Before arriving in Buenos Aires on this my second visit to the city, I had not prepared for my visit from a wine perspective, my main goal in spending a month in Argentina being to learn to dance the Tango. I have planned to visit Mendoza, renowned for its Malbec, have attended a wine tasting and food pairing evening at COWI in Buenos Aires, drunk three wines at the dinner at Buenos Aires’ Tegui, 86th Best Restaurant in the World, one wine at Don Julio, the 34th Best Restaurant in the World and Best in Argentina, and two wines at dinner at 1884 Restaurant in Mendoza. I have summarised my initial knowledge about the wine industry of Argentina, the fifth largest in the world, to which I have added some research information too. Continue reading →
The devaluation of the Rand, especially since President Zuma’s Nenegate in December, is not all plain sailing, having negative effects on the wine industry too, warns Wines of South Africa CEO Siobhan Thompson. The weak Rand is expected to dominate for a year.
The positive benefit of the devaluation of the Rand in making the country’s wines more affordable in international markets, will be counteracted by the increased prices of imported corks, barrels, equipment, yeast, and closures. Increased inflation will be likely to drive up wages too, adding to cost increases.
Local wine farmers were advised to hedge their businesses against currency fluctuations, to balance wine exports and local sales, and to increase sales of premium wines.
Ms Thompson warned that the exchange rate devaluation would severly affect international marketing budgets by up to 25-30%, either leading to reduced marketing activity in overseas markets, or a substantial increase in marketing budget will be required. She warned that this could negatively affect building brand ‘South Africa‘ in international markets. She also said: ‘We need to stand true to our strategy of building value over volume. South Africa is serious about growing its image and higher price tier offerings and we need to continue doing so and not be pushed to lower FOBs and price points due to the Rand devaluing’.
Source: The Drinks Business
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook: click here
It is interesting to see Woolworths’ reaction to Banting and the (LCHF) low carb high fat eating plan advocated by Professor Tim Noakes, in how long it has taken the retailer to react to the Banting diet craze, and how it has reacted, in misleading health-conscious consumers with its new CarbClever range.
In essence Professor Tim Noakes, in his book ‘Real Meal Revolution‘, advocates a diet of no carbohydrates, such as South African starch staples rice and potatoes, as well as any wheat products such as bread, pasta, and pizza. He advocates high fat too, suggesting lamb or other high fat meat types, butter, full cream dairy products, and more. Sugar is completely off the Banting list.
While two Banting-focused restaurants have opened in Cape Town already (65 on Main Banting Café and the not-1oo%-Banting The Banting Kitchen), no Banting product range is known to have been launched in the six months since Banting caught the attention of South Africans. Now Woolworths has launched the CarbClever range for ‘Carb Conscious Customers‘, odd in its choice Continue reading →
Beerhouse opened a year ago, with the proud claim of having the largest collection of bottled beers, 99 in fact, as per the song. Last night a number of writers were invited to the first of a monthly ‘Meet the Brewer’ food and beer pairing evenings. The Devil’s Peak Brewing Company and Beerhouse food pairing was led by Brewmaster JC Steyn, previously a winemaker for nine years at Dornier in Stellenbosch, and a brewmaster for the past two years.
We were a mixed bunch: wine writer Harry Haddon, whisky aficionado Bernard Gutman, beer blogger Lucy Corne, blogger Amy Rankin, and blogger Karissa of ‘My love affair with Cape Town’, and others. The biggest surprise was seeing Chris Zöller, previously at Kloof Street House, now at Beerhouse, a gem of a host, an asset for Beerhouse. His brother had worked with Beerhouse GM Murray Slater when they worked in London.
Chef Roy MacAllister took us through the do’s and don’ts of beer and food pairing, and he said there aren’t many. ‘Anything goes’, he said. It is not an exact science with hard and fast rules. The yeast and hops add flavour to the beer, and one needs to take this into account when choosing matching food. The bitterness in beer, which seems to go with a higher alcohol content, accentuates the salt content of food. Stronger beers can over-dominate the food, he warned. The chef had chosen the appropriate food pairings without the brewmaster. Each of the Devil’s Peak beers was paired with two or three food items. Each of the food items were prepared especially for the evening, and are not on the Beerhouse menu. It is planned to add Continue reading →
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
&Union Beer Salon and Charcuterie is a very trendy pub that is one of the favourite haunts of bloggers Dax of Relax-with-Dax, The Foodie and JamieWho, and they give its beer brands regular coverage via Twitter, so much so that I had to try it out – the first time about a month ago – and then I went back for the Brazil versus Portugal match last week.
To review &Union one needs to know that the owners were the founder owners of Vida e Caffe (Brad Armitage and Rui Esteves), who broke away to create &Union. &Union does not give one a Vida franchise feel at all – exactly the opposite is true, and it is commendable that the owners could start and maintain a business so radically different to what they did before. Also, untypically for Vida e Caffe, &Union has no visible exterior branding on Bree Street, but those that love the brand and share the passion, know where it is!
&Union is not a traditional pub – one sits outside on wooden tables and benches in summer, and for the World Cup a Moroccan style tent has been erected to cover all Cape Town winter weather options, with heaters if it gets cold. The tent has three strips of material on it, which are linked to a painting near the entrance, all related to the Puma Africa Unity Kit. It would be lost to most present, unless they had been invited to the launch of the new Puma beer a few days before.
We arrived just before the match starting time, and there was only a little bench available to sit on, a little removed from all the other benches, and without a table. I was impressed with Simon Wibberley, the Operations Manager, who seemed to know everyone coming into &Union, hugging and kissing (the ladies at least), and the guys all seemed to be friends. Simon stood near the entrance, and kept an eye on things continuously – no sitting back and having a beer and watch the soccer for him. It became so full that he eventually locked the gate, yet it did not feel crowded. The only problem was a lack of seating for everyone.
The beer list is an unusual brown A3 recycled sheet which shows its seven beers and tells the &Union story. The owners wanted to develop beer brands that are authentic, truthful and honest, and that stand for quality, heritage, tradition and taste. This led them to find “some of Europe’s oldest family-run breweries in search of artisan-produced beers that we are not only proud to produce for our customers but love to drink ourselves. We don’t believe we can single-handedly change the world of beer as it exists but with a little raw passion, blind optimism and reckless resolve, we can perhaps make a difference”, the beer list says.
This mission for &Union has led to the development of “luxury beers, handcrafted by our artisans from the finest natural ingredients. Our pils and amber ale are brewed using only 100% barley malt, yeast, hops, and water”. The beer is brewed for up to 8 weeks. The Pils and Amber are unpasteurised, the beer list says, to allow a “fuller, richer taste”. The passion comes from “Eating. Drinking. Living. That’s what we love. Pairing real beer with real food…”. This passion is lived in a small selection of food options, the seven beer choices, and, surprisingly, wines.
The beer list has a prominent packshot of each beer sold, and as an infrequent beer drinker and having been ignorant about the brand, the seven beer names meant nothing to me at all. The beer list is there to help, with better-than-wine descriptions of each:
* Unity Lager was developed for Puma’s “African Unity Kit” football campaign. It is “medium-bodied”, “silky smooth”, “malty”, “hints of apple and honey”, and has a “bittersweet floral finish”. It costs R40 for 500ml
* Brewers &Union Unfiltered Lager is “unfiltered, unpasteurized”, “bursting with flavour”. Cost is R 40 for 500ml
* Steph Weiss is a wheat beer, “delicate, smooth and creamy”, “aromas of vanilla and clove”. Cost is R 40 for 500ml
* Berne Unfiltered Amber is German-style, “buttery”, “toasty, bready malts”, “hints of caramel and toffee”. It costs R 40 for 500ml
* Brewers &Union Dark Lager is “beautifully hopped”, “dark roasted malt flavor” (sic). Cost is R 40 for 500 ml
* Touro Tripel Blond has a “creamy palate”, “fruity spicy malt flavour” It costs R 125 for 750ml
* Touro Tripel Amber has a “honeyed-amber malt aroma”, “hints of vanilla and caramel”. Cost is R 125 for 750ml
The menu is short and sweet: eight food options- a biltong bowl (tasted a bit vinegary) at R25; pate – made from charcuterie off-cuts and a bit too coarse for my taste – at R35; grilled weisswurst with mustard was excellent – at R60; Prego rolls cost R 60, available in beef and pork; the Charcuterie Board costs R65, and consists of coppa, parma ham and felino sausage; the “grilled juicy saucisson” board – a North African sausage made with 16 spices – costs R60; a 3-cheese board costs R65; and the salmon carpaccio board R75. Three “sweets” are offered, almond croissants (R15), Italian chocolate liqueur (made by Massimo from Hout Bay Pizza Club) at R20, and an espresso chocolate at R25. &Union also serves organic coffee. One can also have an early breakfast at &Union.
Two white and two red wines are served by the glass: Haut Espoir Sauvignon Blanc (R35) and Tamboerskloof Viognier (R40), and Landskroon and Boer & Brit ‘The General’ red blends, both costing R 40. Ten wines by the bottle start at R 130 for the Haut Espoir, and The Hedonist is the most expensive at R 210. I loved the name of the sparkling wine brand – Suikerbossie ‘Ek wil jou he’, made in Kimberley, a surprise wine region.
&Union is a refreshingly (pardon the pun) different ‘beer salon”. It cares about beer, food and its clients. It knows how to build relationships with its customers. It is not pushy nor hard-sell, maybe a little too laid back on the service, but regulars go inside and order what they want, not waiting to be served. The soccer did not have much “gees”, despite there being so many soccer fans. It is trendy, and no doubt will grow into an eatery and beer salon that will set new standards in responsible eating and drinking in Cape Town. The only dissonance for me is that wines are served (with some unfortunate typos in the wine list), given its name and beer focus. The challenge for the owners will be to keep it small and personal, the opposite to what they achieved with Vida e Caffe.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com.