World Design Capital 2014: Audacia sulphite and preservative free wines inspired by design!

Audacia Merlot Whale Cottage PortfolioI was invited by Eclipse PR to attend a media briefing at the offices of Cape Town Design NPC, the company operating Cape Town’s role as World Design Capital 2014, on Thursday, the first such invitation, and received earlier in the day.  While it was thin on media news, and poorly attended, it was a most interesting session, in learning about the unique new sulphite and preservative free Audacia Wines using indigenous woods for its maturation, one of the about 450 registered World Design Capital 2014 projects.  Being an official project, it has raised the bar of Audacia’s design elements.

Co-owner Trevor Strydom is passionate about his pet project, and started talking to me about it in the reception whilst we were waiting for the meeting to start.  Audacia Wines is a partnership between Trevor and Paul Harris of Rand Merchant Bank and Ellerman House, describing itself as ‘The Red Wine Boutique WineryAudacia Trevor Strydom Whale Cottage Portfolio (2). Given how tough the wine industry is, and that there are no subsidies for farmers, it is hard to survive in the industry. Harris inspired Trevor with the quote: ‘change only occurs when the pain exceeds the joy‘, and advised him to find a point of difference for his brand, which currently is very well known for its weekend market off the R44.

Trevor read up about the law of winemaking and additives, and found that only two additives are allowed: enzymes, and wood.  He made his winemaker Michael van Niekerk make samples of red wines with different woods, given that every winemaker uses oak, whether as staves, chips, or powder, and they tried woods such as bluegum, acacia, and fig, to the amusement of van Niekerk. Being offered tea by his daughter one afternoon, she drinking a cup of rooibos tea with him, he had the brilliant idea to try rooibos wood (Aspalathus linearis), and they were delighted with the results, not being picked up on the nose nor on tasting the wine.  Whilst consulting his patent lawyer Mohammed Valli, he was initially sceptical whether a non-drinking lawyer could identify with his project.  He was most impressed with Valli’s conclusion that the anti-oxidant properties of rooibos would make the wine preservative and sulphite free, a significant point of difference for his brand, given Valli’s previous degree in microbiology.  The process to register the patent commenced three years ago, and will prevent any other winemaker from using rooibos wood and even honeybush (Cyclopia genistoides) in the making of wine anywhere else in the world.  The two woods have high levels of anti-oxidants, no caffeine, and low tannin levels, useful as a preservative and ‘flavouring wine‘, and are added at primary fermentation.  The woods also contain ‘phenolic compounds and many flavenoids‘.  A Shiraz 2012 has been made with indigenous woods too. Trevor is planning to plant Rooibos between his vines.  Trevor approached Western Cape Minister of Tourism Alan Winde about his unique winemaking method, and he was helpful too.

I asked Trevor about sulphites and why it is a bad thing to use them as a preservative. He said that many wine drinkers are allergic to them, and that many complain that sulphites cause headaches.  The legal limit of sulphites for a wine in South Africa is 150 mg per litre, while the Audacia sulphite content is only 3 mg per litre.   We tasted the Merlot 2013, and it was generally complimented, despite being so young.  The tasting notes describe the wine as ‘having intense aromas with a bouquet of sweet cherries, roses, Turkish delight and fynbos‘.   Audacia’s wines are the first to use indigenous woods in the maturation, making it environmentally friendly and more sustainable.  Audacia is working with a team from the University of Stellenbosch’s Viticulture and Oenology Department, under the leadership of Professor Wessel du Toit, and is evaluating the effect of the Fabaceae plant family species (which Rooibos wood and Honeybush are part of) on wine, and its usability as an alternative to oak in winemaking.  The Professor has stated that the indigenous wood ‘imparts very distinctive and unique flavours to wine‘.   Masters student Alet de Wet is investigating this for her thesis, and is expected to continue into a doctoral thesis.

2200 cases of the wines have been made, and sell for R180 per bottle from the wine estate, and via their website, being delivered. The Audacia sulphite and preservative free wines falls under the Sustainability Solutions category of World Design Capital 2014 projects, and is project #WDC596. Trevor thanked World Design Capital 2014 generally, and the media briefing specifically, in making him update his website, have a brochure designed and printed, and having beautiful labels designed for his wines.  Other Rooibos and honeybush wood products are in the pipeline, Trevor hinted.

WDC2014 Priscilla Urquhart Whale Cottage PortfolioPriscilla Urquhart, World Design Capital 2014 PR and Media Manager, addressed the meeting, to recap the numerous Design projects and events which took place in Cape Town in February, and what is lying ahead in March.  Oddly the March projects, under the umbrella of ‘Mobility’, all appear to be City of Cape Town events (the opening of the Du Noon MyCiTi Bus route, a 3 km walk and cycle lane in Gugulethu, and the Kraaifontein Integrated Waste Management Facility, which will create 500 litres of oil per day by converting plastic to oil), and are non-motorised focused generally and cycling biased specifically, Capetonians to be encouraged to cycle and be cycle-friendly!  World Design Capital will man a water stand on the Argus Cycle Tour route!  ‘Transformative Design‘ was mention by Priscilla a number of times.  The next Pitching presentations take place on 25 March.  Very odd was Priscilla taking a call while she was chairing the meeting and Trevor was speaking!  It was a surprise to see Heather Parker at the media briefing, previously a journalist and now the Legacy Officer at the City of Cape Town for World Design Capital 2014, her brief being to extend the benefit of the project into the future.

The (lack of) media interest, with fewer than ten attending, must have been embarrassing for World Design Capital 2014, given that the awareness of what it is about and which projects are included in the list of about 450, is very low, many Capetonians and designers still not being exactly sure what it is all about!   Perhaps the media interest was low as many writers had attended the less than impressive World Design Capital 2014 Gala Dinner a week prior.

World Design Capital 2014, Cape Town Design NPC, Harrington House, 37 Barrack Street, Cape Town.   Tel 086 000 7410    www.wdccapetown2014.com  Twitter: @WDC2014

Audacia Wines, corner R44 and Annandale Road, Stellenbosch.  Tel (021) 881-3052.  www.audacia.co.za  No Social Media.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage

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