2013: A year in review

Friday, 27 December, 2013
Jonathan Snashall
Annus horribilis it was not, more like annus mirabilis, but we have being trying for more than 350 years, that’s 50 years more than the ‘it's-only-the-first-300-years-that-are-difficult’ a Bordelaise once famously said. Subtract the sanction era and we’re just about bang on 300 years.
But it’s the young guns – often with old vineyards and new convention – currently stealing the show. The Alheits, Ralls, Hawkins and (although a little older), the Newton-Johnsons and the Mullineuxs. Surely the Sadies, Badenhorsts and Beaumonts are now a little balding or greying to be regarded as young guns, but they do remain at the vanguard of the Cape renaissance with some of the old hands firmly on the tiller.

In many respects, nothing much has changed, and I refer to the foreign calamities, wars, exchange rates (as far back as the Rix-dollar), labour problems, pests and disease which have had a marked influence on quality, supply and demand over the last 350 years. We have often had to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off.

So we’re getting there, although it does feel like we have been waiting to make the cover of Wine Spectator for more than 350 years - and then they go with an image of elephants. One must assume they know their readers or at least that elephants once roamed in Franschhoek, the Cape’s erstwhile food and wine capital.

2013 proved to be a particularly good year including a record harvest and record exports with a cold, wet, lengthy winter laying a solid foundation for 2014. Favourable exchange rates and low 2012 production in the EU helped drive a 42% increase in exports for the 12 months to October 2013. Despite low international stocks, cost cutting in export markets meant 67% of exports shipped in bulk with total exports expected to reach 500 million liters.

‘South Africa is the most exciting country in the southern hemisphere,’ maintains Neal Martin of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate while out of around 20,000 contenders from more than a dozen countries, three South African wines have been chosen for Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2013: Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012, Ashbourne Sandstone 2008 and AA Badenhorst Red 2009.

Cape producers won no less than four of only 32 international trophies at the Decanter World Wine Awards, which boasts among the most esteemed wine judges on the planet. We have had more direct foreign investment including some firsts – Hein Koegelenberg brought in First China and the Mullineux's Indian businessman Analjit Singh.

Earlier this year Vinexpo revealed research by Survey Lab, the study and trends laboratory of vente-privee.com. The study surveyed online shoppers across vente-privee.com's network of sites in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Belgium and found among online shoppers that the most appreciated wines outside of Europe are South African (84%), Chilean (80%) and Argentinean (78%).

After 12 years at the helm, Su birch departed Wine of South Africa, collecting numerous international awards over the years including the 2013 Drinks Business Lifetime Achievement Green award. Su leaves WOSA in good health and in the capable hands of Siobhan Thompson, ex-Distell Global Bands.

Also showing a return to rude health were the local auctions with records tumbling at both the Nederburg and Cape Winemakers Guild auction. But daftness is never very far away. Despite prohibition never working anywhere ever, our government - who take billions in excise and duty - is showing prohibitionist tendencies. If you fancy some sparkling wine with your Sunday jazz and Eggs Benedict, you will have to wait until noon, well if you’re in a hotel anyway. We can also look forward to a ban on alcohol advertising – and it once again failing to achieve anything the lawmakers intended it to achieve.

The daftness extended to the wine writing community. Against a backdrop of organisers resenting the prize money and unethical behaviour from one of the judges, The Franschhoek Literary Festival (FLF) decided that no one entry was worthy of wine writer of the year including from previous winners of this and international competitions. Du Toitskloof Winery, and sponsor Standard Bank (who now also own Platter’s) swiftly countered with a new competition – won by past FLF winner Tim James – and more prize money.

Platter’s announced a record 80 five star wines and brandies, chiming with all the international awards and accolades the Cape collected in 2013. Once again the stellar variety was Chenin Blanc, garnering eleven 5 stars (excluding the stickies) with many of the 5 star white blends – the Cape’s next big thing - containing Chenin.

Christiaan Groenewald of New Cape Wines won Diners Club Winemaker of the Year 2013. Marthelize Tredoux won the inaugural Veritas young wine writer of the year

University of California Press published Tim James’s Wines of the New South Africa: Tradition and Revolution.

Vergelegen won Arts and Culture and the Restaurant categories in Great Wine Capitals Best of Wine Tourism awards, and placed 2nd in another four categories.

Stark-Condé Wines was the winner of the Fairbairn Capital Trophy for the Most Successful Producer Overall at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show and KWV walked away with a bagful of gold at the Veritas awards as Best Wine Producer with four double gold and nine gold medals.

Exciting prospects for 2014 include a (return to) growth in packaged exports, the awakening of Africa, China and USA to Cape wine, growth in tourism from Brics countries and, who knows, wine writers may even form some sort of loose association and become vaguely unified to make modest achievements like a wine writer’s code of ethics - annus mirabilis indeed.