As writers we are invited to many events. I have attended the FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top 10 Awards over a number of years, but none have been as much fun as the one I attended at The Franschhoek Cellar on Thursday!
The venues of past events have been exotic at times and I have got lost in trying to find at least one of them. The Franschhoek Cellar was a conveniently located venue, and allowed me to spend two days in Franschhoek, to experience the exciting new restaurant openings and chef movements taking place this week!
From a total of 190 entries received for the FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top 10 2017 Awards, twenty were selected by a panel of judges, chaired by respected Neil Ellis, after evaluation took place over a period of four days, with a lot of debate and discussion taking place. The top twenty Sauvignon Blancs were available for us to taste, and the Winemakers were present, to answer questions. At the lunch that followed, the Top 10 Sauvignon Blanc wines were counted down. I am so proud of my classmate Neil, having sat on the same school benches at Huguenot High School in Wellington with him many moons ago!
I sat at a table with Mr Veritas Bennie Howard, FNB Regional Head Western Cape Shaun Gerber, and the Winemakers from Stellenbosch Vineyards, Diemersdal, and The Pledge. The proceedings began with a wow performance of MC and comedienne/singer/magician/private chef for six or less according to his business card Pietman Geldenhuys. I have never laughed so much at an event, and he entertained us with Scottish anecdotes, Afrikaans dialect brei ones, and a song.
Bennie and Shaun chatted about the new Wine of Origin Cape Town District, which was recently created through an amalgamation of wards Constantia, Hout Bay, Durbanville, and Philadelphia. Cape Point Vineyards, which boldly calls its 2017 Sauvignon Blanc ‘Cape Town’, says that the new District designation helped the winery win a tender from British Airways.
At the table and at the tasting prior to the lunch I heard a lot of reference to the water shortage, and it was disconcerting to hear some Winemakers say that we will not even make it to March 2018, contrary to what the City of Cape Town has promised. While many have boreholes, the water is too deep to make it feasible to access it. Many are drawing water from Theewaterskloof Dam on the basis of their water rights.
Stephan Claassen, FNB Provincial Head of the Eastern and Western Cape, also referred to the water shortage in our province. He praised the parallels between his banking group and the Sauvignon Blanc producers, striving for excellence, demonstrating creativity, and lifting the ‘game‘. He shared that his Bank sponsors the Springbok rugby team, and in that context told us that a Tri Nations Sauvignon Blanc wine tasting between South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand has been won by our country every year since its inception!
Stephan praised the innovation in packaging and in marketing by the Sauvignon Blanc producers, and challenged them to remain innovative and creative, and also to create more jobs. The wine industry contributes R9 billion to the economy, only surpassed by the citrus industry in terms of size. The amount of Sauvignon Blanc made has grown to 45 million liters, the only cultivar to show a growth, at 20% per annum. We are the seventh largest producer of Sauvignon Blanc in the world, but 14th in size of land use dedicated to this variety, demonstrating efficient land use. Our country’s wine drinking average is 7,8 liters per person per year, compared to 23 liters in Australia, and 45 liters in Portugal. Obviously the wine industry would like to see a growth in this average for our country. There is an international wine shortage and Stephan suggested an increase in wine prices.
Diemersdal’s Thys Louw, Vice Chairman of the Sauvignon Blanc Interest Group, described Sauvignon Blanc as a ‘gateway wine variety’, its popularity being due to the wine’s flavourful, bright fruit flavours of gooseberry in the main, and the wine style not being ‘shy‘. He said that he is ‘married‘ to Sauvignon Blanc. With twenty finalists, and a top ten list of Sauvignon Blancs announced at the Awards, there is only one winner, he said, and that is Sauvignon Blanc! He said that the success of the cultivar is that it is loved by the wine consumer, it is suitable for all drinking occasions, Winemakers love it, and the American market in particular is ‘becoming obsessed with it’. Sauvignon Blanc was planted in new wine regions, making it a wine cultivar pioneer, and farmers have followed with planting other cultivars. He thanked FNB for its financial contribution to the industry.
Neil Ellis said that there was a diversity of thought and styles on his judging panel, yet there was consistency compared to previous years. Personal favoritism stayed out of the judging, and the judges ‘gave credit to good winemaking and viticulture’. The wines were judged over four days, to allow debate and discussion. WineMag editor Christian Eedes was mentioned specifically, as having ‘an interesting way of seeing things’.
This was followed by oven-roasted chicken breast with sun-dried tomato and cream cheese, herbs, new potatoes, green vegetables, and aired cream sauce, served with a mixed salad.
Stellenbosch Vineyards 2017
Strandveld Pofadderbos Single Vineyard 2015
Vrede en Lust Artisan Range Blanc Fumé 2016 (Wooded)
Boschendal De Werf 2016
Diemersdal Winter Ferment
Groot Phisantekraal 2017
Highlands Road 2015
Kleine Zalze Family Reserve 2017
Mulderbosch 1000 Miles 2015 (wooded)
South Hill 2016
Stellenrust 2017, TSW 2017, Cape Point Vineyards Cape Town 2017, Ghost Corner Wild Ferment 2016 (wooded), Darling Cellars Reserve Bush Vine 2017, Durbanville Hills Rhinofields, Fairview 2017, The Pledge #2 2017, Lord’s Wines 2017, and Marianne 2016 (wooded).
Dessert was served with coffee, and was tiny bites of Pavlova with lemon curd, mini vanilla pannacotta with berries, and mini chocolate and macadamia brownies.
I enjoyed the event, not only for seeing Neil again (we quickly planned a school reunion), but also because I enjoyed the entertainment provided by the MC, a laugh a minute! It was also an interesting update on the wine industry, and its problems and opportunities.
Sauvignon Blanc Interest Group. Tel (021) 863-1599. www.sauvignonblanc.com Twitter: @SauvignonSA
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com Twitter: @Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram:@chris_ulmenstein