Forward to the past! The CVC is formed

[Formerly published under the Widow’s Nephew rubric]

A new association of wine-producers has been formed, I see from Fin24 (my host on this website wasn’t invited to the launch so I couldn’t get any inside info, and no press release has as yet been received either). Called Cape Vintner Classification (CVC), it brings together a number of undoubtedly top-class wineries (Kanonkop, Hamilton Russell, Tokara, Vergelegen, Delaire Graff, etc) with some rather more second-ranking ones in high-flying terms (Welbedacht, Vriesenhof, DeWetshof, Anthonij Rupert, etc). It seems the desired aim is “to build South Africa’s reputation as a producer of world-class wines and to promote the Cape’s distinctive site specific wines”.

Great, and some of those producers can do, and are doing, just that. Fantastic. But haven’t they heard that much of the real, cutting-edge  excitement about South Africa in the outside world is about what the Alheits, Sadies, and Mullineux are doing – and the other young, revolutionary people missing from this worthy group of mostly rich landowners. Old-school rugby heavies like Schalk Burger and Boland Coetzee, and once-important people like Danie de Wet, have their place, but not in any vanguard, surely?

There appears to be something of a fixation about “estates”, suggesting that nostalgia is as significant for some of these people as thoughts of the future. According to Fin24, “Criteria for membership include ownership of a registered wine estate as defined in the Wine of Origin Scheme in terms of the Liquor Products Act”.

I’ve just been to the Act again to check, and cannot find that the law any longer has a place for the “estate” as such – not since some of those abovementioned producers squandered and spoilt the whole idea of estates (in the process refusing to allow the concept of single-vineyard wines).

What’s allowed these days is “units for the production of estate wine” (though there must be few winedrinkers that know what that means, and even notice the meaning of “estate wine” on the label. There is no such thing as an estate in terms of the Act. I hope they manage to sort that out. The days of the estate are over.

Another aspect that Fin 24 dwells on is the role that Johann Rupert played in the launch of the CVC. I can almost hear the suppressed groans of some of the more enlightened members of the CVC as Rupert trotted out his strange wish to “depoliticise the industry” – by which he seems to mean that it’s fine for him “have severe problems with some members of Wieta”, but presumably not fine for some members of Wieta (and a legion of others) to have severe problems with him. Depoliticising anything at all in South Africa, let alone something as  divided by race and class as the wine industry is, seems a naïve aspiration for someone as presumably generally astute as Rupert.

Apparently, “Rupert said in California Mexican workers on wine farms are treated the same as in South Africa”. Treated wonderfully well, he presumably meant. What a useful contribution to make at the launch of an organisation wanting to bring world attention to the Cape’s best wines! Bravo Johann! Viva CVC viva!

It would be nice to be more positive about an effort like this. Let’s hope that Rupert shuts up a bit, that the CVC loses its nostalgia for estates, and that it manages to get rid of some of the old-guard and bring in a few of the less land-rich wineries that have been spearheading progress in making Cape wine. But anyway, let’s see what the CVC actually does, beyond existing.

ADDED LATER: Christian Eedes has dutifully reported on the founding of the CVC here, and also gives a link to the CVC website, here.

10 thoughts on “Forward to the past! The CVC is formed

  1. While it is likely this new grouping will mean nothing to consumers – yawn, yet another body devoted to quality & raising South Africa’s quality profile internationally – there are a couple of initial points to be made.
    One of the main reasons for the collapse of the old estate system (when estate meant a property rather than a wine, as it now does)was due to the many exceptions: some had non-contiguous pieces of land, others vinified but didn’t mature or bottle on the property, both ostensibly rules under the estate system, etc.
    It appears that one of the requirements of membership of the CVC is that the property is in ‘private hands’. Current applicants include Vergelegen, owned by Anglo American plc, and Groot Constantia, run by a Trust. So already exceptions creep in.
    But just looking at the CVC website, http://www.cvc1659.co.za, and its lengthy draft of rules, regulations and many of those involved, it just shrieks ‘old school’.
    It’s now nearly 24 hours since the launch (to which neither I, nor I understand the Widow’s Nephew, were invited, and I have yet to receive a press release about this new body. So much for their declared ‘Communication Strategies’, where it states:
    In order to build sustainable and credible value to CVC, a strategy of clear, effective communication to local and international trade and press will be implemented.’
    I’ll be labelled a curmudgeon for pouring cold water on this initiative, which, according to Christian Eedes’ report, had Johann Rupert acknowledging he didn’t know farmers like so much coffee – maybe they’d made a better go of it over a glass or two of wine.
    I’m with the Widow’s nephew, the real excitement lies with all the youngsters carrying no past baggage (the CVC is loaded with it).
    Will the CVC be able to cast off theirs & really achieve something worthwhile to every body bar themselves? Let’s see.

  2. The Empire Strikes Back! It seems as if the CVC is solidly in the terroir corner of the ‘terroir versus technique’ debate. Feudalism versus modernism. I guess at the other end of the rainbow we will find a gang of Zen monk winemakers; not allowed to own any property, sustaining themselves by pure wine-making skill alone 🙂

    • Frans – I don’t think there’s exactly the opposition you describe. The best of the landless young winemakers are totally devoted to terroir, to site-specific wines. And the best of the “estates” have fantastically skilled winemakers (Miles Mossop, Andre van Rensberg, Abrie Beeslaar, etc, etc) – even if I’m right in suspecting that it’s the owners of many properties that are more interested in the CVC than the winemakers are.

      If I seemed to suggest there was any shortcoming in many of these big domaines, that was wrong. One problem is, as Angela points out, is the “old school” mentality that seems to be guiding the CVC, including the preference for rich landowners and pals – and a desire to resuscitate the old “estate” concept, which was a beautiful, ambitious idea in the 1970s, but ruined by the inability of the “estates” to make anything out of it.

      Essentially no-one knew what exactly an estate was, according to the law. Now, essentially no-one knows what “estate wine” is – and no-one needs to, frankly, as not only is it not a guarantee of anything like quality, it excludes very, very many of the Cape’s best and most interesting wines.

    • Alas, I admit, my comment was a tad flippant; which I tried to warn about with the smiley. Sometimes its better to laugh than to cry. I thought the article “Forward to the past! The CVC is formed” very informative and to the point. In the spirit of pedantry I must state that I find the CVC’s usage of the term Vintner a worry. The CVC’s full name, i.e., Cape Vintner Classification, read in context with the CVC Vision Statement clearly is a strategic move of some magnitude. Clearly the CVC wishes to appropriate the concept of vintner for themselves; well at least in the South African context. No less an authority than the Oxford Companion to Wine defines Vintner as a wine merchant, though the Americans also use the term to mean winemaker. It seems disingenuous to use the term Vintner in the name “Cape Vintner Classification”, when it is clearly the case that many that would normally be referred to as Vintners, i.e., in normal usage, would be precluded from CVC membership.

  3. To Tim James’s Kingdom

    It was quite interesting to see the comments on the personalising of the founding of the CVC – perfect bad taste – that is most probably why you were not invited.

    In my estimation there is no relation between ‘Old school’, revolutionary people and wine quality. There is however a relation between soil, environment and man’s skill, which requires knowledge, not a skewed perception of information.

    Wine is a reflection of its environment, unaffected by the opinion of individuals.
    “A winemaker is a humble servant of nature; his role is to give nature the opportunity to produce the best possible wine. Nature creates, man only guides.” Jack Mann (1906 – 1989 Australia)

    I assure you that the discipline and leadership skills taught through rugby and the ‘old school’ experience can be linked with the ‘new’ revolutionary ideas to further knowledge. This knowledge with proper guidance can lead to the accomplishments of ideals that were thought to be unattainable in the past.

    Maybe someone should explain the difference between an estate and estate wine to you – change will always happen. I hope the CVC can help with achieving these ideals for our industry and country. The proof will always be in the drinking of the wine not just the symbolism.

    I was happy to read about the rich landowners; hopefully the CVC can help transform these landowners into cash-rich wine farmers, which will enable them to pay better salaries and wages. In the end we can only share profit!

    Have a great Festive Season.
    Jan “Boland’ Coetzee

  4. Dear Tim,
    While I do not choose to comment on your specific thoughts regarding the CVC, I would like to add a general and personal thought:

    I applaud & support any effort to raise the profile of the top South African wines. Those that attended the CVC launch will know that the convenors openly and honestly communicated that this organisation is a ‘work in progress’ and will evolve over time. While there is already a tiny minority who have vocally made their opposition and negativity clear, there are a lot of well grounded, established and serious players with ‘skin in the game’ who have debated this initiative and are throwing their support behind it. The supporters understand the vagaries of the market, have a considerable amount of global experience and are convinced by the merits of CVC and will play a positive role in evolving this endeavour. In order to succeed, CVC needs to be a ‘living’ and agile organisation with a need to improve built into it’s DNA.

    I would urge CVC and it’s future members to listen carefully to comments both negative and positive so that a conceptual evoloution can commence with immediate effect.

    I would urge commentators and role-players alike to continue to voice their comments and concerns, but in an open, polite, transparent and constructive manner in order that our industry can continue this process of forming a united front. I would urge commentators to ‘play the ball and not the man’.

    Historically, the South African wine industry has often been instrumental in creating it’s own problems. In-fighting is not an option at this time as we strive for increased global recognition for our top wines. In my humble opinion, we should all take a step back as we assess the positives that could (and should) come to the fore – over time. Perhaps there is something significant we can leave for future generations?

    Mike Ratcliffe

    PS I am not entirely happy with all the provisions of the CVC founding document. As you know, I am an owner of a winery called Vilafonté that presumably does not ‘qualify’ as a CVC member. I will take it upon my self to understand this and raise this as an issue if I feel that it is important to me.

    PPS I also shared these same comments on another website – so apologies if you read this twice

  5. Thanks to those who’ve commented, and to a few CVC members who’ve written to me privately on this issue.

    Jan – yes, I realise that my bad taste is why I don’t get invited to some things (and why I turn down many invitations, too). After all, it seems to have been my bad taste in pointing out the disastrous effect of Michel Rolland’s consultancy for the Rupert wine portfolio that led to me being banned by Johann Rupert from setting foot on his many properties. (Which strikes me as being somewhat of a “personalising” approach too!)

    But Jan, amongst my many failures of understanding, I really do know the difference between estates and estate wine. I wrote my Cape WIne Masters dissertation on the subject of estates and the failure of the concept to become meaningful, and have closely followed the relevant legislation since then – clearly better than the CVC, which falsely invokes the Liquor Products Act. Check it, and you’ll see that the definition of “estate” has been removed from the law.

    Also Jan, sadly, a lot of good terroir is wasted on some rather shoddy winemaking here and there.

    Mike – I understand your veiled accusations (talking about being open and transparent). Personally, I think that the positivity of someone is likely to be more highly regarded if it is occasionally accompanied by some honestly (albeit impolitely) expressed negative views.

    Let’s wait and see, as the original comment says, what this organisation actually achieves. I myself feel that it is already compromised by being partly founded on the basis of personalities and friendships rather than on sheer quality. It is further compromised by its apparent devotion to the concept of the legally defined estate – an idea which has been tried, and has failed. But I promise that if this logo becomes meaningfully and usefully associated with quality wine only, I will apologise for what you call “negativity”.

  6. What I believe the founding fathers of the CVC need to bear in mind is that quality should always take precedence. It doesn’t matter if a wine is made from impeccable terroir if the quality is only average. For this reason I far prefer to buy from a producer whose quality I trust, wherever the fruit comes from or has been vinified, than putting my trust in ideals that have been found wanting in the past and, I fear under this new organisation, will yet again be found wanting.
    The CVC, stripped to basics, is yet another marketing body, which I can only see leading to an even more fractured wine industry.
    Frankly, there must be others like me who are asking, why do we need CVC and PIWOSA when we already have a long-standing and well-regarded generic international marketing body in WOSA. The CVC founding fathers would have done much better to sort out their problems with that organisation (which is much of what I read into the reason for CVCs establishment)than start up yet another little club, because it seems a good idea for them.

  7. Round, round, baby right round…it seems like the theme for next year is going to be”Conservative and Proud” . One can hardly call the business acumen of Mr Rupert into question, however, the historical connection attached to the logo does raise the issue of how well it was thought through.

    As an Afrikaans dude it pains me that I will forever be associated with an era of oppression and segregation, regardless of the fact that I was still a proverbial “swimmer” when all of those atrocities took place. Then comes a long a subtle reminder like this to the rest of the world, who’s perceptions we are trying to change about white South-Africans and our wine/country in general, and this makes it even harder to do so.

    Looking at the founders of the CVC, there are several common denominators: white, middle-aged and very Afrikaans (with maybe the exception of Mr. Tooth). Not only that, but all very respected winegrowers and business men. Thus, they represent the era of whose baggage young people today are still trying to get rid of, and reminding the world about our past does not make it any easier.

    Bottom-line: good idea/initiative, but sullied by the negative associations that can be made by their throw-back logo.

    Maybe SA wine should take a feather out of the Mother City Queer Project’s hat and be more like “Space Cowboys” to break this dull and trudging conservative mould (of which I am truly gatvol).

    http://mcqp.co.za/spacecowboys2013/home

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