I met KWV marketing guru Jeff Gradwell a millennium ago in the ancient deserts of Namibia. Back then he was brand manager at Nederburg and had come up with the crazy idea of tasting all the vintages of Edelkeur ever made in the eerie Valley of the Moon. Probably the best vertical of stickies ever held south of the equator, it confirmed that Jeff’s imagination is as broad as the Swakopmund River, but not as dry. The Nederburg connection was remade last week when SA’s leading lifestyle brand lost its black white winemaker Tariro Masayiti (below) to KWV, where he will make reds. As comedienne Angela Lloyd tweeted him “remember colour comes from the skins!” which curls the toes on so many different levels.
After a bottle of KWV Mentors Grenache Blanc 2010 under the spreading oaks on the stoep at Laborie yesterday, it is clear La Concorde has white winemaking under serious control. For this elegantly oaked beauty opens new vistas of tangy flavours and poses a serious threat to Viognier as exotic grape to watch by fastidious followers of fashion. Speaking of which, the berries come from Paarl, a town making a serious challenge to Franschhoek as up-and-coming wine tourism destination.
Jeff is also responsible for the step change in food quality in CJ. Bumping into celebrity chef Matthew Gordon at the annual Bastille Day party in the Hoek earlier this year, he persuaded Matt to turn the page on 15 years at Cabrière and move to Laborie – a move he himself made the previous year when he resigned as Cabrière sales manager. At the moment Matt has the best of both worlds, driving in from the Hoek every day to persuade Paarl poppies to eat risotto for lunch everyday and dinner Wednesday-Saturday.
Meanwhile Nederburg has a serious black hole to fill, for not only is Tariro a gifted white winemaker, he is also the most active one on the social media scene, tweeting up a storm. The Burg will miss his enthusiastic presence at the Gugulethu and Soweto Wine Festivals as well as further afield, in Lagos and points north, where Distell products are flying. It is surely only a matter of months before the Cape Winemakers Guild does the right thing and asks him to join, along with Ntsiki Biyela from Stellekaya. Which would put race pessimist like Jancis Robinson back in their bag-in-boxes, sharpish.
PS. The Mentors Grenache Blanc has the best tromp l’oeil screwcap ever. It was so convincing, it had our waitron reaching for her screwpull. A preview of the future, wine and closure both, undoubtedly.
KWV’s biggest gain from Distell stable last month is brandy genius, Pieter de Bod. Try to fill that big black hole.