I am not sure how many people have actually viewed this as a topic or important enough to discuss, but on a recent trip to the USA and Europe it has come up a few times. Working with Arendsig Single Vineyard Wines (Robertson) and Tonnellerie Baron (Bordeaux) from a producer side it has become a very important point to me as a USP.
My initial response to the question, "Are Site Specific Wines the best in the World", would be NO. I don’t believe that Site Specific Wines should or will always be the best of its cultivar or blend. It goes a lot deeper and intricate than that. Quality is undeniable, but it is about the aura, track record and sense of place around the wine that counts.
When you look at the Premium World Wine Market and divide it into Old & New World, what comes to mind when you hear: Napa Valley, Marlborough, Burgundy, Bordeaux? Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay & Pinot Noir, Bordeaux Blends. All of these regions have set a benchmark for the world wine market to follow. South Africa doesn’t feature with any specific varietal although there has been a new resurgent push for Chenin Blanc and Pinotage.
There has been a constant benchmarking of New World Wines compared to that of Bordeaux & Burgundy specifically. The funny thing is that whilst we go out there and use their wines to show trade and wine consumers how good our wines are, the Old World just keep doing what they have done for centuries. Not that they can and should rest on their laurels, but the fact is that because of the strength of their appellations they just make the best wine that they can every vintage. To them the vintage is paramount in their pricing…not so much for the New World.
Do they make the best wines in the world? It probably depends on what barometer you are using to measure it, but from an historical point they do. When you look at the high regard these vineyards and appellations have amongst winemakers around the world, then yes they do. Are there better wines grown and made outside of these historical regions? YES there are!
I have been part of tastings where SA Wines have gone up blind against the best of France, Italy, Spain etc, many times rated higher and many times not. The difference is that when you purchase top Bordeaux you are buying a piece of land & history knowing that the specific wine was made from a designated area and terroir which cannot be replicated. On top of that it comes with generations of knowledge passed down knowing how certain blocks/cultivars perform in certain soils & vintages on the property. Does it make these wines the best in the world and always top of the selection process in tastings? NO
The most exciting time for me at Arendsig Single Vineyard Wines is when Lourens and I taste the new vintages, freshly bottled or still in barrel. Thinking back at previous ones and if we have a bottle left taste it next to older vintages. Do we always think the new vintage is the best vintage, NO. What we are looking for is that fingerprint thread of each block coming through vintage in and vintage out! The ‘DNA’ of that block that has become the signature of the brand! Some vintages we bottle more, some a little less...volume is not ever a talking point, quality comes first! When you become greedy in bottling more rather than focusing on quality you lose the essence of your wines!
On the Tonnellerie Baron ( www.tonnellerie.com ) barrel side I can definitely see a big move by producers to have more focus on what they produce, their oak-ageing regime and understanding of their vineyards! This is extremely exciting to see and for the past four years taste the wines from barrel and learning about the producer, their vineyards and brand vision first hand. We won’t necessarily see this immediately but over the next five to ten years which means we have a lot to look forward to on the Premium side of South African Wine.
I have always said that South African Wine needs to create a better identity for ourselves and it has to start within each region, by each producer. Individually there are amazing stories and examples of how old estates, new independent wineries/winemakers and even corporate wine companies have reinvented themselves with great success. As a whole though there is still too much confusion, saying the one thing, doing the other. We must get this attitude out of our systems of not wishing good business and fortitude on our fellow industry colleagues and friends. There needs to be a system working from Top to bottom not the other way around to change the "value for money" tag.
Let’s build our regions and create the following and awareness of them under the umbrella of South Africa. Then work on focussing on the sub-regions within the regions. If Stellenbosch is strong then Simonsberg, Helderberg etc will be strong. The same with all the other regions. It is like Doc Craven said, when Maties is strong Springbok Rugby is strong J
We all want to sell our wines at higher prices in the export markets and should work towards the same common goal. To achieve this we need consistency in quality, specialty in our offering and belief in our wines, doesn’t matter from which region you are.
Site specific wines are not always the best in the world, but you would struggle to get any closer in experiencing a sense of place, passion and uniqueness in wine style! Last year I was very fortunate to meet the people from Tenuta delle Terre Nere from Mount Etna in Italy, www.tenutaterrenere.com and tasted their wines (imported by www.winecellar.co.za ). Learning about the wines made from vineyards grown in the shadows of Mount Etna in ancient volcanic soils and tasting the wines was an absolute confirmation. I could experience the ‘sense of place’ with the sniff and taste of the wines, closing my eyes trying to imagine those vineyards and land. Was it the best wines I ever tasted, NO, but that’s not the point. It was worth every cent and to share it with people who love wine.
South Africa have these stories, sites, history, skills and everything that goes with it! The product is there and confirmed in the results we see internationally every year. Now it has to be backed up by the brand owners, marketers, winemakers and ambassadors going out into the World Wine Market!