Our industry’s future in able, eager and passionate hands

Friday, 24 September, 2004
Jeanine Wardman
Last week saw the launch of ‘South Africa in a bottle’ by a group of Oenology and Viticulture students from the University of Stellenbosch calling themselves ‘Klub 13’.

I arrived at the tasting and presentation of Kapano with some doubts in my mind. A blend of 16 cultivars? Sourced from 221 producers from the four corners of the South African wine lands and everything in between? Made by thirteen novice winemakers?

I left relieved though, partly because the wine was actually enjoyable, but mostly because the future of South African winemaking and viticulture is able, eager and above all passionate about the vine, its produce and the industry that will sustain them after graduation.

Stefan Gerber, designated spokesperson of Klub 13, whose members include second-generation winemakers Danie Steytler (Kaapzicht) and Chris Boustred (Remhoogte), says that the group was formed as a wine tasting fraternity within the Oenology and Viticulture department. Their aspirations however soon transcended those of the organoleptic kind and Klub 13 began taking a keen interest in wine industry strategy and politics. Besides, says Gerber, Klub 13's members are tomorrow's industry leaders.

Klub 13's raison d'être then became an all-together more altruistic one - 'We began thinking about how we could make a difference,' says Gerber. And a statement, it seems.

Klub 13 subsequently requested 3 bottles of wine from every single producer in the country and blended these into one massive 'South Africa in a bottle'. Says Stefan: 'We wanted to symbolically transcend the accepted notions of qualitative borders between appellations and prove that what matters is that we should all, as a united industry, be promoting wine as a category instead of an each-to-his-own mentality.'

Gerber notes that the notion of terroir is often so entrenched that its demarcations aren't questioned. 'We want to turn terroir on its head and get people to question traditional beliefs about the suitability and potential of certain appellations. Nuy, for instance, is redefining itself as a much cooler micro-climate than the broader Worcester appellation.' And did I know that Australia's Hunter Valley is on the same latitude as our own Prieska? Gerber adds.

But what, you are doubtless itching to know; does 'South Africa in a bottle' taste like?  Dave Hughes has been named the group's mentor and describes the wine as 'dangerously enjoyable with a predominant Cabernet Sauvignon character'. In spite of there not having been any real method to the madness of concocting 'South Africa in a bottle', Dave believes in the potential of this 'cosmopolitan' blend and threatens to enter it into local wine competitions of note!

And what does the future hold for Klub 13 after graduation at the end of this year? I got as many opinions as there are members (some of them heavily promoting brand aspirations for 'South Africa in a bottle'), though the assumption is that the club will continue to exist as a wine tasting, professional network of like-minded winemakers and viticulturists.

The men of Klub 13 are men with not only a purpose, but also a conscious. 'South Africa in a bottle' is destined for auction in the nearby future, the proceeds of which will go toward a Fetal Alcohol Syndrome charity with Beyers Truter as guardian.

'Wine is our passion, our future, our life,' Stefan and his mates proclaimed to the world last week. Klub 13's enthusiasm and dedication are undeniable and have to be applauded. The group has left themselves wide open though for criticism in two very obvious respects - our winemaking future, if it were wholly dependent on Klub 13, would also be an all-male and all-white one. Maybe this is a worthy cause for a group who claims to want to make a difference?