Cape's publicists are 'drowning in nonsensicality' - Malcolm Gluck

Monday, 22 May, 2006
Peter F. May
Pigs, earthworms, and balderdash are among wine writer Malcolm Gluck's armoury of ripostes to claims of Cape terroir, reports Peter F. May.
Not everyone is impressed with Wines of South Africa's (WOSA) current message that the Cape's biodiversity, ancient soils and terroir are responsible for the quality and variety of its wines.

‘Terroir is rubbish,’ declared wine writer Malcolm Gluck in UK trade magazine Harpers last week(19/5/06). ‘It is complete utter balderdash from the first syllable of its pretentious and mendacious utterance to its last.’

Gluck is horrified that WOSA intends to spotlight terroir by grouping wines by region at this year’s generic tasting in October. He quotes WOSA's announcement that says that ‘each region will display its best wines, so delegates will still be able to experience the “taste of place” particular to each wine-growing area. With biodiversity an essential component of our positioning, we do not want to lose this focus. The country has the oldest geological formations and the most weathered soils anywhere in the world. The Cape Floral Kingdom might be the smallest, but it is also the richest on the planet and is where over 90% of South African wines are grown. These features make it possible to produce an enormous range of wine styles across the price spectrum.’

Gluck is stunned. ‘Soil and apes and leopards and pretty flowers make it possible to produce an enormous range of wine styles across the price spectrum?’ he asks. ‘Have you ever read anything so half-baked in your life?’

Gluck invites us to ‘Listen to what the Cape publicists are saying as they drown in their own nonsensicality. LISTEN! They are saying: 'It is not Bruce Jack and Charles Back who make the difference. It is not Martin Meinert and Danie de Wet who create the wonderful diversity of Cape wine styles. It is not Abrie Bruwer and André van Rensburg who are responsible for those superbly individual Cabernet Sauvignons. No sir! It's the dirt that holds the vines up which is responsible for all of this. The dirt, sir.’

Gluck states that terroir is a just a ‘ruse to protect real estate values.’ He says the New World, which has ‘worked so hard to crush old Europe, to take its markets and colonise its customers' taste preferences’ now wants to be like old Europe after all. ‘Designating certain vineyards or vineyard areas as taxonomically superior destroys credible marketability,’ he claims, ‘for it is merely a cunning plan to perpetuate the status of vineyards over the personalities of the various winemakers who will create wine from them over the generations.’

Gluck is reminded of the pigs in Orwell's Animal Farm who end up as bad as the farmer they replaced and he says WOSA's message is ‘another example of the pigs standing up on two legs and swigging whisky with the farmer.’

But if he can't change their minds, then Gluck has a suggestion: ‘I am surprised no-one, believing in this load of old cobblers, is not citing particular earthworms as making the wine and individuating each vineyard. Bruce, Charles, Abrie, Martin, André and Danie make sweet names for earthworms, don't you think?’