That American connection

Mulderbosch, the Stellenbosch estate with a few decades of good reputation behind it, home for all that time to Mike Dobrovic who resigned (or was he pushed, one must now wonder) at the end of 2009 – Mulderbosch has been sold. Rumours about its sale to a consortium headed by American Charles Banks have been around for a while, but confirmation of the deal has eventually come in a rather indirect way.

In an email to British winewriter Jancis Robinson, Mr Banks (formerly with a substantial interest in the super-cult Californian winery Screaming Eagle) also confirms that his hoped-for acquisition of Cordoba did not take place – so that excellent property, which it would have been most gratifying to see in the hands of such a proprietor, languishes more or less miserable and neglected and with an increasingly eyebrow-raising price tag, we must presume.

Let us look to magic happening with a Mulderbosch rejuvenated by lavish American capital and know-how – I myself hope they will start by abandoning the spiritual Dobrovic’s remarkably market-savvy formula of leaving residual sugar in most of the wines.

The purchase of Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards is also confirmed, although I wrote confidently many months ago that Mr Banks’s consortium had acquired it. A most interesting acquisition this, in many ways – much more surprising (and of course cheaper) than a prime site in Stellenbosch. The outlook for the winery had looked so promising in the organic hands of winemaker-viticulturist Chris Mullineux, before he moved on and the British owners, soon after, started to allow it to become run down. But no announcement was forthcoming; the winery website had been pulled; all was silence.

The Banks team from Screaming Eagle has been “engaged”, however, and “have made dramatic strides”, according to the email to Jancis R. (An email from Mr Banks to me didn’t give the information I asked for, but promised a meeting when he visits South Africa – so let’s hope you can watch this space.)

Two by-the-ways: Firstly, from elsewhere I hear rumours that already some of the existing inventory of Banks’s Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards is ready for release – including a new flagship estate Syrah (not tasted in the latest Platter) at an extremely high price by South African standards.

That’s ambitious indeed, for a new wine from a new winery from a minor appellation that is only getting into its stride. I wish it well. Perhaps, given the great renown and greater price of the Screaming Eagle wine, which will inevitably be invoked, the chances are best for it to do well in the United States. Yet high-priced South African wine has bombed in the USA – particularly in current depressed times. Interestingly, after all sorts of problems, Eben Sadie has finally pulled his wine out of that particularly difficult and frustrating market, he tells me, despite the high scores his wines have attracted from some of the all-important critics there, and despite the great expense of time and money that he invested in doing business in America.

The second by-the-way: The previous owners of Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards, the Scott family, seem to have retained the brand name “TMV” used for the range of wines bought in from the Swartland (the best wines of the whole offering thus far, in fact). They also kept all that stock (the estate wine still in barrel and tank went to the new owners), moved it off the property, and are now trying to sell it – possibly their own apparent reluctance to announce the sale has to do with thinking that it will make the selling job easier if they are still assumed to be the owners of the estate. (I gather that few tears have been shed at the departure of the Scotts, incidentally.) The Platter Guide had found it impossible to confirm the change of ownership and, as with Mulderbosch, the previous owners remain listed in the recently-launched 2011 edition.

So all the American-oriented rumours around these properties seem to be finally resolved into fact. Mulderbosch and Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards – yes, Cordoba – definitely no, and Kanu – no (there’s certainly been no mention of this property which was, like Mulderbosch, owned by Ben Truter and presumably still is). The investment by Charles Banks’s consortium is a signal one – the most substantial investment yet in Cape vineyards by American interests. Mr Banks remarks laconically, and I look forward to hearing more: “South Africa has great potential.”

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