The Second World War saw the first great push in establishing the Cape’s wine co-operatives. The war years saw their numbers rise from 6 to 19. At least part of the general motivation was grape-farmers’ need to cooperate in purchasing expensive capital equipment in the cellar to help winemakers meet the KWV’s (pretty modest!) standards in judging wines suitable for something other than distilling. By making “good” wines, the farmers could get a better price for their grapes.
Five post-war years added 11 more coops, and by 1955 there were 46 in total – a huge jump from the 1930s. By this time, cool fermentation was starting to come in, allowing for fruity, semisweet wines like Lieberstein (launched in 1959), and this necessitated even more major winery expense. (See here for how Zonnebloem got driven into the apparently unsavoury hands of Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery when it was unable to afford the cost of modernising its cellar.) By 1975 there were 69 coops dominating the producer profile.
The most interesting thing I’ve recently learnt about co-ops was how they tended to be split along (white, parliamentary) political lines, reflecting a bitter conflict within the Afrikaner political community. There were those coops with farmers supporting Jan Smuts’s United Party (United National South African Party, to be pedantic) and others with farmers allied to the National Party (Herenigde Nasionale Party). It was a turbulent time in white politics in South Africa, and the Nats triumphed, of course, over Smuts’s party in the 1948 elections.
I confess I don’t know, however, which camp Windmeul Coop was in, if either. It was formed during the war, with table-grape-farmers at the head, wanting to make use of grapes not destined for the table. For them it was not a question of making “good wine”, and at first (until a bit of ambition crept in in the 1960s) only brandy-fodder was made. (Interestingly, from today’s perspective, Windmeul in 1988 appointed Hein Koegelenberg as co-winemaker. Today he’s married into the mighty Rupert family and the big guy in La Motte, Leopard’s Leap, etc.)
Windmeul is now firmly established as one of the Cape’s better coops and coops-turned-companies, and, along with a number of others, has for some years now been offering a reserve range to draw attention to the quality potential of their grapes – in their case from the Agter-Paarl vineyards of 42 farmer members.
I was intrested to sample some of the wines that have been winning many medals and awards of late. Particularly the Reserve Cape Blend 2012, which this year got the winery’s first Platter five-star wine (trumping, in rather surprising fashion, such red-blend candidates as Sadie Columella, Reyneke Reserve, Kanonkop Paul Sauer, Mvemve Raats De Compostella, etc, which the Platterists managed to reject at the final hurdle).
The WIndmeul really is a most attractive wine (unsurprisingly now sold out at under R100 from the cellar); ripe and firm, but with soft, unobtrusive tannins – ready for early drinking. Generous and sweet-fruited but also with some savoury depths. It’s not a serious wine, and certainly, in my opinion, shouldn’t have got near five stars for Platter, but it is easy-going and well balanced despite the big alcohol and dollop of residual sugar; really well and deftly made. (The Platter team blind-tasting a big pile of five-star candidates is as susceptible to such showy charms as any such team, sadly.) I enjoyed it – sighted and unencumbered by competitors – very much, only slightly against my better judgement.
The Reserve Pinotage 2012 got four-and-a-half stars from one of the more indulgent and soft-centred Platter tasters and, more forgiveably perhaps (given big-line-up tendencies) also did well in various competitions. Impressive, certainly, but to me not up to the quality of the Cape Blend, because it’s not as balanced – it’s big and hefty, with gorgeous opulence, but a touch hot and sweet (though actually technically drier than the blend).
I also tried two whites. The Sauvignon Blanc is, well, an enticingly fruity, softly rounded and easy-going sauvignon, ripe rather than green in its focus. At R38 better than many, I suppose, but I struggle to care.
The standard Chenin Blanc was, apparently, at Veritas “the only unwooded Chenin Blanc in South Africa to receive double gold, among 70 entries in this category”. At R34 (also only ex-cellar and online – Club members get a 10% discount) it’s undoubtedly a great buy: exuberant, with full-ripe flavoursome palate, and just enough acidity to keep it lively enough, if not exactly crisp. Rich and delicious. Platter gives it only two-and-a-half stars, increasing my bewilderment with its Windmeul ratings – take a star off the top reds and give it to the Chenin, I’d suggest!