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The Greg Sherwood column

I heard it through the grapevine
South Africa wine industry gossip, July 2000 

Greg Sherwood, sherwood@cis.co.za

For all those Wine Anoraks out there with a deeper interest in South African Wine as well the South African wine industry, here are some gossip "Bin Ends" for July 2000, that have been garnered from the media, trade and winemakers. Here’s my July Top 5:

Makers on the Move….
Following the comings and goings of winemakers the world over is a tiring and near endless task for the world’s wine trade. After all, it does help if you actually know who is making the wine you are selling! While most of the movements in the Cape market are merely musical chairs with little real significance, the same cannot be said of the departure of Philip Constandius from Delheim. After 12 vintages, Philip will be moving to Neetlingshof Estate, with his predecessor Schalk van der Westhuizen, taking over the reigns at Alto Estate, after Hempies Du Toit’s earlier movement (as reported in June’s Top 5). Recent wine making successes at Delheim have openly propelled Philip into the ranks of the Cape wine elite, particularly in the minds of the wine public (even though he has surely been held in this regard by the trade for several years already). The interest in his vinous results at Neetlingshof Estate will be closely watched by wine industry critics, who generally regard this Estate as an under-performing, slightly over-hyped winery. Let’s see if they can now deliver, with the help of Philip, more than just mediocre 3 star wines, ever poplar with the large busloads of German tourists that often descend upon this Estate in the summer months. And now that they have won the Soccer World Cup 2006 Bid, they can at least try and compensate the ‘hard-done’ South Africans by buying lots of our wine!!!!

Catch them you while you can: Delheim 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon, Delheim 1998 Shiraz, and Delheim 1998 Pinotage. All excellent value for money!

The new 1999 Shiraz and 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon, tasted with Philip Constandius at the Juliet Cullinan Red Wine & Port Festival, are absolute stunners, with unbelievably juicy fruit on the palate. Look out for them in the wine ratings later this year, as they are sure to make Philip’s departure all the more unfortunate for Delheim. Read more about the wines this Estate has to offer at: www.delheim.co.za

Chamonix, more than just a well-known French ski resort!
The wines of Cape Chamonix Wine Farm of Franschhoek are flying high, with owners Chris and Sonja Hellinger looking determined to create a name for their wines as prominent as Mont Blanc itself. With past international awards actually just too numerous to mention, one thing that is certain is the ability of their wines to attract the judges’ eyes (and scores). Look out for their Chamonix 1997 Chardonnay Reserve, which out performed world favourites to scoop one of only 16 gold medals awarded at the Chardonnay-Du-Monde 2000 Competition held recently in Burgundy. Furthermore, as the only South African gold medal winner, Chamonix continues to fly the flag for South African premium wines in the world wide quality stakes. If Chardonnay is not your vice, then pull the cork on a bottle of their Loire style Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 1998 (Oak Matured), which is so poignantly described in the John Platter’s South African Wine Guide 2000 as a ‘light-heavyweight, prize fighter of SA Sauvignon Blanc’. For the above competition’s complete year 2000 results, visit: www.chardonnay-du-monde.com

Any future for SA ‘wine futures’?
Jeremy Walker, winemaker of the premium wines of Grangehurst Winery, and co-winemaker of Hidden Valley Pinotage, has announced the release of his year 2000 wine futures to investors. Having 17,000 cases of wine in stock, with only 5,500 from the 1997 vintage, is not enough it seems, to force this winery to release wines they feel are not yet mature, despite the obvious financial challenges this extra stock holding creates. Similar schemes have been widespread among closed circles or within private wine partnerships and consortiums, but this appears to be one of the first high profile, "advertised" futures offerings in the Cape. The pressure mounting on Estates and wineries, large and small, to move their wines stocks out as soon as possible, to ensure adequate cash flow, naturally does not allow wine maturity, quality and complexity to be given deserved consideration. This buy now, drink later scheme is highly commendable and is seen as the only sure way to guarantee an ongoing supply of these limited release wines, barring marrying the owners daughter! Could this be the commercial beginning of South Africa’s very own en-primeur type wine trade? Further information on Grangehurst’s Wine Futures can be obtained from the Stellenbosch based winery at: winery@grangehurst.co.za

Wines to look out for: Hidden Valley 1998 Pinotage (1997 was a 5-star stunner), Grangehurst 1998 Pinotage, and Grangehurst 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blend.

Another offering for the Joint-Venture Junkies.
Yes, that’s right, joint-venture fever is about to hit the Cape. And why not? The Americans have Opus 1, Piper Sonoma, Mumm Napa, Domaine Drouhin, Domaine Chandon, to mention but a few; the Chileans have Miguel Torres and Domaine Paul Bruno; the Argentinians have Piper, Proviar (Moet & Chandon); the Aussies have Domaine Chandon; and the New Zealanders have Montana / Deutz. South Africans can now chalk up their own New World / Old World Grande Marque wine with the launch of the serious reds of Rupert and Rothschild Vignerons. Suitably based at the historic French Huguenot farmstead of Fredericksburg in Franschhoek, the off-spring of Dr Anton Rupert and Baron Edmond de Rothschild have conspired to bring us the 60/40 Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot ‘Classique’ 1998, and the 60/40 Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Baron Edmond’ 1998. Interestingly, the venture’s aim is "not to produce a great South African wine", nor, despite the French connection, "to emulate Pomerol or the Left Bank." In the words of young winemaker Schalk-Willem Joubert, "our aim is a wine of international quality, that will please discerning wine-lovers worldwide." These releases are certainly classic wines with refined structure, big mouthfeel and ample elegance. But then again, with Michel Rolland as their oenologist, and almost unlimited financial resources at their disposal, this is what one would expect from such a high profile international operation. See what all the industry hype is about at: www.fredericksburg.co.za

Thelema Wines – Sold out at a liquor store near you!
Local and foreign visitors alike would be forgiven for wondering whether or not the harsh realities of economics had perhaps caught up with Helshoogte cult winery, Thelema, in Stellenbosch. After all, they are hardly ever open, and when, on the off-chance visitors are allowed into the winery, the tastings usually consist of no more than one or two whites from the latest vintage, and not a vin rouge in sight. The month of July did however see the latest offerings from winemaker and part owner Gyles Webb released onto the market, including his Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, Merlot 1997, Thelema Chardonnay 1999, and the Sauvignon Blanc 2000. Problem is, by the time you finish reading this article, the ‘Sold Out’ signs will already be swinging in the cool False Bay breeze! Now, I have heard many wineland tourists say that the only thing worse than a winery with disapointingly poor quality wines on taste, is a winery with no wines on taste. Could the time be right for Thelema to launch a second, more commercial label, from bought in grapes, in a similar way to that of Rustenburg’s Brampton label? I think just maybe.

Catch these South African cult wines in the UK while you can: Thelema Merlot 1996 ( 13.00), Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 ( 16.00). They are well worth it!

Coming Soon: In preparation for the Thelema Chardonnay 1999 release, the Wine Anorak takes a closer look at the block busting, 91 Parker point scoring, Chardonnay Reserve 1998, to see just exactly what it is about this wine that has the American wine critics raving!

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