Changes to the Cape Vintner Classification in continued pursuit of excellence

Thursday, 9 May, 2019
Dave March CWM
The Cape Vintner Classification made two changes at its 2018 AGM, effecting its Estate membership requirements and the category of Site Specific Wines, but membership will remain incredibly difficult to obtain.

Established in 2013, by seven founders, there are now 22 member producers, with around 30 who are at various stages of pending membership. CEO Charl Theron says, “It’s not about numbers, it’s all about quality”.

The original focus was to improve the low prices of SA wines, especially on the world stage, and to build wine’s image at home and abroad. The highly regarded VDP organisation in Germany provided much inspiration for the Classification.

Membership is based on achieving several criteria, which includes member’s ownership(or management) of vineyards over nine years plus. Members must pass an independent audit and evaluation of Technical and Environmental standards, have acceptable Cellar Door facilities and satisfy Ethical Matters and Wine Quality.

These last four are the ‘cornerstones’ of the association and within each there are specific requirements to achieve. In ‘Technical’, members must comply with accredited environmental standards and have passed IPW at 75% or more rather than the normal 60% pass level. Cellar Doors are audited and must achieve a 75% pass. Members must also have a ‘recognised and acknowledged ethical accreditation’. Wine quality is particularly stringent. Members must pass standards of winemaking facilities and vineyard quality assessed by an independent audit committee and achieve a score of 17+ out of 20 for their wine judged blind by an independent taster (Cathy van Zyl MW, Michael Fridjhon, Francois Rautenbach, Miles Mossop and Samarie Smith filled that seat previously) and at least two other members. Further, producers must show five vintages of each wine reflecting consistent site specific quality – these need not be consecutive, so may cover a period of many years and this requires a producer to have a considerable track record over time. Charl has seen one producer show five wines over a 22 year period. Success in all of these is tough, but it is often achieving the Ethical and Technical requirements that prove hardest.

It is more than ticking boxes, stresses Charl. “Membership is a big commitment” it is much more than a R16,000 annual fee, it involves active participation and setting high standards; “members have to do the hard work”. And they do, groups of members meet regularly to plan events, talk winemaking and how to promote the organisation. At Cape Wine and Prowein members were clustered together to promote CVC wines and producers. Themed tastings to industry and the public are offered by members (they staff it and provide the wine), showing terroir effects or varietal characteristics etc, Johannesburg is next up.

The first AGM change was made to the Estate classification, whereas SAWIS would define single vineyard only from one plot, the CVC will allow grapes to be used and blended if desired from different single vineyards, provided they are within the same Ward. Thus, a producer could make a wine from several vineyards - each showing site specific qualities - and be able to call it a site specific wine. Think of Kanonkop’s Paul Sauer blend, no-one would doubt the terroir quality of that ‘specific site’ wine. Members are now also allowed to include vineyards not on their farm or under their ownership, as long as they lease the plots under long term (10 years) management and strictly manage grape growing.

The second change was to the ‘Quality Wine’ category. Previously wines scoring 16/20 over five vintages could qualify as ‘Vineyard Wines’ at Silver level, and those wines achieving 18/20 over five years would be known as Gold level ‘Site Specific Wines’ (providing all other criteria are met). This will still be honoured for 5 years to allow wines to pass through the system. So far, just 34 wines reflect the Gold standard – I make that about 0.4% of SA wines!

The new category has only one tier and wines must reach 17+/20 to qualify as ‘Site Specific Wines’. Wines not reaching this receive no classification except WO. Look out for the bottle neck-ties reflecting this Gold Site Specific qualification and the 1659 CVC emblem.

Charl believes these measures will make it more flexible for grape selection from esteemed plots and still be recognised as specific terroir wines and it will simplify the quality level benchmark.

I wondered how strongly member producers represented the CVC at their tasting rooms. Werner at Morgenster was fully knowledgeable about the Classification and profuse in his support, “the plaque is one of the first things visitors see, we are proud members and even offer a CVC tasting showing six qualifying wines from several vintages”. Vergelegen also offer a CVC tasting of seven qualified wines and AJ says that staff are trained to explain what membership means and finds it helps distinguish a quality level for visitors, and it is well received. Wildekrans as well as Diemersdal clearly display membership signage and say it definitely helps promote their premium wines. Heinrich Bothman at De Wetshof says it is “like having a Michelin Star” and though achieving success in the Classification is “gruelling” it needs to be and it is “well worth it”.  I didn’t find a member who was unaware of their part in the CVC.

The membership list is impressive, to say the least, the wines are internationally acclaimed and many of the best available, and more trophy winners lie waiting to join, but Charl and CVC members aren’t rushing. “This isn’t a quick project”, says Charl, “it is a long term investment, an exercise not just for us, but for the next generation”.

For more details and full membership list, go to www.info@cvc1659.co.za

Charl Theron
Charl Theron

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