Rugby, golf, brands … and wine

Not being a rugby fan, I’m unsure of what is required of devotees — I have only a vague and probably libellous idea it involves throwing naartjie peels, insults and advice at the television screen while drinking beer. Possibility, however, there is a more refined breed of fans who throw olive pips and sip at a glass of wine.

The latter seems to be the concern of Ernie Els. Witness two bottles of wine bearing the famous leaping springbok (in its customary, rather retro style, which makes it look plump, perhaps something like a fleeing rabbit) and the legend, “SA Rugby”, with copyright and trademark signs and a statement that the wines are “produced under licence by Ernie Els Wines” — just in time for the World Cup, which even I know is happening, erm, soon.

Ernie being a golfer, I initially wondered whether he cared about rugby at all. But, no, on the back label he declares himself a passionate supporter of the Springboks — or it has been declared on his behalf by his marketers, brand managers, winery consultants or whatever pro golfers develop instead of, or as well as, souls when they turn into brands. One can never be sure.

Branding does trump sincerity sometimes. Gary Player, well known to be a teetotaller, also has a wine brand, Black Knight, which is a continuing series of smooth, rather good red blends, with each successive vintage named for another of the little man in black’s major championship victories (we’re now up to Aronimink 1962).

Actually, it now occurs to me to worry on Gary’s behalf that these wines are made at the precarious Quoin Rock, which is owned by beleaguered businessman Dave King and is currently being occupied by representatives of the South African Revenue Service, who are going to sell it next year, I believe, hoping to get some of the R47-million or so they’re owed by the wine company.

Retief Goosen has an actual interest instead of just a trademark in a Cape winery, which bears his nickname, The Goose, itself no doubt heavily protected by law — although there seems to be a bit of a danger of brand confusion as not very long ago the winery introduced a range of wines called The Gander.

Yet another South African golfer of note, David Frost, has taken to the wine game, although his father grew grapes so this might amount to a bit of family tradition, rare in the golf-and-wine business (unlike the rugby-and-wine business). First, there’s a pretty downmarket range, the David Frost Signature Series, which amounts to the use of his name on some dull, soft, often sweetish wines made by Perdeberg Winery. As for the David Frost Estate, the picture is unclear. A year or so back there was an abortive bid to auction the property and news since then has been hard to come by.

But Ernie Els is the big golfing name in Cape wine. It started off with one smart, ultra-expensive and showy red, but since then the range has been proliferating, dipping ever lower into the larger-scale, more lucrative reaches. Now it has gone as far as buying a no doubt very expensive licence from SA Rugby. A double-branded whammy for the thirsty, alcohol-craving suckers out there.

There are red and white versions of the rugby wine (rosé would be a bit too girly, I suppose, for a game in which large men chase each other round the field, huddling down occasionally in alarmingly intimate-looking grapples). The Sauvignon Blanc is pleasant enough, bursting, as they say, with fruity flavour, though also a bit sharp. The Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon blend is soft, thick, ultra-ripe, with some brash acidity trying bravely to make it seem a bit more of a refreshing drink than it is.

Tastes differ but there is one certainty — the wines are wickedly and exploitatively overpriced at R60 and R80 respectively. Unless you really, really want those ugly labels to match your tracksuit top, look elsewhere.

On the other hand, I’m told the Springbok team is not so great either, so perhaps, rugby fans, these wines are an appropriate if not entirely attractive way to drown your sorrows. My unrugby-loving, not necessarily unsorrowful self would rather drink beer.

First publisjhd in the Mail & Guardian, 26 August-1September 2011

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