhaps it takes the romance out of things. We have a flower farm. Romance is in abundance already.

Enough talk. It’s now time to sign-up! If you have any club-related questions, our resident Aussie, Ebony, will be more than happy to answer them at
ebonys@oak-valley.co.za. The Top Drop! Joining Form can be downloaded in PDF here and there's more info on our website.

Elgin Cool Wine & Country Festival

On Sat, 4th May we hosted the inaugural Elgin Cool Wine & Country Festival with 15 Elgin wineries participating. What a wonderful day! Oak Valley had The Professors playing a mix of classic oldies and new songs which brought the gees for 250 people hosted throughout the day. Below are a few photos of festival goers enjoying #SuperGees, fine wine and hearty country food.  

The Pool Room

A note to all our readers that The Pool Room restaurant will be closed for winter break from 17th June to 21st August. Elgin is half the size of New York cemetery but twice as dead over this period. The tasting room will certainly be open as usual, 7 days-a-week, Mon-Fri 09h00-17h00, and Sat-Sun 10h00-16h00. Here is a short
90sec promo video we did for Airport TV in a segment called Delicious Destinations. Kick back and enjoy how uncomfortable I look behind the lens. 

Parting Message

It’s that time of the year. Light a fire. Because the lights will go out this winter. Fetch a glass. Get comfy on the couch. And think Oak Valley Shiraz. In the words of Sir Dog of Salisbury, ‘Times are tough, friends are few, better have a drink or two, and if you don’t drink, then here’s to me.’

Best regards,

Christopher Rawbone-Viljoen