Remke and dé druif van Zuid-Afrika

remkeRemke de Lange is a Dutch journalist and wine-blogger. In 2010 she spent a year in Australia and made a wine there from a row of vines and called it Rem’s Row, a continuing project which has its own website, from where this pic of a sultry, wine-stained Rem comes.  (She also wrote what sounds like a delightful book about it, but sadly it’s not yet been translated into English.) Last year she visited the Cape for the first time, got a bit of a bug here, and this vintage she’s been making a wine (a pinotage) alongside Corlea Fourie at Bosman Family Vineyards on the historic Lelienfontein family farm in Wellington.

If you read Afrikaans (even at my standard) you’ll have no trouble understanding at least this much from her blog: “Rem’s Row 2.0 komt uit Zuid-Afrika. Bosman Family Vineyards in Wellington is het perfectefamiliebedrijf voor een tweede kleinschalig wijnproject van hoge kwaliteit. En de wijn? Die wordt gemaakt van dé druif van Zuid-Afrika: pinotage, die begin februari 2015 wordt geoogst.”

As far as I’m concerned, the crucial word in all that Dutch is “pinotage”. Rem visited me this afternoon to have a chat about South African wine (where it’s going, when it started going there, and how and why). She spent three hours here, indulgently (well, fairly indulgently) allowing her ankles to be sweetly nipped by my puppy, and discussing various matters – notably including the puzzling attitude of South Africans to pinotage.Going by such evidence as Platter’s Wine Guide being more lavishly generous to cab, shiraz, etc, Rem thinks we don’t seem to appreciate it sufficiently, given that it’s our “national grape”, our unique selling point (thankfully she didn’t actually use that phrase), etc.

Trying to explain the whole business, I found myself getting rather tied up. It’s the first time for ages that I’ve actually thought about the Rainbow Grape, and I found myself delving rather desperately into the murky waters of nationalism, of the culture of an industry that is basically an Afrikaans one and has a particular historical relationship to this autochthonous variety – quite apart from the debate over whether pinotage is a Good Grape or not.

I, of course, feel quite absolved from any prejudice against pinotage, culturally or organoleptically – I have experienced far too many excellent pinotages (especially mature ones) in my time to dismiss the variety as such. Nonetheless I found myself floundering as I discussed it all with Rem, especially as I realised as I spoke just how much of the pro and con in the debate involves cultural matters and not comparatively simple ones about the basic quality of the grape. Or political matters – as Rem said with something between amusement and despair, everything in South Africa is political. I rather think I hope she won’t quote me on most of what I said – it was far too speculative. But it was good to be made to think again about it all.

twowinesHappily, our long conversation was oiled by a bottle of wine that Rem had acquired on a recent visit to Elgin: an unwooded chardonnay called 51 Miles – the name recording the distance of the Elgin railway station (the renovated home of parent Winters Drift) from Cape Town – made under the aegis of the remarkable Koen Roose of Spioenkop. I’d never heard of it, but it’s a very tasty, pure-fruited, sweet-fruited and easygoing wine in an underrated category, a wine that I greatly enjoyed.

51 Miles Unoaked Chardonnay is not noted in Platter’s, as far as I can see,nor can I find out anything about it on the internet – including price. So I’ll include my own photo of the bottle. I must say that, later, it seemed almost too exuberantly fruity alongside the bottom half of my other bottle this evening – David Chenin Blanc 2011. But subtle depth – along with deliciousness and delicacy – is always the point of David Sadie’s wines, so that’s not surprising.

I do hope I get the chance to taste Remke’s Wellington pinotage, but it’ll probably all go to her adoring customer base in the Netherlands. Next year, or sometime, she’ll be moving on to another country to make another wine from a few rows of grapes. It’s a great project, and I wish her well.

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