Zonnebloem was one of the great mid-twentieth-century names of Cape wine. By an apparently unsavoury process, the name became the property of Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery, and thus of modern Distell (you can read more about this fascinating history here). Having been associated with some magnificent cabernets in the the 1940s and 1950s, Zonnebloem increasingly moved from being a fine estate to the rather dull brand it had become by this century.
Definitely subordinate in the Distell hierarchy to brands like Nederburg and Fleur du Cap, Zonnebloem’s name lost any lustre it had – or at least left the lustre as a matter of hopefully and opportunistically invoked memory.
Well, it seems that there are definite moves to resuscitate the brand – to a level which is as yet unclear, but it might well prove to be ambitious. The powers that be are, to their credit, starting at the most important end by improving the quality of the wines.
They still believe (and why not?) in hitching themselves onto past glories, as was further clear today at a rather glittering function held in a design studio in Cape Town. The glamour association was double, however: to the past via three old pinotages, from 1975, 1982 and 1995, and to modern high-powered craft and design via some display fixtures by the fine designer Haldane Martin.
That 1975 Pinotage was marvellous, elegantly rich, beautifully balanced, unquestionably mature but full of vitality, scarcely rustic though with a very acceptable tinge of pinotage bitterness on the lengthy finish – surely reminding any sullen doubters that pinotage is a grape capable of fine quality and ageability. The 1982 spoke more, perhaps, of the general decline of Cape wine in the dull 1980s – with life still, yes, but dominated by formulaically added acidity. The 1995 Pinotage Limited Release surprised me somewhat, as quantities were pretty big despite the name, and Zonnebloem was well set on its decline, by also being full of life and continuing validity, if not evidencing much profundity. Plenty of charm, and showing the pinot noir-like perfume that pintage can achieve.
More importantly, the current release Zonnebloems that followed with lunch were more than acceptable, and clearly offer very good value for money (though the voluminous press release material irritatingly doesn’t give prices, which one would have though its first duty!). Apparently Zonnebloem is doing pretty well, with rising sales not only in South Africa, but also in Africa and, now the USA. And so it should be, to judge by the quality:price ratio on evidence.
The Sauvignon Blanc is, well, a sauvignon blanc of undeniably decent quality, with the usual combo of tropical and green flavours, though I struggled to feel any enthusiasm for it. I was pleased when the Shiraz-Mourvèdre-Viognier was poured – a successful, generous but dry-finishing blend, and thoroughly recommendable at under R70 (I think).
A modern classic approach seems to be what cellarmaster Deon Boshoff and his team (and the plethora of brand managers etc that Distell always seems to have on hand) are aiming it – and reaching. The red-fruited, subtly oaked 2010 Pinotage did not disgrace its grand forbears of previous decades. It’s drinking fine now, but should mellow for a good few years.
The latter part of that judgement is even more true of the Lauréat, Zonnebloem’s cab-based Bordeaux blend from Stellenbosch grapes. Again, it’s in a style that satisfactorily blends old and new – there’s a good firm structure, and it’s pretty dry, but there are also hints of oak along with plenty of deftly directed fruit that is subordinated to a vinous whole.
Again, for prices the press release only gives that achieved by a 1973 Cabernet at the Nederburg Auction, which is somewhat less than useful for the contemporary punter, and I can’t find much help on the internet – but there was talk, I think, of it being under R80 retail. If that’s so, it’s really excellent value.