Natalia rules the waves in Blaauwklippen's 21st blending competition

Friday, 20 August, 2004
Emile Joubert
The Natalia Wine Society from KwaZulu-Natal won this year's Blaauwklippen Blending Competition, outclassing 61 other wine clubs from around South Africa who were faced with blending one of the world's most challenging grape varietals.

Celebrating its 21st  anniversary, the Blaauwklippen Blending Competition this year tested entrants to the limit by prescribing that the blends entered be made-up of the tricky and challenging Sauvignon Blanc cultivar from the 2004 harvest.

"We have been entering the Blaauwklippen Blending Competition every year since its inception in 1984, and to win it for the first time - and with a white blend - has made the strenuous tasting and sniffing our members have had to endure for 21 years worth while," said an elated John Acutt, Cellarmaster of the Natalia Wine Society based in Durban. "A white blend is really difficult as we had to make a wine that is practically ready for the market, unlike a red blend that you know is still going to mature for two or three years."

The other Blending Competition finalists were the Dorstige Dertigs from the Western Cape, Knysna Plonk Drinkers from the Eastern Cape and the Wynstroom van Nylstroom from Gauteng and surrounds. As in previous competitions, the Natalia Wine Society's winning Sauvignon Blanc blend will be bottled by Blaauwklippen and made available to the market.

"Down here in Stellenbosch we could hear the collective head-scratching as the nation's wine clubs were faced with four different Sauvignon Blanc samples, each freshly drawn from the tank and each bearing a unique character," said N.C. Krone, sales and marketing manager at Blaauwklippen.

"The four wines from which the blends had to be made originate from Stellenbosch and Elgin, and varied in terms of terroir expression, as well as lees and skin contact. Flavours differed from tropical to grassy, and we believe entrants had a tough task coming-up with a blend that appealed to the palates of their clubs, as well as predicting what was going to woo the judges."

According to Blaauwklippen wine-maker Rolf Zeitvogel, the batches of four different Sauvignon Blancs were couriered overnight to participants so as to ensure complete freshness.

"Making-up a white blend is a different challenge than the reds mostly used in the past as the entrants have to concentrate on freshness and what is in the glass at the moment," said Zeitvogel. "But it seems as if the entrants had done enough training and taste-bud conditioning, as the wines we received were of exceptional quality. In the semi-final the average score was 14.2 points out of 20, showing that - despite the popularity of red wines - wine clubs were not taking their whites lightly."

Entrants had to use at least three of the four wines they received. After each club had gone through the arduous task of constructing its blend, the blend percentages were sent to Blaauwklippen. Using the percentages, the winery then reconstructed each entrant's wine blend which was then presented to the judges for tasting. Judges for the final round were wine writers Neil Pendock, Angela Lloyd and Nicolette de Kock, wine-makers Walter Finlayson (previous winemaker at Blaauwklippen), Hermann Kirschbaum, Charles Hopkins (Chairman of the SA Sauvignon Blanc Association) and Cape Wine Master Clive Torr, as well as wine buyer Mark Norrish.

Speaking on behalf of the panel of judges, Pendock said: "All four finalists produced superb wines of which they and we as South Africans can be proud. The wines we were faced with showed the clubs were not out to make a New Zealand or French style Sauvignon Blanc, but a wine with a true South African flavour. And this is the way to go."

The winning blend will be bottled under Blaauwklippen's Vineyard Selection range and will be ready for the market before end October 2004.