Names and languages

The recent comments about Wine mag’s Jeanri-Tine van Zyl made me remember a funny article that Melvyn Minnaar wrote in Grape in 2002 about some of the strange names that had started appearing on wine bottles. He began his piece by mentioning a strange phenomenon in Afrikaans names in the 1970s and ‘80s (of which Jeanri-Tine is perhaps beneficiary or victim, depending on how you regard the practice), whereby dismembered chunks of different names are yoked together to produce something original, exotic or bizarre. “An entire generation”, said Melvyn, “now has to explain why they are not named Pieter or Johan, but Piaan or Johter”. (Of course, I confess I am entirely ignorant about the origins of “Jeanri-Tine” – it might be the Serbo-Croat equivalent of Mary or Magriet, for all I know, or just the remnants of a smoky vision.)

And then – to continue the theme of Afrikaans nomenclature – there came a PR email from that very good winery with a cellar at the mouth of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Hermanuspieterfontein, called after the name by which the village of Hermanus was originally known, before the postmaster decided it was too long to fit on envelopes and successfully applied in 1902 for the official name to be shortened. (The village was founded in 1855 and, the press release reminds us, “was named in honour of the itinerant teacher, Hermanus Pieters, who was paid in sheep by farmers of the district. He fed and watered his sheep at a spring situated where the centre of the re-named Hermanus stands today.”)

Hermanuspietersfontein Wingerde (yes, one can indeed see the postmaster’s point) has just released their latest wine, called 1855 Posmeester. The translation into Afrikaans (all the winery’s labels are in Afrikaans only) is a pleasantly ironical dig, perhaps, at Mr Shaw, the Postmaster in question. It joins some other splendid Afrikaans names at HPF Wingerde. There are admittedly a whole clutch of wines named after people, one of the less endearing habits of Cape wine producers, but to make up for that we have Bloos (“Blush”, the rosé), Swartskaap (“Black Sheep”), and Kleinboet – which last is very witty, I think, and my favourite wine name. It is their second-label bordeaux-style red blend, making it the younger, less serious brother of Die Arnoldus (where “Die” is “The”, rather than the first part of Die Hard).

Interestingly, despite the Afrikaans monolingualism of the labels, Bartho Eksteen and his partners are, I’m glad to say, happy to send out press releases in English, and the website is entirely in what one presumes was the Posmeester’s home language.

Of course English has become much more common in the winelands, as all the Afrikaans-speaking boys and girls have had to learn to schmooze their way around the world using the world’s main lingua franca in order to try to sell their wares. Another series of wine labels that will be all in Afrikaans will be coming out next year, incidentally, when Eben Sadie releases his collection of wines made traditionally, from old vineyards. All in appropriate Afrikaans that is, except for the one in the series that has already appeared in an earlier vintage, Mrs Kirsten’s Old Vines.

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