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The South African wine industry through rosé tinted glasses

By Greg Sherwood

August 2000

Le Cap De Bonne Esperance……Ah yes, it is indeed a most magnificent place. But they say ‘life is a journey, and not a destination,’ and while this is probably true, if ones success in life could be measured by ones final destination, those living in the Cape would surely be counted amongst the world’s wealthiest.

And of course, it is always greatly stimulating to be reminded of just what you have, and just how lucky you are to have it, by regularly experiencing the offerings of other nations. Having recently spent a week in and around St. Tropez, in the Côtes de Provence AOC, as part of broader wine travels, comparisons with Cape Town and the greater Cape Peninsula became more and more frequent as time passed by. I suppose it is no coincident then that the muncipality of Cape Town is diplomatically ‘twinned’ with the Southern French coastal resort of Nice.

Perhaps justifiably, the wines of the Côtes de Provence AOC do not stand amongst the most widely regarded wines in France. But to deny the sacred role these wines play in everyday life in the South of France would be foolish. After all, every mainstream tourist destination that is fortunate enough to be cloaked by vineyards and smothered in sunshine for most months of the year, needs a vinous nectar that can be consumed in copious amounts, is able to quench the fiercest of thirsts, and importantly, is affordable enough to be ordered without a moments contemplation. The Cape has its Chenin Blanc and Cape Riesling or Paarl Riesling (Crouchen Blanc), in California they have their Zinfandel Blush, but in the Côtes de Provence, as well as in AOCs further westwards, the choice rests firmly with rosé, rosé, and more rosé!

Primarily produced from Grenache and Cinsault grapes using the saigneé method (rosé wine made by running off or bleeding a certain amount of free-run juice from just-crushed dark skinned grapes after a short, prefermentation maceration), the wines range in colour from pale vin gris to deep copper coral, and are generally drank within a year of vintage. Little else can hit the spot like a well chilled, dry rosé.

Well, Hurrah to the French!?? you might be compelled to yell out sarcastically, and of course, yes, you would be very perceptive to point out that the UK has neither the rolling, vineyard covered Côtes (hillsides), nor the sun drenched beaches and café terraces that ooze ambiance until the small hours.

Understandably, these broader socio-cultural sensitivities could be excused, especially after the miserable summer 2000 that the UK has had to endure. Not exactly your quintessential rosé quaffing climate. To explore this point further, readers would be well advised to read the WineAnorak’s recent article ‘Time for a rosé revival?’. However, it is not the island nations’ lack of interest in rosé that concerns me, but rather the relatively insignificant position within which this wine style is placed in the South African market. After all, isn’t Cape Town the second South of France? The cosmopolitan capital of the African continent? Surely, pink must feature in the wines of the rainbow nation?

According to production statistics, it’s not the winemakers who aren’t playing their role in the rosé renaissance. Industry figures reveal the production of 24 Blanc de Noir wines (from red grapes only), 13 dry rosés (white and red grapes) and 21 off-dry rosé wines. So who or what out there is spoiling the ‘pink party’? Well, a measure of honest cultural reflection, group discussion and industry investigation revealed some of the possible reasons:

  1. A nation that has lost its sense of frivolity and fun
  2. South Africa may be the rainbow nation, but increasingly, the feel good factor of our newly founded democracy is wearing off fast. Yes, we too are now part of the vicious global community that has to fight for its survival. No monopoly cards handed out these days saying ‘Pass economic hardship and go straight to automatic prosperity, with a case of champagne thrown in for good measure’. However, South Africans do need to start enjoying themselves again and not taking everything so seriously. A few jugs of fresh, juicy pink wine could certainly help the nation see the world once again, through rosé tinted glasses!

  3. A wine made unfashionable by the media
  4. Yes, the wine and lifestyle journalists out there have certainly played their role in making this pink vinous wonder a little less wonderful. Wine after all, has become a lifestyle accessory, and if the consumers out there don’t get repeatedly told about the fun and excitement these wines can bring into their lives, then they are probably going to forget.

  5. The Chardonnay revolution has not helped matters
  6. Like California and Europe in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, South Africa is still beset with the obsession of producing endless amounts of Chardonnay. It may be good for exports and an economically sound business strategy, but surely it does not have to be done at the expense of other varietals or wine styles?

  7. Sauvignon Blanc, a further nail in the rosé coffin?
  8. Hot on the heals of Chardonnay, came the hype of Sauvignon Blanc. No longer are those balmy hot summer lunchtimes accompanied by several bottles of dry rosé. Just like the button down shirts that need to display the obligatory polo pony logo, so too is the need for wine bottles to display the correct single varietal on the ice bucket soaked label. Why then do all respectable lunch tables at the St.Tropez beach club bars of Tahiti and Bora Bora proudly display their bottles of rosé in a seemingly contradictory manner?

  9. The hype of cult wines. If it’s not famous and expensive, it’s not worth drinking
  10. If the wine to accompany lunch does not cost more than the price of the meal itself, well then, it can’t be worth drinking. Half the fun of quaffing endless amounts of chilled rosé is the generally insignificant factor of cost. Let them drink and enjoy, after all, where would a wine like French Muscadet be today if consumers had bought solely based on price level?

  11. Movement from off-dry to dry, followed by pink to white
  12. The sweet sixties and seventies, were succeeded by the consumer movement to off-dry wines in the eighties, and dry wines in the nineties. All well and good, as this evolution was mirrored by the changing styles of Blanc de Noir and rosé wines. However, the accompanying shift from pink to white was more damaging for the cause.

  13. Wineries have become too caught up in producing serious wines
  14. I suppose some of the blame can be laid at the doors of the winemakers and estate owners. While the rosé wines are still being produced, all marketing and promotional emphasis has been poured into the more serious wines and wine styles. Talk is no longer of the shade of pink of ones wines, but the degree of oaking, length of time on the lees, and whether or not it has had full or partial malolactic fermentation. Lets not fall into the trap of driving all the fun out of our wines.

  15. Rosé has not been identified as a tourist quaffer!

And finally, on a lighter note, no one out there has realised the potential of this wine style to become a real tourist pleaser. No longer does the South African wine industry have to be laden with thousands of litres of unsaleable white wine. With a small dash of red wine (from youthful vines to add a bit of bite), this vinous lake could be turned into ‘the next big thing’ in the Cape wine industry. Well I say, let the rosé renaissance roll on to the benefit of all!!

All Wine Anoraks out there who feel they know why the wine style of Rosé is no longer fashionable in the UK, South Africa or elsewhere, are invited to e-mail their thoughts to the author at: sherwood@cis.co.za


Blanc de Noirs: (x 24)

Avontuur (Cabernet Sauvignon based), Barrydale (Red Muscadel), Bergsig (Pinotage), Bon Courage (Ruby Muscadel, Shiraz), Boplaas (Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Souzao), Boschendal (Pinot Noir, Merlot), Clairvaux (Red Muscadel), Culemborg / Douglas Green, Darling Cellars (Cinsaut), De Wet, De Zoete Inval (Cabernet), Douglas, Du Toitskloof (Ruby Cabernet), Goue Vallei (Grenache), Klawer (Grenache), Laborie, Lutzville (Grenache, Ruby Cabernet), Mooiuitsig (Cabernet Sauvignon), Neetlingshof (Cabernet, Gamay), Swartland (Pinotage), Van Loveren (Red Muscadel and Shiraz), Welterede (Red Muscadel), Woolworths (Pinotage), Zevenwacht (Cabernet).

Dry Rosés: (x 13)

Ashanti (Cinsaut, Pinotage), Bellingham (Cinsaut, Pinotage), De Zoete Inval (Shiraz), Hartenburg Bin 8 (Shiraz), Libertas (Cabernet, Shiraz, Merlot), Motif Rosé Sec (Cabernet, Shiraz), Nederburg (Cinsaut, Gamay), Savanha (Merlot, Cabernet), Sonop (Pinotage), Sylvanvale (Pinotage), Villiersdorp (Cabernet), Vinfruco (Cabernet), Warwick (Cabernet).

Off-Dry & Semi-Sweet Rosés: (x 21)

Agulhas, Merwespont, Backsburg, Bernheim, Cape Wine Cellars Blush, Delheim, Dieu Donné, Douglas Green, Fairview, Goudveld, Koelenhof, Kellerprinz, L’Avenir, Lanzerac, Makro Babbling Brook, Nederburg, Pick n Pay, Porterville, Spar, Spruitdrift, Swartland, Woolworths.


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