Thursday, December 4, 2014

Swartland versus The Rest??

I am probably a bit late in this whole debate about the launch of an Anti-Swartland wine and the misquotation of Mr Andre van Rensburg and Mr Gary Jordan. Then Mr Miguel Chan from the Tsogo Sun Group also commented about the amount of producers using their physical location to market and sell their wines, rather than where the grapes are grown. So killing two birds with one stone/”Twee vliee met een klap”:

It doesn’t matter how you look at it, you have to give credit to the Swartland for the identity they have created for their region. Something I have advocated for years lacking from South Africa on the world stage. Yes, it is wonderful to have drivers like Eben and Adi behind it, but a group of winemakers bought into the idea and worked with it. Whether you agree with their philosophy, winemaking style or techniques, it doesn’t really matter. They have created a hype around a region that was not even mentioned anywhere to anyone just a couple of years ago.

Similarly I have to congratulate Franschhoek with the launch of the AGP. Forget that there are only a couple of cultivars that they want to focus on, they have created a target and focus to distinguish themselves. Most importantly is that within the region the wineries using their own grapes or at least Franschhoek grown grapes want to tell the world about it and differentiate from the ones buying in. 
The reinvention of Stellenbosch issue is something different to me. Stellenbosch has everything going for them i.e historical value, wine tourism, perceptual value of high quality wines but most of all a very diverse wine region. Yes, Miguel mainly refers to the branding/packaging in his comments, but to me the problem goes a bit deeper and this accounts for producers everywhere, not just Stellenbosch.
Kanonkop Estate, Meerlust Estate, Rust en Vrede…what do you think about when you hear their names? Pinotage, Bordeaux Blends, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon…to mention a few? Besides the cultivars mentioned there is a common thread aligning them…FOCUS! When everyone went Sauvignon Blanc crazy a couple of years ago and bottled it even if they didn’t have a vine on the farm, did these producers do it? NO. How easy would it have been for them to tell their importers/local distributors that they can bottle a Sauvignon Blanc under their label if they needed to? VERY EASY. They didn’t do it, but stayed true to what they have always done, kept their heads down and believed it will increase the following of their wines. What has that done to their brands? Increased Perception of Top Quality and Value, created amazing Brand Value!!
Doing a vertical tasting of Bruwer Raats’ Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc is similar. Bruwer believed that these cultivars will create a niche market for him and eleven/twelve years down the line it paid off!! In saying all this I am not promoting that one producer cannot do both red and white really well. However, the producers who has a historical but deserved international following and appreciation are the ones who has focus.
I don’t like the fighting of regions with each other, but historically that is what we have done all these years. We always try to talk down our neighbouring  farm or other regions. When are we going to accept that WINE PRODUCERS should support WINE and one another and grow wine consumption against other beverages?? We must accept that Cabernet from Stellenbosch, Paarl, Robertson and Darling will and should taste differently, not that the one is always better than the other.
The issue that Miguel Chan raised is something I fully agree with, you shouldn’t be able to use your Estate brand for bought in grapes or wines. But this issue is mainly at the lower end of the pricing scale. I believe that the first troubles in the Swartland will start when a producer who grew a very strong brand with his Swartland Region label, starts to buy in wine from other regions to supply his volume and then bottle it under WO Western Cape. (I stand corrected whether this has already happened?) They created an identity and we should applaud and learn from it. 
For the South African category on a global scale…we need more of this and we need our winemakers to understand their own regions/farms first, then learn about the rest as well. There is amazing historical value and quality from generations of family owned estates that deserves more credit! The fact that I missed the 40 year Vertical tasting of Vergenoegd Cabernet still haunts me...
Lastly, to the Swartland Revolution boys...don't downplay Merlot, Cabernet or Chardonnay as if it is the worst thing that's happen to wine. Chardonnay is still the biggest selling White Wine and known red cultivars i.e Cabernet and Merlot. You have made your point and done a great job with your Chenin, White Blends, Shiraz and Cinsaut, but will they ever be bigger than Cabernet or Chardonnay?? Use this as your USP to differentiate yourself from others, that will make you stronger!
It is not the Swartland versus The Rest it should be South Africa versus The Rest!!