Through a stroke of luck I was invited to visit Santiago in Chile for four days, and in this time I was able to drink some Chilean wines. I also visited Casablanca, a wine region outside Santiago, with my friends Guy and Pia, who live near Casablanca. Continue reading →
Yesterday I attended a Tutored Tasting of some of our country’s exceptional wines, which had in common that they were made from vines many decades old. The Tasting was led by South Africa’s leading expert on Old Vines, Rosa Kruger being a passionate pioneer for the preservation of our country’s vintage vines. Continue reading →
An unusual venue for the vertical tasting yesterday of the Doolhof Malbec wines in its Signatures of Doolhof range was Belthazar in the V&A Waterfront, where we tasted the five latest vintages of the wine, as well as some Argentinian and a French Malbec too.
Owner Dennis Kerrison welcomed us, after we had enjoyed oysters and Confrérie du Sabre d’Or champagne, explaining that they had planted Malbec with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, to create a Château Lafite style wine. In the process they discovered the quality Malbec they were producing, and bottled it as a stand alone wine. Dennis said that baboons and the southeaster create a low yield for the variety. The Kerrisons have celebrated the tenth year of owning Doolhof this year, and celebrated the estate’s 300th anniversary last year. Dennis introduced Rianie Strydom as their consultant cellarmaster. As winemaker Friedrich Kühn could not attend, the tasting was led by Rianie. Continue reading →
Yesterday I spent a most entertaining afternoon at the Grande Roche hotel in Paarl, to observe the last phase of the Wines of South Africa (WOSA) Sommelier World Cup competition, the announcement and evaluation of the Top 3, and the awarding of the prize to the winning sommelier Will Predhomme.
The invited guests were the twelve finalists for the Sommelier World Cup, media representatives from the USA (I sat next to Rebecca Canan from the Terroirist Blog), Sweden, and Belgium, local writers, the local and international sommelier judges, and WOSA staff from its international offices as well as from its head office in Stellenbosch. After a welcome glass of wine, we sat down for lunch at Bosman’s, and it was clear to see why this Continue reading →
* South Africa has 38 organic and 10 biodynamic wine producers.
* ‘The Beautiful South’ tasting of South African, Chilean, and Argentinian wines was so successful with over 1000 visitors earlier this month, that it will be held in London again on 10 and 11 September 2014. The three countries’ wines will also be featured at Prowein 2014.
* A municipal strike is due to start in Cape Town from tomorrow (Monday 23 September).
* Snow fell on the Helderberg Mountain in Somerset West twice in the past month, the latest snow falling on Thursday evening. The last snowfall was recorded in 1978!
* The world’s first Avozilla has been grown by Westfalia Fruit Estate in Limpopo, a maxi avocado being five times larger than a standard avocado and weighing about 1,3 kg, Continue reading →
Admitting that he once was a McDonald’s fan, having one of their meals daily, and that their chicken nuggets are his son’s ‘Proustian smells and tastes of childhood‘, he would not touch their food anymore. He is concerned that ‘we don’t cook, can’t cook, won’t cook‘, despite the flood of TV food shows and rise in cookbook sales, leading us to eat unhealthy food, which is not environmentally responsible. Even worse is that we don’t connect socially over home-cooked meals any more. Pollan is a Professor in Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and was named in 2010 as one of TIME‘s 100 persons to ‘most affect our world‘.
Pollan’s book ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma‘ inspired Angus McIntosh, owner of Spier’s Farmer Angus meat and egg supply, to be environmentally responsible in the biodynamic rearing of his animals. He gave me a copy of the book, to inspire me to spread the message when I visited his farm. The book is subtitled ‘The Search for a perfect meal in a fast-food world‘ and encapsulates Pollan’s criticism of fast food, which he calls an ‘industrial meal’, and of McDonald’s in particular. Pollan analysed the ‘nutritional’ content of McNuggets from a flyer, and found them to contain 38 ingredients, of which 13 are derived from corn, as well as synthetic ingredients made at petroleum refineries or chemical plants, allowing the food to be stored for longer. Corn is the staple diet of cattle, yet ‘violates the biological or evolutionary logic of bovine digestion’, writes Pollan. The omnivore’s alternative to industrial food is claimed ‘organic‘ food, sounding more ethical and sustainable. He concludes his book with a description of a meal he prepared from self-foraged ingredients, the ultimate way of eating but time-consuming to gather, including mushrooms, wild boar, fava beans, pâté, morels, bread (made using wild yeast), a garden salad, and a fruit tart for which the fruit was sourced from a public cherry tree, served with chamomile tea. Continue reading →
Last week Anel Grobler of Spit of Swallow and I were ‘paired’ for a visit to Waterkloof wine estate in Somerset West, a change from the blogger group invitations normally extended. It meant that I could get to know her a little better, and that we received personal and dedicated attention. I was impressed by the biodynamic farming on the wine estate, and by Chef Gregory Czarnecki’s cuisine.
We savoured a glass of Sauvignon Blanc 2009 on arrival, chatting about Chef Gregory’s background before marrying a local lass, and how happy he is at Waterkloof, coming from the Michelin 3-star Lucas Carton restaurant in France. He is French, with Polish roots. We expressed our surprise about the Eat Out Top 20 list exclusion of the restaurant, and he said that they were disappointed, as they work hard to up their game, and treat every customer with passion, not only the Eat Out judge. Most important is that what they do is consistent. He is a perfectionist, and did not even allow himself time off for his honeymoon, to make sure he is in the kitchen every day. His kitchen is proudly local, and they do not import any products. Increasingly they are sourcing from the Waterkloof farm, and herb (including the scarce tarragon) and vegetable planting has started. Trout comes from Lourensford close by, fish from the West Coast, kabeljou specifically from a sustainable farm in Port Elizabeth, and the farm supplies eggs, chickens and lamb too. They want to become as self-sustainable as possible.
The farm drive in farm manager Christiaan Loots’ bakkie was impressive, and his passion for what he does, and for applying the principles of sustainability (an earthworm farm is being created, and he reuses everything on the farm, with little thrown away), shows. He is going in the opposite direction to most other wine farmers, looking to sell his mechanical equipment to be able to buy more horses, not only to do the work but also to use the dung for compost, which benefits his land and the vines. ‘Nature does the stuff for us’, he said. The farm is 120 hectares in size, of which just less than half is under vines. They apply organic farming principles, not spraying for weeds, just keeping them under control, as they add silicon and nitrogen to the soil. They don’t add fertiliser, only adding compost, their seven horses and more than 80 Dorper sheep assisting with this, and all kitchen scraps are composted as well. They have just bought the next door farm, so that they can grow feed for the horses, rather than buying it in, which means that the bottom section of the road will be tarred. The farm planted 20 hectare in 1995, but Christiaan started in 2005, and has more than doubled this. He is a trained viticulturist, and taught himself the principles of biodynamic farming, with the encouragement of owner Paul Boutinot. It takes three years to be certified Biodynamic, and this is what Christiaan is working on. Not using tractors anymore, the vines can be planted closer together, giving more yield. More than 30 hens run around in the vineyards, eating bugs, and laying eggs in a special egg truck. Only fynbos is planted in the garden, and they have 111 species on the farm. Christiaan has two cows, which he uses to make ‘cow dung tea’ to compost his vineyards.
I have seen Anel at many a function, and know her as a fun no-nonsense person, with a love for laughter and wines, and very successful at what she does with Spit or Swallow, together with her partner Jan. She told me a little more about herself – she is a Libra, typically undecided, says she is a hippy at heart, loves animals, was born in Kroonstad, lived in Grootfontein and Pretoria, until her parents moved to Betty’s Bay. She studied clothing production management at the Cape Technikon, and worked in clothing manufacture for ten years, before leaving because she felt that she was in a rut. She enjoyed drinking wines when she came to the Cape on holiday. She started Tweeting, and created Spit or Swallow and Wine Times too.
The backdrop to our table was majestic. Our meal started with Chef Gregory personally taking our order. An amuse bouche of biltong and miso soil, pomegranate and yoghurt mousse, beetroot smear and buchu meringue was served, with the Waterkloof Circle of Life White 2010. Paul Boutinot came to say hello, and told us that biodynamic farming is good for the environment, but even better for improving the quality of wine. It makes the vineyards more resistant to diseases, and takes farming back to its original roots of more than 70 years ago. He said that the Waterkloof wines reflect what is in the vineyards. He chose the farm as it is the site to make the ideal wine, where nature is in ‘perfect balance’. They have 113 days from flower to picking, the average being 80 days, he told us. Boutinot has an agency in the UK which distributes Italian, French and South African wines.
Anel and I chose different dishes, so that we could share the look and taste of each dish. Plating is a strength of Chef Gregory. I started with a Camembert Crème Brûlée, rich and creamy, with the most beautiful celery shavings, curried walnut, and Granny Smith and celery sorbet (R55). Anel enjoyed her Smoked farm egg and parma ham starter (R50). With the Magaliesburg duck breast was served puy lentils, a terrine of confit leg with foie gras and rhubarb, and carrot and tarragon puree (R150), and the dish was paired with Circumstance Syrah 2008. Anel chose Monkfish and crispy prawn (R155), a very attractive dish. Deconstructed orange parfait and citrus shortbread was served as a pre-dessert, my dessert choice being a strawberry and hibiscus comsommé, with fromage blanc and cucumber sorbet, while Anel ordered the cream of Ivoire white chocolate served with matcha tea and black sesame (all desserts cost R60).
A 6-course Degustation Menu is excellent value at R385, and if wines are added to each course the cost is R490.
I had been impressed with Chef Gregory’s plating of the dish he prepared earlier this year at the Grande Provence Big 5 Multiple Sclerosis charity lunch, and he demonstrated this strength again at our lunch. He and his team of ten create cuisine masterpieces, and the restaurant deserves to be on the Eat Out Top 10 list. Its increasing self-sustainability, the biodynamic farming methods, and organic wines make this a wine estate that is in perfect balance. Last week Waterkloof was recognised by the Great Wine Capitals Global Network as the top South African wine estate in the Architecture and Landscape category.
Waterkloof Restaurant, Sir Lowry Village Road, Somerset West. Tel (021) 858-1292. www.waterkloofwines.co.za Twitter:@WaterkloofWines Lunch Monday – Sunday, Dinner Monday – Saturday.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter @WhaleCottage
I have had a bottle of La Luna 2006 red blend standing on my desk for some time now, a gift from Avondale. There was no more suitable night to drink it than on Wednesday evening, waiting for a glimpse of the disappearing moon during the lunar eclipse on a stormy Cape night, and in the company of knowledgeable wine lover Dusan Jelic, Social Media Manager of wine.co.za.
La Luna is a blend of organically-grown Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), Cabernet Franc (30 % ), Merlot (20%), and Petit Verdot (20%), the first three varieties identified by Dusan on taste. The wine was matured in French Oak barrels for 12 – 16 months.
Avondale has established itself as an eco-friendly wine estate outside Paarl. The label says that Avondale “…look to the skies to make extraordinary wines on our piece of the Earth. The soft suppleness of this convivial Red Blend reflects the graceful ways that Avondale is attuned to cosmic influences and rhythms“. Its Terra est Vita (soil is life) neck label reflects the sustainable and natural viticulture that is practised at Avondale.
I asked Dusan to guide me through a tasting of the wine. He sniffed the cork, which confirmed that it wasn’t corked. We chatted about drinking and tasting wine, and the subjectivity of the evaluation. Dusan said that for him the company in which one tastes wine makes a huge difference to its enjoyment and memorability. One of his favourite winetasting memories was when he and his friend read poetry, inspired by a good wine. Wine removes the barrier between people, he said. In Serbia, Dusan’s home-country, one would never taste wine without serving food. He says that he has had to get used to this not always being the case in South Africa. Dusan described the nose as being inviting. There was balance between the nose and palate. The wine has a deep rich colour. Dusan could taste jaminess, with a taste of raspberries, plums, prunes, and cherries, as well as chocolate. He described the wine as smooth and polished. Dusan slurps the wine, saying that the extra air allows one to taste the wine better. The media release described the wine as follows: “The velvety red blend offers scents of cedar, truffles and dark fruit with subtle forest and herb undertones, while full plum and mulberry flavours and soft tannins combine for a lovely, vibrant suppleness”.
Avondale calls its unique blend of organic and biodynamic wine farming with modern science BIO-Logic. “La Luna derives its name from the way the moon influences our living system, and reflects the biodynamic farming methodology employed by the farm. By being attuned to the cosmic influences and rhythms, Avondale is able to fine tune its activities on the farm to be in harmony with the celestial forces”, says the Avondale media release.
We were over the moon with the enjoyable bottle of La Luna, and Dusan tried his best to get every last drop out of the bottle when it was finished!
La Luna 2006 Red Blend, Avondale, Paarl. Tel (021) 863-1970. www.avondalewine.co.za
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage
A new guided tour of the wine farms, focusing on those wine estates that are ‘green’, organic, support biodiversity and generally care for nature, has been launched. Eco Wine Tours is a joint venture between Charles Lourens of BottlePillowPlate and Pieter Geldenhuys of PG TOPS, and drives to the Winelands every Wednesday. The tour raised the question amongst its participants as to how each one of us can make a difference too, and recycling is the first obvious step.
The tour highlighted how much work is being done by individual wine estates to give something back to nature, and how each of them do something (often more than one action) to ensure that their farming practices do not add to the carbon overload the world already faces. It is clear that this good work is being done out of a genuine interest in and love for the environment, rather than for marketing purposes. It also indicated what diversity there is in being a ‘green’ wine estate, with the wide range of different actions wine estates undertake to be environmentally friendly, each following their own way. The highlights of our tour, on a grey wintry day yesterday, were the following:
Avondale is outside Paarl, and attracted attention with its ads featuring naked persons in the vineyards, as well as their famous ducks. Due to a fire in 1999, the wine farming practices of the estate were turned on their head, and the new cellar that was built, the grape farming as well as all aspects of production were changed to meet an environmentally friendly and non-mass production philosophy. The welcome we received from Jonathan, the warm crackling fireplace in the tasting room, and the enthusiasm shown to our group was impressive. Avondale focuses on the natural balance of the environment, and believes in feeding the soil, and not the vines. No herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are used at all, and its workforce of more than 100 ducks is employed to eat snails and other pests, to maintain the ecological balance. They apply natural farming methods, and focus on premium quality wine production, of which organic wine is an end-result, and not the other way round.
They have branded their work as “BioLogic”, reflecting that they use organic and biodynamic farming methods and with that want to restore the land to what it would have been centuries ago, and want to keep in balance what nature has given the wine estate. We drank their wonderful spring water, tasting as fresh as water can. Using gravity, Avondale irrigates its vines from its six natural dams. Grey water is re-used, not by adding chemicals but by adding yeast. A minimum 40mm of sulphur is added to the wine just before bottling. Weeds are used positively, to control the soil. They indicate what is needed to improve the quality of the soil. Wasps are hooked up in the vineyards, where they hatch, and they take care of the mieliebugs. Special owl houses have been made from wine barrels to house the collection of owls, who take care of rodents and snakes on the estate. Increasingly, Avondale is seeing small buck and lynx coming back to the estate. Gravity is used in the cellar to reduce the usage of electricity as much as possible. A natural riverbed runs alongside the cellar, and its clay bottom ensures that the cellar is naturally cold without any airconditioning, even on 45 C days in Paarl. Avondale only uses pumps for its bottling. Salt water is brought in, and the salt extracted from it, to add to the soil, salt containing 90 nutrients. Cover-crops, such as lupins, are planted to create an eco-system, adding nitrogen to the soil. On good weather days guests are driven into the vineyard, and one tastes the wine in the vineyard block from which it is made.
The Avondale MCC Brut is the only organic sparking wine in South Africa. Other wines in the Avondale range are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc (organic), The Weir Chardonnay, RosÃ© (organic), Jonty’s Ducks (organic), Julia, Camissa Syrah, The Owl House Cabernet Sauvignon, Graham, Muscat Blanc, Les Pleurs Chenin Blanc and Les Pleurs Merlot. Prices start at R58 for the RosÃ© and Chenin Blanc, up to over R 200 for the Les Pleurs range. A new advertising campaign is to be launched, and the naked ladies will no longer feature, but the ducks will. The wine estate impressed in being the only one to provide a folder of information, summarising its wine farming philosophy (“Wines approved by Mother Nature”), combining natural farming with 21st century science, technology and research. The organic certification comes from the Dutch Control Union, and is accredited by Bio Nach EG-Ã–ko Verordnung( Germany), Soil Association (UK) and USDA (USA).
The Avondale building is mock Cape Dutch and its interior is too. It is a very spacious building, and its interior is functional but not as attractive as that of many other wine estates. It probably demonstrates that the wines, the farming methods and wine production are the heroes at Avondale. A most impressively green wine estate.
Backsberg is well-known for its work in enhancing its carbon footprint, but until my visit I was not sure what it was doing, other than that it had recently launched its “Tread Lightly” range of wines in a plastic bottle. Simon Back traced the history of the farm, to 1916, when his grandfather CL Back had bought the farm, first farming fruit before switching to grapes. All grapes were sent to the KWV in early days, and it was Simon’s grandfather Sydney who made the first wines at Backsberg in the Sixties. Michael Back, Simon’s father, studied viticulture and winemaking, and is the passionate owner who is driving the environmentally friendly approach of Backsberg. He is currently attending a conference in Rio de Janeiro on renewable energy. Backsberg became so passionate about being environmentally responsible about its wine farming, production and sales that it started by measuring the impact its operation has on the environment, in terms of fuel usage, water and electricity, and many more factors that they could quantify. The CO2 emissions caused by their operation is offset by a dedicated program to restore their carbon footprint by tree planting, and by changing how they do things. Energy-saving light bulbs are used; holes were cut in the roof to let in natural light; Michael drives a Ford Bantam bakkie because it is less environmentally damaging and lighter on fuel than a heavy-weight one; fresh dam water is used to cut out on refrigeration costs; smaller tractors are used; barrelwood is re-used and furniture made from it, which is for sale; a massive counter was made from barrelwood; light-weight glass bottles are used, now weighing 450g compared to the previous 650g; the 50g plastic bottle is a huge step forward, and all indications are that the market is accepting the new ‘Tread Lightly’ range, the first wine brand to use plastic bottles in South Africa, and follows France and Australia as countries that are using such bottles with success. The long-term goal is to become completely energy self-sufficient in future. Simon says that the debate that may have been generated about the advisability of using plastic bottles is similar to the one five years ago of using screw caps on wine bottles. The plastic bottles can be recycled. A glass-blowing pair of brothers re-uses Backsberg bottles in its glass art.
The Tread Lightly brand is exactly the same wine as is in the glass bottles, with a shelf life of two years. Its range consists of Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, and is only sold through Pick ‘n Pay, at R49,99 and R39,99, respectively. The Backsberg range is extensive, and consists of the Backsberg Family Reserve Range, a Kosher range, Sydney Back brandy range, Hanepoot, Port, a Mediterranean Range (Aldorina, Bella Rosa and Elbar), Black label Range (Sparkling Brut MCC, John Martin, Pumphouse Shiraz, Klein Babylonstoren) and the Premium Range (Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, RosÃ©, Dry Red, Pinotage, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon). Wine prices start at R31 for the Chenin Blanc, RosÃ© and Dry Red, up to R 161 for the Backsberg Family Reserve Red Blend.
We were surprised at how old-fashioned things appear at Backsberg in terms of its building and interior, but perhaps it is environmentally friendly to leave the buildings in the way they have always been. The dedication to the environment is clear and they are saluted for this. No written information was supplied proactively, and the pricelist does not contain any contact details, should one wish to order or have queries.
Mooiplaas needs perseverance to get to in terms of its bumpy road, but again this may be a sign of the environmental orientation of this wine estate. Tielman Roos is a passionate co-owner of the farm, and says that there is a lot of confusion about environmentally-friendly farming. One can farm organically, follow the guidelines of the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative launched by Wines of South Africa, and/or follow the Integrated Production of Wines of the University of Stellenbosch. The challenge is to use farming methods that harm the environment (like spraying) and then to offset this with environmentally friendly actions. He explained that there was no point in farming in a purely organic way and then lose one’s crop in not having sprayed. It is the carbon footprint that counts. Mooiplaas does this in having created a private nature reserve of Renosterveld on the farm, which can never be used for wine farming. He said: “We must be responsible to keep our business in business”. South Africa has the oldest soils in the world, and this makes its biodiversity so special. Tielman challenged every wine farmer to dedicate 5-10 % of the farm to indigenous plants, to so contribute to the environment. The Mooiplaas wines carry the ‘Integrity and Sustainability’ seal on the neck of its bottles, and gives traceability to that particular wine.
The wine estate has a beautiful historic manor house, built in 1833, hidden from the tasting room. The tasting room feels environmentally friendly, its floor made from rocks and cement (making for a very uneven walk) and walls that show the original building style, only partly plastered. It is a “plaas” winefarm, with little that shows modernity, except for a good brochure lying in the Tasting Room, and for Tielman’s dedication to the environment. He organises walks through the nature reserve. The Mooiplaas range consists of Langtafel Wit, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Langtafel RosÃ©, Pinotage, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Rosalind and Duel MCC, ranging in price from R32 – R 127.
Signal Hill Winery is in the middle of the city, in Heritage Square, and our guide Kyle Zulch clearly loves his job, demonstrated by his enthusiasm and generosity in the tasting. He took the group to the pavement, where he disgorged a bottle of their MCC, the process that bubbly producers use to take the lees off the MCC before labelling and corking the bottle. The grapes for their wines come from vines on pockets of land in Cape Town (Camps Bay, Kalk Bay and Oranjezicht), leading to a small quantity of only 6 barrels produced. In addition, grapes are bought in from Stellenbosch, Constantia and Somerset West. Kyle and Signal Hill Winery founder Jean-Vincent Ridon are passionate about ‘fighting urbanisation’, and are looking for more pockets of land in the city on which they can plant vines. The Premier’s residence Leeuwenhof may become a mini-wine farm soon too. They clean up weeds by hand, rather than the quick and easy spraying method, have an earthworm farm, and they plant lavender and basil in-between the vines.
The range of 25 Signal Hill wines consists of Tutuka Shiraz (R39), The Threesome, Petit Verdot, Grenache Noir, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz/Syrah Helderberg, Pinot Noir, Clos D’Oranje Shiraz/Syrah R750), Grenache Blanc, RosÃ© de SaignÃ©e (R38), Empereur Rouge, Vin de L’emperuer, Straw Wine, Creme de Tete, Eszencia (R2000), Red Le Signal, White Le Signal and Muscat de Rivesaltes.
It was a most impressive day, seeing wine estates from a completely different angle. The wine tastings were generous, and one must pace oneself and spit more than swallow, with an average of five wines tasted per wine estate, making about 20 in total! The wonderful lunch we had at Towerbosch on the Knorhoek wine estate will be featured in a restaurant review next week.
Eco Wine Tours: Charles Lourens, Bottle Plate Pillow Tel 082 375 2884 and Pieter Geldenhuys, PG Tops Tel 083 288 4944.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com
The Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting held at Brio restaurant last night was a huge success, with five Haut Espoir wines tasted, and Rob Armstrong of the wine estate and Sam Wilson of Food24 informing and entertaining the food and wine bloggers attending. There were lots of laughs, and bloggers attending participated in the discussion. Cape Town was highlighted by Rob as seeing an “explosion” of food and wine writing, mainly via bloggers, which was not evident in other areas in South Africa.
Sam Wilson, Editor-in-Chief of Food24, Woman24 and Parent 24, impressed by doing her presentation using an iPad, which most bloggers had not seen before. She challenged bloggers to find their “barrier of authenticity”, in that each blogger should define how far one can go, who one is via one’s blog, and how much of one’s self one wants to reveal. Each blogger should set their own parameters. “How much of you do you want to be?” she asked the bloggers. She argued for honesty in blogging, and for not following the magazine route of “selling out”, in only writing good restaurant reviews. She said that Food24 would be following a policy of saying it as it is in their restaurant reviews. Brad Ball, chef of Bistro 1682, in discussion of restaurant reviews, said that they welcome the feedback from reviews, and act upon it. He does take the feedback “from whence it comes”, he said. Restaurant owners and chefs were advised to not respond when they have had something to drink! Restaurants should contact the clients posting negative reviews, and sort the issue out as quickly as possible.
Sam warned bloggers to not set themselves up as an expert, as one can easily be ridiculed by others. She advised them to be humble and honest in their writing. She reminded bloggers to not take their blogging too seriously, and not be too earnest, but rather enjoy it and to blog for fun. Each individual blogger’s writing will not change the world, and “does not matter in the bigger scheme of things”. Sam advised that Google Analytics be used to measure the blog’s readership. Food24 has a special page on its website to provide a platform for 440 food bloggers, with 50000 readers and 200000 page impressions per month. She advised new food bloggers to join the Blog platform that had been set up for them on the Food24 website, and then to start up their own independent blogs once they have gained in confidence. Photographs should be captioned and tagged, to help with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), and should be well-shot in good light. Headlines should have “Googable” words in them, for SEO. The most popular recipes posted on the Food24 Blogs platform are for fundamental meals such as chicken pie, macaroni cheese, bobotie, and anything with chocolate in it. A recent post of a “Braai pie” recipe attracted 10 000 hits for a first-time blogger. Sam concluded that she no longer sees herself as a journalist, but as a “conversation shepherd”.
Rob Armstrong impressed the bloggers by being himself and honest (as was Sam), and is incredibly tall. Haut Espoir was bought by his family in Franschhoek ten years ago, and Rob took the bloggers through an informal tasting of his Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Shiraz Rose (he says they cannot make enough of it), Gentle Giant (named after Rob’s brother) and Shiraz. Half of Haut Espoir is planted with vines, and the other half with fynbos, over 7 000 fynbos cuttings, representing 600 – 700 species, having been planted. The goal is to follow organic and biodynamic farming practices, and Haut Espoir supports the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative. The winemaker is Nikey van Zyl, and Rob says that he is in charge of sales and quality control, in testing the wines. He has a personal relationship with his clients (including &Union and Caveau), and personally delivers his wines to them, so maintaining the good relationship. Rob writes a “Fynbos Friday” post about the wonderful plants they have on their farm. One can do a Fynbos and Vine Tour with Rob, by making an appointment. In contrast to Sam, Rob does not know his website readership, and does not really care what it is. He does however know that they produce 80 000 bottles of wine per year.
It was interesting to hear the Canadian statistic that the average time between buying and drinking a bottle of wine is 17 minutes, meaning that wine drinkers are not ageing their wines any more. In South Africa the statistic is 72 minutes. Rob shared that the number of Vignerons of Franschhoek has more than doubled since 2004, and now stands at 54. Discussions are in place to stretch the new Franschhoek Wine of Origin region, to include such wine estates as Backsberg and Glen Carlou. Rob is the Chairman of the Vignerons’ Sustainability Committee, a joint action by the vignerons to self-audit their sustainability. Wine buyers can check the sustainablity of the wines they buy and drink via the new sustainability seals. Rob is on Twitter, as @Rambowine, while the farm’s Twittering (@HautEspoir) is done by Raoul de Jongh. Rob was asked whether wine sales had increased due to his blogging and Twitter activity, and he said that he could not quantify that, but that it was easier to sell his wines due to the awareness that had been created for Haut Espoir.
The next Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting will be held on Wednesday 22 September, at the Salt Vodka and Champagne Bar, above Salt Deli and across the road from the Ambassador Hotel in Bantry Bay. Food blogger Dax Villanueva from Relax-with-Dax and wine blogger Hein Koegelenberg from La Motte will be the speakers. To make a booking to attend, e-mail email@example.com.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com