There was I wondering yet again why I do this bloody blog at all, and somehow ended up with the totally counter-intuitive idea that, instead of abandoning it entirely, I should try to do it more often. Irrationality piled high…..
So I thought that, with my newfound zeal, maybe I should write something about this extraordinary idea of André van Rensburg [not v d Merwe – was I drunk again?] of Vergelegen to make an “anti-Swartland wine”, supported it seems by Gary Jordan, owner of the eponymous wine estate and of the restaurant in London which will carry the wine. According to Drinks Business, the Bordeaux-style blend will be called “NTS”, standing for “Not The Swartland”. (The pic alongside comes from there too.)
Not exactly devastating or greatly witty, is it? And I can’t see that the move does credit to two of the leading figures of Stellenbosch wine involved. Apparently, Gary thinks that “The Swartland thing is a fad”. “There are some good wines coming out of the Swartland”, he kindly notes, which is pretty big of him, but loftily adds that “there are also a load of ‘natural’ wines from there which are faulty and shouldn’t be on the market”. Wow. He doesn’t name any of this “load” of wines, unfortunately. I would bet that I taste and drink more Swartland wines than Gary does, and I’ve come across rather few that would be called by their producers “natural”, in the sense that the international wine world is now using the term. Even fewer that I think are faulty – though one or two, yes. I challenge him to name this “load” of faulty stuff.
Gary is also reported to believe that “it’s time for the media to turn its attention back to Stellenbosch”. Hmm. Is trashing the reputation of other areas really the best way to do this, I wonder? How about, rather, doing more exciting stuff? How about getting together cooperatively like the Swartland guys do and presenting an image of a dynamic region? In fact, there’s a great deal of great new stuff coming out of Stellenbosch – including Alheit’s wine from the Bottelary Hills, brilliance at Reyneke, increased focus on non-interventionist winemaking at Radford-Dale and Craven, quite apart from the more traditional places.
And, really, does Stellenbosch not get plenty of attention already? I know that I myself am in some quarters resented as being too enamoured of the Swartland – yet I can’t think when last I wrote about a Swartland winery, while I have very recently written glowingly about two of Gary’s Stellenbosch neighbours, Super Single and DeMorgenzon. And in my look at the latest Platter guide on winemag.co.za, I happily pointed out that Sadie Family Wines had scooped up some prestige for the Swartland, but that “Stellenbosch won both Wines of the Year [… and] was the runaway winner when it comes to origins of 5-star wines”. What, really do Gary and André want?
Poor old André
Actually, I must say that I’m feeling rather sorry for André at present. He’s undoubtedly one of the Cape’s best and most senior winemakers, yet I believe he now has to endure the insult of having a consultant thrust upon him. Heaven knows what Anglo American, owners of Vergelegen, are having to pay the famous (arguably notorious), and undoubtedly brilliant, bordelais winemaker Michel Rolland to give him advice. It must be a great deal of money.
A few years back, Rolland gave up all his New World consultancies, including the few he held in South Africa. It must be said, I’m afraid, that the results of his previous consultancies here were far from glorious – as elsewhere in the south. Mostly, it seems, he persuaded producers like Anthonij Rupert, Remhoogte and Rupert & Rothschild to pick ultra-ripe grapes.
All three of these wineries have improved wine quality since abandoning Rolland’s facile recipe. What is Vergelegen hoping to gain, I wonder? It’s hard to believe that André will welcome any interference in his winemaking, as though he’s a beginner – though it’s universally admitted, I think, that Rolland is a great blender of wines.
Perhaps he can help Vergelegen return to the public acclaim it enjoyed more widely a decade ago than now. But maybe it would have been cheaper, and more effective, to try to persuade one of the Swartland superstars to offer André advice, if the bosses aren’t happy enough with the way he’s been doing his job….