Diners Club, surfing and Esmé

Just as Wine magazine staff are surely feeling a bit of schadenfreude about the latest bit of Diners Club (Young) Winemaker of the Year scandal, so too would have the Widow, who passed from the vale of tears called South African winewriting about a year ago. (If you don’t know about schadenfreude, and suspect you might want to feel it occasionally, it’s worth googling to find out how; if you don’t know about the Widow – ah well, it’s too late.)

I mention Wine mag because of course this year Diners Club decided not to use their expertise to organise its competition, after two bits of scandal: last year, of course, the declared winner had to back down after some sneaks had questioned whether there was the stipulated amount of winning wine available on the market. In the case of the Shiraz category the scandal had been about the process of judging and the use of seeded wines. I remember screeds of comments on Grape at the time, until Wine mag refused to respond further, but  forget the exact details – one result, though, of the embarrassment was that Wine mag was, it would seem, ditched.

And then, of course, as if to say that it wasn’t Wine mag’s fault after all, but something of a jinx, the latest scandal was revealed to the world by Michael Fridjhon, whereby the Young Winemaker of the Year, Clayton Reabow, was shown to have joined the winery in question after the wine had already been vinified.

Diners Club are apparently, to the guffaws of just about everyone except those very few who still have unbounded faith in financial institutions, happy to accept that if a winemaker starts a few months after vinification to watch over the wine in barrel and then gets it unscathed into bottle, it counts as him having made it.

Much like last year, just about everyone involved comes out looking bad, and to my mind Diners Club looks worst of all. (Last year, my own impression is that the winemaker, Duncan Savage, who did the decent thing and renounced his prize after the revelation of the problem, received much more sympathy than the other people and institutions involved, who merely looked mean and nasty and/or incompetent.) Anyway, as well as smirking, Wine mag must be wiping the sweat of relief from its brow that it can at least this year look on, deeply concerned, from the sidelines.

I only rehash all this because of a coincidence that the aforementioned Widow would have loved. For just the same week that Michael Fridjhon invited us to remember last year’s little problem, I received a newsletter from Miles Mossop Wines, which told me, amongst other things that

“Our winemaker – Miles Mossop – has been featured in an interesting new book along with a few other young South African winemakers. The book is called ‘A Passion for Wine and Surf: A journey into the soul of South Africa’. It is a photographic coffee table book by a Danish Photographer, Linda Suhr, and documents the lives and passion of a few surfing winemakers in South africa as well as a passionate Italian Chef.” [The occasionally odd choice of capital letters in the quote is in the original.]

Strange combination of subjects for a book, I thought, but still. I went to the link provided and had a look at the pictures on offer (the section of one of them alongside doesn’t do justice to what is clearly a beautiful book; I think that’s Miles Mossop on the left, Duncan Savage in the middle). Low and behold, there were some former surfing friends, who haven’t actually been speaking to each other since the tale-telling and complaints around Diners Club last year (a winewriter seems to have been also implicated in trying to cause trouble for Duncan Savage, but we’d better not venture in that direction).

I do think it might have been in better taste to have not sent out this testimony to happier times past. But I do also wish (and I suspect the Widow would have agreed, in her more sentimental moments) that an apology might be thought in order (and accepted) and that surfing together might replace the silence of guilt and hurt.

I was going to say that it is good to think of our young winemakers, after their hard work in their cellars, also going off surfing together. And so it is – but then I remembered that these guys are not quite so young anymore! It was a realisation that had come to me with a bit of a shock just recently, at the “Great White Tasting”, where a whole lot of winemakers came together to advance the cause of the various styles of white blends that are perhaps the most exciting feature of Cape winemaking today.

Eben Sadie, who clearly played a big role in organising the event, remarked to me how good it was that there was such a crowd of “winemakers under 30” who’d turned out with their interesting wines to learn and share. And I realised that Eben is closer to 40 than 30 himself, and virtually an elder statesman…. And so are so many of what still seem to me to be the Young Turks of the industry.  Where has youth gone? Where mine went some time ago, I dare say.

But youth is still in good hands. Undoubtedly of the next generation at that white blend tasting was Pieter Euvrard, with a sample of his very promising 2009 white blend from his Orangerie farm on the Perdeberg. He brought the age thing very sharply into focus, because I asked (as surely any white South African of my age would have done) if he was related to Esmé Euvrard, one of the fixtures of the much-lamented Springbok Radio of my youth. “Yes”, said Pieter, “she was my grandfather’s cousin.”

Go surfing, guys, while you still can; before you’re also someone’s grandfather, or grandfather’s cousin. Make wonderful wine, and go surfing.

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