Oom Paul Kruger, last president of the ZAR, must be spinning in his Swiss grave like a demented dung beetle. For the 2.5 million ha eponymous game reserve he founded back in 1898 is in serious trouble. Lion numbers are on the skids – down to 1,700 thanks to TB gifted by the buffalos they’re partial to – while hyena populations have exploded to 3,000. A double whammy in the fashionability stakes as photogenic, hyenas are not. When the last lion calls it a day and hangs up his mane, it will be hard to market SA game reserves to beauty conscious European tourists using an animal that was the inspiration for an Orc in Lord of the Rings.
Like the red vineyards in Constantia and Walker Bay, lions do not make old bones. 12 is now old as opposed to 16 a generation ago – it’s worse than life expectancies in AIDS-ravaged Botswana. Meanwhile
mega-herbivores like elephants are making hay: 15,000 in a reserve with a carrying capacity of 7,500.
So what’s to be done? Culling is no option as Tourism Canada will tell you, citing seal clubbing
as a bigger disincentive than Asian bird ‘flu or toppling Italian cruise liners. Heck, in Namibia in November, Greg Landman, wine columnist for Country Life and ballet reviewer for City Press would not even let me buy sealskin velskoene. Enter Amarula, the ultimate tourist takeaway and cocktail prerequisite, to save the future of SA tourism by funding research into elephant population dynamics. Well over R4 million has been donated to date.
The corny old joke “how does an elephant disguise himself in a strawberry patch?” came to mind this morning. “He paints his toenails red.” For on our way to watch an elephant get collared as part of a scientific research project sponsored by Amarula, the creamy liqueur made from marula fruit, we bumped into the pachyderm world’s version of Die Antwoord – a semi-albino elephant got up like Yo-Landi Vi$$er, below. I think you’re freaky but I like you alot, indeed.
Financial Mail food for thought columnist Justice Malala devoted this week’s columns to his memories of the late FMLife editor Linda Stafford. As Linda’s wine correspondent for two decades, I was interested to read this vinous madeleine: “She knew everything about wine and the people who produced it. In her usual forthright manner, she told me most of the wine coming out of the Cape was rubbish. Many of the estate owners were Jo’burg-based captains of industry who had little or no idea of what was happening on their farms.”
Was Glen Carlou screening WAR: Women Art Revolution at the Labia this evening, the first feminist wine intervention in SA? Certainly the organizers chose a most appropriately named venue and being opposite the Michaelis School of Fine Art was also a happy happenstance, even if the building looks like a reformatory in Luxembourg. Scheduling it on the same day the New York Times runs a major review of a solo exhibition by Cindy Sherman at the Museum of Modern Art, calling her “one of the most important artists of her era” was positively Jungian in its synchronicity.
Calling your single vineyard Syrah “Pallium” may sound frightfully pretentious unless you’re a classics swot and know that a pallium is an important component in the vestments of the Pope and Syrah is an important component of Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Château piff-du-paff in chavspeak. After all, the current one, Benedict, went on about toiling in the vineyard when he was elected, reinforcing the Papal connections to wine. Something the SA Minister of Health may wish to remember in his Crusade against alcohol. Wine is my cultural weapon and I expect the SA Constitution to protect it or else I’ll toyi-toyi and that will be a frightening sight indeed.
Residual anti-Catholic feeling was not behind the trademark attorney telling winemaker Sean Blem that Pallium would never fly as a brand name in SA as Eben Sadie had already registered Palladius. “Rubbish” said Sean, phoning Eben, who didn’t object. So on Tuesday, Sean delivered a couple of bottles of Pallium 2006 to say thank you.
The wine retails for SFr 170 in Switzerland and at R9 to the Swiss Franc, this wine has a Papal pricetag. But then only 500-odd bottles (two barrels) were made from grapes grown in the iconic Gilga vineyard, across the road from Overgaauw. A farm so difficult to pronounce, local food legend Marlene van der Westhuizen coached Sean in the correct pronunciation at Societi Bistro last night. You can see her in glamorous vocal coach mode, behind Sean in the photo above.
Marlene was dining à deux with glamorous publisher Louise Grantham last night, putting the finishing touches to her new Cape cook book that appears in August. “Can we try out the name on you?” asked Lousie. “Abundance!” which is inspired, as it will appear lexicographically before Reuben Riffel’s recent offering on the shelves of Exclusive Books.
This wine is one that deserves attention to detail by the drinker. For the rim of the foil is decorated with embossed Lilliputian genitals designed by Sean who two-times as an avant-garde artist based in Zurich with a dealer in Paris. When the new TGV connection is completed and travel time between the two city centres is shrunk to 3.5 hours, a studio in Paris will be a real possibility for family man Sean.
Nederburg Bar One is the top selling medium priced red in the country. Discounted to just above the top of the R30-R40 price category, the fastest growing segment of the domestic market, Baronne has broken through the colour bar and is the red of choice for previously disadvantaged drinkers. Which poses a bit of a headache for a brand which shifts 1.2 million cases a year. Can big appeal to anoraks?
Over in Australia, Penfolds has answered in the affirmative. A brand that crushes around 250,000 tons – 10 times the size of Nederburg – retails from £4 to £40 in the UK and higher, if you include Grange. So how to get the message across to Gauteng Gastronomes?
Sponsor Masterchef SA and open up your facility to film the series, is one strategy that should appeal to couch potatoes. Although hair-raising tales of slave labour hours and chef prima donna hijinks confirms that SA TV is a high stakes game indeed. Heads have already rolled. Another strategy is to make a pair of wines with the face of Woolies vino, Allan Mullins, which should appeal to supermarket shoppers. And with Woolies on a roll, changing from basket to trolley in a direct challenge to Pick ‘n Pay, this strategy should have traction.
Another avenue is to host winemaker dinners at a top restaurant. Tricky to do in the middle of harvest and in Johannesburg, if you agree with the Mail & Guardian that Africa’s most vibrant city is a culinary parking lot. So enter the friendly face of Nederburg in the North, Chris de Klerk, who played to a packed house last night at Il Tartufo. Mining magnifico Andy Rompel and chef Luciana Righi (above) seem to be enjoying themselves.
Chris hauled out and polished the vinous gems at the top end of the Nederburg Pyramid of Potations: 2009 Ingenuity White and 2009 Ingenuity Red plus the best dessert wine in the world (according to the Australians) the 2009 noble late harvest and certainly the cheapest at R63 a half-bottle.
Diners got into the swing of things with the Cuvée Brut NV – carbonated Chenin that Chris called “a wine that makes you see double and feel single.” Before speculating how many of those present were conceived on the stuff. Shush! Chris. With a Minister of Health dedicated to closing down the national bar, let’s keep the bedroom, at least, sacrosanct.
When will we see our first corporate Wine Ambassador, the face of a brand? Meerlust already has proprietor Hannes Myburgh and Rust en Vrede is blessed with Jean Engelbrecht. But what’s missing is the face of Two Oceans (someone with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on their CV) and Obikwa (the late Henry Cele who was such a great Shaka, would have been perfect) while that Farmer Brown chicken fancier would do great as the visage of Roodeberg. After all, ambassadors sell whisky, as the story below, rejected by a glossy lifestyle magazine in November, attempted to say. They’d commissioned a Q&A and wanted the formula neatly reproduced.
The annual Whisky Live Festival has more ambassadors than the United Nations. But then it is the largest whisky festival on the planet. Which may seem incredible, until you are told that South Africa is the 7th largest market for Scotch in the world by value, ahead of Germany and breathing down the neck of South Korea.
With more brands on bottle store facings from Scotland’s 100+ distilleries than member countries of the United Nations, it makes sense for producers to appoint ambassadors to market their product. Ewan Gunn has landed the job of every whisky wonk’s dream: brand ambassador for Diageo, the largest whisky producer of them all and the face of Johnnie Walker, the top-selling brand of blended whiskies.
While farmers in Chateauneuf-du-Pape had to ban flying saucers from landing in their vineyards in 1954, similar landing restrictions are being considered for helicopters in Franschhoek after Ukrainian mining moguls took liberties at lunchtime earlier this month. Attendees at the annual Mining Indaba in Cape Town, their private jets clogged up Cape Town International worse than Arab Sheiks at the soccer World Cup in Durban in 2010.
Strange to report that with 6,500 big rollers in town and even more well-heeled camp followers in tow, the wine industry pretty much ignored the event. WOSA, the quango paid R35 bar a year to promote SA wines, were probably too busy planning their million rand bash to open Cape Wine 2012 in September. A self-indulgent show-and-tell for industry bureaucrats and media sacred cows that would ban mining megastars, anyway. So along with local mining magnifico Andy Rompel, I accompanied a bunch of miners on a one-day vineyard crawl through Stellenbosch. Here is Andy’s report.
WOSA, the wine industry’s embattled marketing quango, are like a Western Leopard Toad on the R45 from Malmesbury to Wellington in the path of a tractor-trailer full of Pinotage grapes. In January, the largest investor in SA wine, Johann Rupert rubbished WOSA’s much vaunted biodiversity focus. “Mense koop nie wyn as gevolg van biodiversiteit nie. Ons moet ’n eenvoudige, opregte, herhalende boodskap kry, en dit is nie biodiversiteit nie.” People don’t buy wine because of biodiversity. We need a simple, righteous, repeatable message and it isn’t biodiversity.
It’s no biggie if a winemaker leaves a winery for a continuity girl. Karl Lambour may have left Constantia Glen last year, but most of his CG wine is still maturing in barrel and Karl will be Monarch of the Glen for many years to come as successive vintages get released. Likewise, having played a major part in establishing an elegant estate style – which translates to decisions to plant vineyards and vinify and blend separate blocks – Karl’s size 12s will be reflected in the wines of his successor for a decade or more. It’s not like that for chefs. There is no larder full of meals at Central One at the Radisson Blu cooked by David Higgs that can be served when he’s taking his gap months in Namibia.