I took Chris Patten, front runner for BBC chairman, around the winelands last month and wrote about it in the Sunday Times.
“Look, they’re the same shape” said Lavender Patten, gesturing to Nederburg cellar master Razvan Macici and her husband Chris, engaged in voluble discussion on the merits of Romania and red blends in the cavernous cellars of Nederburg while the last lorry loads of grapes were offloaded in a 40 degree Paarl heat wave. “300 tons today” said Macici, “a small day for Nederburg. We can take up to 1000 tons if we need to.” The cellar has a 20 000 ton capacity and makes 50 different wines.
“Never make a blend from four cultivars” cautioned Guv (so nicknamed as he was the last British Governor of Hong Kong) “if you want to sell it in China, as four and death sound the same in Chinese.” So bad luck for you Four Cousins, SA’s top selling bottled wine. “You’re much better off with eight.” Which raised a chuckle from Macici as his splendid Nederburg Ingenuity White is a cunning amalgam of eight varietals; huge Feng Shui for suspicious Sino-sippers.
At Rustenberg earlier in the day, Guv was taken with a 2010 blend of three white cultivars: Sémillon, Viognier and Rousanne called WWT, White Wine Trial. “For us it’s the Schoongezicht blend” confided Rustenberg owner Simon Barlow “but that doesn’t work as in the UK as they pronounce it ‘sounds like sick.’”
Guv is something of a wino and when he took over Hong Kong, asked to see the cellar. “Hopeless: ten bottles of peppermint liqueur and some Dubonnet, but we soon sorted that out.” In SA to receive an honorary degree from the University of Pretoria, he’d set a day aside to tour the wine lands.
We’d started at Glenelly next door to Rustenberg and Guv was pretty impressed with the 2010 unwooded Chardonnay which he’d pronounced “just like Chablis.” At R62, it is also great value as winemaker Luke O’Cuinneagain reports one of the stars of Iron Chef America sells it in his restaurant for $55 a bottle. “We buy most of our wine in Majestic but battle to find decent South Africans.” In fact he admitted he’d never tried Pinotage, an omission rapidly corrected by Macici, who gave him a bottle of Tukulu.
A vertical tasting of three Chardonnays from the eighties, nineties and noughties awaited us at Glen Carlou after a tour of the estate’s art gallery which features three works by English land artist Andy Goldsworthy: a ball woven out of twigs, a sand snake and a dried out mud paddy. “I’m an advisor to the Japanese Praemium Imperiale art prize” said Guv “and I’ve been pushing for an award for Andy. He’s brilliant.”
Over confit duck leg in the thatched Glen Carlou pagoda-cum-tasting room, Guv recounted accompanying Pope Benedict on his visit to the UK last year. When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected back in 2005, his first words from the balcony of St. Peters were: “I’m a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.” Although Guv reports unlike local farm workers, he does not subscribe to the dop system, preferring rather Fanta and beer, but then he is German.