Alcohol gets a lot of bad press. Last year, Aaron Motsoaledi, SA Minister of Health, was quoted as saying “what is being done to smoking is going to be done to alcohol.” Yet is the demon drink really as bad as a cancer stick? Is Riesling on a par with Rothmans? Cabernet with Chesterfield? To paraphrase William Boot when wishing to contradict his boss Lord Copper in Evelyn Waugh’s magisterial Abyssinian novel Scoop, “up to a point, Minister Motsoaledi, up to a point.”
While SA restaurateurs don’t want sommeliers, the cycling duo who now own Klein Constantia clearly do. Charles Harman and Zdenek Bakala have hired a former best Swedish sommelier as GM, Hans Astrom. As an aside, it is worth pondering why do all sommeliers seem to be Swedish and what has this to do with the success of the novels of Stieg Larsson? Is this a variation of the joke of hell being the place where all the lovers are English, the police are Italian and the French are mechanics?
Hans will not have made any friends with his comment to The Drinks Business “It’s easy for family companies to relax and fall into routines. It’s better now [KC] is not South African-owned. The new owners wanted a cage-rattling renegade and I’m on a mission to wake up the sleeping beauty, blow the dust off and restore it to its former glory.” Foreigners buy a national treasure, hire a Swedish sommelier as GM who then rubbishes SA family wineries. Hans is clearly no diplomat like Dag Hammaskjöld.
Driving down to Inchanga yesterday to fetch two dozen Simon Stone paintings to photograph for a monograph Smac Gallery are planning on this master of colour, we passed the wrecks of two burnt out lorries and their containers. The nameless bureaucrats who destroyed the SA railways to such an extent that national roads are now tarmac railways with motor cars playing dodgem with these high speed goliaths, have a lot to answer for. Arriving in Cato Ridge, we received the sad news that Remgro CEO Thys Visser was killed in a head-on collision on the N1 outside Rawsonville; a Princess Diana moment. How is it possible that the CEO of one of SA’s largest industrial concerns is killed in a car or a Princess dies in a tunnel in Paris?
A Brumby is a free-ranging feral horse Down Under, but from the looks of the Brumbies player cradling the Balthazar of Viljoensdrift River Grandeur Merlot 2007 at a Wine Charity Auction at the yearling sales in Germiston last night, there is nothing feral about the Brumbies touring SA at the minute. Stabled at Monte Casino, let’s hope they are free-ranging, for the sake of the SA gene pool. The Merlot was knocked down for R5000 by racy auctioneer Graeme Hawkins, who makes Rael Levitt look like a rank amateur. If SARS had given Quoin Rock to Graeme, the SA University of Wine would be celebrating the end of the first semester already.
Robertson is an appellation full of big men and women (mostly called either De Wet or Bruwer) who make wines with big flavours in big volumes. But there are also small indringers like Johan Fourie and his wife Marié, who bought 1400 ha of paradise on the slopes of the Langeberg eight years ago and planted 10ha of vines. For 15 years Johan was a corporate critter at the Development Bank of SA in Midrand. But dreams are for following and thank heavens they did for their 6000 bottle Shiraz blend called Limestone Q and 1800 bottles of Carignan called Carignina punch way above their weight and add immeasurably to the diversity of the SA wine offering.
The French have had enough shocks this morning, with Marine Le Pen – one vowel away from being a great garagiste Merlot – emerging as the Joan of Arc de nos jours. Marine Merlot, a grand cuvée for sailors. Now it turns out that the SA Sommelier of the Year Competition, sponsored last year by Bollinger Champagne, is a fizzer because it appears that SA fine dining restaurants have no stomachs for sommeliers. Just as well WOSA failed to train 2010 sommeliers in the Fundi Fiasco for the Soccer World Cup in 2010 and caveat emptors to those signing up for Cathy Marston’s WSET courses. It’s like my doctorate in medieval baton twirling – great fun to study for, but totally useless in practise. There are no jobs.