Windmeul’s winners

The Second World War saw the first great push in establishing the Cape’s wine co-operatives. The war years saw their numbers rise from 6 to 19. At least part of the general motivation was grape-farmers’ need to cooperate in purchasing expensive capital equipment in the cellar to help winemakers meet the KWV’s (pretty modest!) standards in judging wines suitable for something other than distilling. By making “good” wines, the farmers could get a better price for their grapes.

Five post-war years added 11 more coops, and by 1955 there were 46 in total – a huge jump from the 1930s. By this time, cool fermentation was starting to come in, allowing for fruity, semisweet wines like Lieberstein (launched in 1959), and this necessitated even more major winery expense. (See here for how Zonnebloem got driven into the apparently unsavoury hands of Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery when it was unable to afford the cost of modernising its cellar.) By 1975 there were 69 coops dominating the producer profile.

The most interesting thing I’ve recently learnt about co-ops was how they tended to be split along (white, parliamentary) political lines, reflecting a bitter conflict within the Afrikaner political community. There were those coops with farmers supporting Jan Smuts’s United Party (United National South African Party, to be pedantic) and others with farmers allied to the  National Party (Herenigde Nasionale Party). It was a turbulent time in white politics in  South Africa, and the Nats triumphed, of course, over Smuts’s party in the 1948 elections.

I confess I don’t know, however, which camp Windmeul Coop was in, if either. It was formed during the war, with table-grape-farmers at the head, wanting to make use of grapes not destined for the table. For them it was not a question of making “good wine”, and at first (until a bit of ambition crept in in the 1960s) only brandy-fodder was made. (Interestingly, from today’s perspective, Windmeul in 1988 appointed Hein Koegelenberg as co-winemaker. Today he’s married into the mighty Rupert family and the big guy in La Motte, Leopard’s Leap, etc.)

Windmeul is now firmly established as one of the Cape’s better coops and coops-turned-companies, and, along with a number of others, has for some years now been offering a reserve range to draw attention to the quality potential of their grapes – in their case from the Agter-Paarl vineyards of 42 farmer members.

WindmeulI was intrested to sample some of the wines that have been winning many medals and awards of late. Particularly the Reserve Cape Blend 2012, which this year got the winery’s first Platter five-star wine (trumping, in rather surprising fashion, such red-blend candidates as Sadie Columella, Reyneke Reserve, Kanonkop Paul Sauer, Mvemve Raats De Compostella, etc, which the Platterists managed to reject at the final hurdle).

The WIndmeul really is a most attractive wine (unsurprisingly now sold out at under R100 from the cellar); ripe and firm, but with soft, unobtrusive tannins – ready for early drinking. Generous and sweet-fruited but also with some savoury depths. It’s not a serious wine, and certainly, in my opinion, shouldn’t have got near five stars for Platter, but it is easy-going and well balanced despite the big alcohol and dollop of residual sugar; really well and deftly made. (The Platter team blind-tasting a big pile of five-star candidates is as susceptible to such showy charms as any such team, sadly.) I enjoyed it – sighted and unencumbered by competitors – very much, only slightly against my better judgement.

The Reserve Pinotage 2012 got four-and-a-half stars from one of the more indulgent and soft-centred Platter tasters and, more forgiveably perhaps (given big-line-up tendencies) also did well in various competitions. Impressive, certainly, but to me not up to the quality of the Cape Blend, because it’s not as balanced – it’s big and hefty, with gorgeous opulence, but a touch hot and sweet (though actually technically drier than the blend).

I also tried two whites. The Sauvignon Blanc is, well, an enticingly fruity, softly rounded and easy-going sauvignon, ripe rather than green in its focus. At R38 better than many, I suppose, but I struggle to care.

The standard Chenin Blanc was, apparently, at Veritas “the only unwooded Chenin Blanc in South Africa to receive double gold, among 70 entries in this category”. At R34 (also only ex-cellar and online – Club members get a 10% discount) it’s undoubtedly a great buy: exuberant, with full-ripe flavoursome palate, and just enough acidity to keep it lively enough, if not exactly crisp. Rich and delicious. Platter gives it only two-and-a-half stars, increasing my bewilderment with its Windmeul ratings – take a star off the top reds and give it to the Chenin, I’d suggest!

5 thoughts on “Windmeul’s winners

  1. In my opinion this is where Mr James gets it wrong, as an industry we must rejoice that a KOOP wins 5 stars! At the end of the day they are the ones at the business side of the industry, the ones that keep thousands of mouths fed, children schooled and clothed. Their responsibility towards our industry have for far too long been ignored. What is absolutely key here it is all achieved in a sustainable manner. No foreign investor, No family fortune, no uncle bored with his money. The real cherry on the cake for me is there is NO big winemaking ego involved. It’s been done by pure grape. So well done Platter for spotting the really rock face of the industry and well done Windmeul! Regarding the Chenin there is always next year

    • Hi, Alexander.

      I agree with just about everything you say, but I have to respectfully disagree on your contention that Tim “got it wrong”. It’s problematic in principle to say someone’s opinion about a wine is wrong (am I wrong for liking dry and lean biltong when you like it wet and fatty?)

      Furthermore, I don’t really see Tim putting the winery or its people down. The way I read it, I see an interesting bit of history, followed by honest and decidedly positive opinions on some of their wines.

      I rapidly lose interest in a wine blog when the writer is not honest (nice reviews for friends’ wines and wines from places where he/she has vested interests, for instance) and also when the writer is nasty for no good reason.

      So, I’m hoping that Tim never endorses a wine’s five star rating or medal because the people who made it are nice, or farm organically, or have many bills to pay, or love puppies, or have a hot girl in reception that once winked at him. May it always be about the wine (the other stuff is for side notes – and please inbox me regarding the hot women).

      I, for one, is interested in honest opinions only (I bend this desire only to allow for humour – in which case I’ll tolerate all kinds of crap). Not all wines are created equal: there are wines at the bottom of the quality spectrum, ones in the middle and ones at the top. Everyone understandably wants their wine to be as near to the top as possible, but they simply can’t all be.

      It seems a tough job to write about wine when even a generally positive review like this is criticized for not being positive enough. I suppose the alternative would be to write the perfect review for every wine. Nobody will get offended, but nobody will read it…

      Congratulations to Windmeul and its people on its first Platter’s five star. May you go from strength to strength. Like Tim in this review, I have also found some good wines and fantastic value there before (I specifically remember a wonderful 2001 Cabernet) and hope to taste them again soon.

  2. Hi Kwispedoor,
    Sorry that I may have offend you with my comment ‘got it wrong’ it certainly was not my intention. Maybe I should have put it differently. I have the utmost respect for Tim James and have sat in on a tasting with him, only once, unfortunately and his wine knowledge is to be respected. I however felt compelled to comment and give my opinion and I am sure Tim James would respect this. It is after all open for public comment. Cabernet 2001 from Windmeul?

    • LOL, you have not offended me at all, Alexander! It’s not as if you’ve accused me of being a Bulls supporter or anything – heck, you haven’t even written about me at all! Apologies if I might have sounded snotty – that was honestly not my intent.

      I was simply engaging in the discussion by offering my philosophically different viewpoint on wine evaluations, with specific reference to your first sentence: “In my opinion this is where Mr James gets it wrong, as an industry we must rejoice that a KOOP wins 5 stars!” – because I think wine evaluation and ratings should be about the wine only. A few other things may even come into play when not tasting blind (provenance, age of vines, track record, winemaking methods, etc.), but that’s about it.

      I just think wine commentators keep their integrity by being unbiased and honest. Generally speaking, I think wineries should do their own PR releases and if I were them, I’d think long and hard about which wine to give to which taster/journalist/blogger, because they should only expect special treatment at their own risk.

    • Oh sorry, about the 2001 Windmeul Cab: it did really well when it was young on a blind tasting I attended ( I remember a stonker of a Buitenverwachting Grand Vin 1989 winning that tasting). All the tasters liked it, but it was still very young and we all thought it might keep well for a few years. I only had one bottle, which I ended up keeping for a bit too long, but – all things considered – it was still a fantastic wine at the price.

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