How many oceans? And where?

After writing recently about the misrepresentation put forward about the first “Cape Blend”, an enthusiastic press release reminded me today of another of the enduring confusions deliberately perpetrated in the wine industry. Two Oceans, the big Distell brand, was trumpeting its success around the world, but especially in North America. That’s great; I’m very pleased for them, but I still have severe doubts about the integrity of their label, which gives the wine just a tinge of sourness.

The Constantia region was also displeased by the label, back in the mid 1990s, when they took the issue to court, and somehow, sadly lost. No one disputes, of course, that there are two oceans cradling the Western Cape. And no-one, when it really comes down to it, is able to put up an argument denying that the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet at Cape Agulhas, the southernost tip of Africa. Not Cape Point, even though the crashing splendour of the tip of the Cape Peninsula would undeniably be a more picturesque place for it to happen. Definitely not Cape Point, despite the misleadingly named Marathon.

Cape Point is NOT the place where, in the ghastly, cynical poeticising language of Distell’s PR-speak, “Amidst the tangy sea spray, crisp breezes and energizing ozone mists, something almost mystical occurs” and “the Indian and Atlantic oceans fuse in a purity of power to release a magnetising life force over the endless blue horizon”. Is that nonsesense or what?

Yes, well. We could also note that the Distell publicists can’t spell “palate”, but prefer writing nonsense about “gooseberry flavours on the fore pallet backed by tropical fruit”, but let’s not go there. Let’s stick to the thing that distressed the Constantia producers and no doubt still does. For the image on each and every one of the countless bottles of Two Oceans wine does not show Agulhas, or an aerial shot of the Western Cape which they declare as an origin (the wine is now sourced too widely to qualify as the more appropriate Coastal Region); no, the picture is a helicopter’s-eye view of the Cape Peninsula, largely occupied (in wine-origin terms) by Constantia.

So, in the choice of topographical image to accompany the name Two Oceans is depicted one of the few regions which doesn’t supply wine to be sold under this brand name, and a focus on Cape Point, where the two oceans do not meet…. Oh well, does it matter? Surely not, this is only wine we’re talking about, and wine isn’t about truth, or terroir; wine is about marketing. Let me go back and read today’s press release again.

Ah, brand manager Brad Gold is there to reassure me about the true nature of “the Two Oceans success story”. It has, he tells us happily, “been built on extensive investment in infrastructure, a longstanding network of suppliers across the Cape’s premium wine-growing areas and the application of viticultural management and cellar techniques designed to maximise cost-efficiencies”. Even if you think that it’s also been built on a misrepresentation, Mr Gold manages just the sort of winning, wineloving comment that makes one want to rush out and buy some of his brand, doesn’t he? What could be more delicious than cost-efficiency?

Incidentally, you might expect the splendid Cape Point Vineyards estate to be a little more accurate on the terroir issue. But their website manages to get things even more tangled, with the extraordinary statement that they are “the only wine estate in the world to be located on a narrow strip of peninsula, and between the two disparate oceans of the icy Atlantic and the warm currents of False Bay”. Quite apart from the fact that there are other peninsulas in the world with wine estates on them, probably many, this statement seems to suggest that the Constantia vineyards are not on the Cape Peninsula. And is False Bay now the other ocean (with its own “warm currents”, nogal)? Is there, I’m forced to wonder, a wicked plot being hatched between Cape Point Vineyards and Distell to subvert every schoolchild’s knowledge of basic geography?

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