Strangely, perhaps, I’ve been asked by a few people about Jacques van Zyl – the winner of the Long Form Category of the Franschhoek Literary Festival’s South African Wine Writers Award. His is not a name widely known in wine circles, but happily I can say something. Perhaps there will be a press release about the Awards which will say more, but to satisfy some curiosity, I can make a start.
Jacques’ prize was for the fine piece he wrote called “From O’Keefe to Lismore and back, in high heels”, centred on Lismore Viognier. It was published in an online magazine called (in cleverly bilingual fashion) Land n Sand. Here’s a link to the article.
I’ve known Jacques for three or four years, now, since he contacted me in the old days of Grape (when it was a communal site), and we exchanged a number of emails – his full of interesting comments and beautifully (if occasionally enigmatically) expressed. In fact, Jacques agreed to make a few contributions to Grape’s “Open Space” section, and they were always wonderfully written. I particularly remember one about a visit to Diemersfontein. Unfortunately, Jacques’s pieces got lost in the conversion to the new incarnation of Grape.
Jacques also writes about beer for Land n Sand, and is just finishing off a much-needed guidebook to South African craft beer for Map Studio (his Twitter handle is @mikrobier). He has a varied background – a university education in (I think) electrical engineering [no – maths and physics, he tells me], years travelling the world as a steward on SAA, work as a designer and builder of high-end hi-fi speakers, more work as a cook (his Biodynamic Long Table has been a very quiet presence in the winelands) and now bits and pieces as a freelance journalist. He’s a great lover of modern (“classical”) music, and we have spent many evenings drinking good wine and listening to CDs together – though I can’t deal with the most radical end of his listening repertoire.
I’m truly delighted that Jacques won this prize. He is a writer of elegant, thoughtful, sometimes poignant, prose. In English and, I would guess, in Afrikaans – he’s fully bilingual and you’d be hard put to tell from his English accent that Afrikaans is his native taal. A particular personal pleasure for me is that the first time I actually met Jacques in person (after many months of frequent emailing) was after I’d won this same prize in 2011. He joined me and a few other friends at Jordan’s Jardine restaurant for a celebratory dinner. Three years later and he can celebrate too. A great choice by the competition judges.