Pendock Unfiltered 4

Friday, 26 November, 2004
Neil Pendock
Neil Pendock learns of Veuve Clicquot's two types of winemakers at the Diners Club Winemaker of the Year awards luncheon - those who make wine and those who make public opinion through tastings and interviews. 'Given the forthright opinions of some SA winemakers, this is a leaf local producers can take out of the French winemaking manual.'

Seated at table three, I knew immediately the Winemaker of the Year was either Nicky Krone from Twee Jonge Gezellen in Tulbagh or Pieter Ferreira from Graham Beck in Robertson as the organizers always seat me at the table with the winner.

Gyles Webb from Thelema, also at the table, kindly said that next year, when the category is Merlot, he will be sure to join me again for lunch.  

Convener of the tasting process, Tony Mossop, welcomed guests by introducing a judging panel of Cape Winemasters plus Webb and previous winner Teddy Hall, co-opted 'to add some expertise' to the judging process.  This year's foreign judge was the brilliantly named Fran├žois Chirumberro from French producer Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, a company with something of a reputation for bubblies.

Chirumberro was a generation younger than the other judges, which is good news as taste and olfactory prowess maximize in late adolescence, even though it is illegal to buy wine in SA until you're eighteen.  Informed opinion at the table explained that Veuve has two kinds of winemakers: those who make wine and those who make public opinion through tastings and interviews, with Chirumberro on the latter career path.  Given the forthright opinions of some SA winemakers, this is a leaf local producers can take out of the French winemaking manual.

Mossop also lifted the veil on the murky judging process: sex was used to divide the seven judges into two panels.  The 54 entries were then tasted blind, with both panels producing a top dozen.  In a result that confounds statistics, the respective top twelves had not a single wine in common.  So at least the selection was not random.  In fact the tastes of the male and female judges had nothing in common at all, a point Aussie wine writer Max Lake must have had in mind when he opined, 'males and females taste different.'

Pressing on regardless, the top six from each sex were combined into a top dozen, from which the winner was selected.  Given the 4:3 male advantage, if the judges were consistent (a big 'if' here) the winner should have been a masculine favourite.

It turned out to be Pieter Ferreira's '99 vintage Blanc de Blancs, which certainly seemed a popular choice among all and sundry.  In the Young Winemaker of the Year Competition, run in parallel with the main competition, the category was dry reds and 79 entries were submitted from which a top ten was selected.

Consisting of seven Shirazes, a Pinot Noir, a Zinfandel and a Cape Blend the line-up is curiously at odds with current perceptions of where quality lies in SA wine - among Bordeaux blends and Cabernets.  The winning wine had the charming name 'For My Friends' and was a hearty Shiraz made by 30-year old Johan Nesenberend whose day job is making red wine at Darling Cellars.

With a remarkable flavour of lavender and tea, it is a wild buchu potion from the West Coast with suurvygies and garrigue popping up as it develops in the glass.  At all of R80/bottle (the maximum his friends can afford), it is a surefire hit and just the thing to wash down a tortoise pie or a stew of water lilies, which are popular snacks on the West Coast.  It also worked a treat with the spicy lamb bobotie sausage served with lunch.  

Diners Club Winemaker of the Year 2004 Pieter 'Bubbles' Ferreira
Diners Club Winemaker of the Year 2004 Pieter 'Bubbles' Ferreira

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