Blaauwklippen Blending Competition: winning is in the name of the wine club!


I attended the Blaauwklippen Blending Competition celebration lunch for the second year running on Friday, and enjoyed the good food served by new Chef Chris Marais (previously at The Oyster Box, Twelve Apostles hotel, and Bushman’s Kloof) and hearing how each of the four finalist wine clubs got to mix and marry their unique wine blends for the competition, the 29th which Blaauwklippen has organised.

I sat next to Rolf Zeitvogel, Blaauwklippen GM and winemaker, and the bubbly Swiss Natalie Campbell, whom I had met at Sante’s restaurant many years ago and who now is Rolf’s PA and handles marketing too. Natalie updated me about all the Blaauwklippen news, including the appointment of Chef Chris, the introduction of High Tea from 17 September, the introduction of Tapas from 16h00 – 19h30 from 1 October, the closure of the Cape Kitchen restaurant, wine tasting hours extending until 18h30 in summer, and the introduction of a new menu for the Barouche Restaurant.

Welcoming the guests, Rolf laughed in saying that the table gets longer every year, the Blaauwklippen Blending Competition having become so popular. He shared that 78 wine clubs from six countries (even including Belgium, Germany, Australia, Switzerland, and Namibia) had entered the competition this year, with 40 % of the entries coming from the Western Cape, but no clubs from our province made it into the finals. The four finalist teams included last year’s winner (The Three Sheets to the Wind), in addition to Johannesburg wine clubs Wwiwwew (which name they did not want to explain until they arrived at the event) and Bacchanalian, as well as the George club Babalost.  Each wine club leader was given an opportunity to tell us about their wine club’s history, and the technique they used to create their finalist blends. Blaauwklippen shipped 150 hampers of 175 ml base wines, being Blaauwklippen’s Shiraz, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc, to each wine club. By the end of June they received each club’s ‘recipe’ for their blend, with notes too, and two bottles of each of the 78 entrant blends were made up by assistant winemaker Albert Basson. A team of judges (Andrew Chigorimbo, Albert Basson, Clive Torr, Samarie Smith, Jonathan Snashall, and Edo Heyns) was invited, the blends evaluated blind, and the finalist blends selected. Rolf told us that the average Shiraz content of the blends was 34%, Zinfandel featuring strongly too.  The winning blend was bottled in magnums, called the Blaauwklippen Barouche Magnum 2011, with a label designed by Frans Groenewald.

Each wine club had funny stories to tell about their club and their blend, and each had good speakers:

* The Three Sheets to the Wind club fed back how much they enjoyed the event last year, and that they had entered for the fifth time this year. The ten members meet every second month, and love drinking wine, and they love the competition, their representative Robert said.

*   The Babalost club name came from ‘babelas‘ and a story about a mixture of leftover wines which a child was sent to school with, it having been mistaken for a berry juice!  They have entered four times, and made the finals for the first time.

*   The Bacchanalian Society sounded really serious, and it has been in existence for 38 years already, and only accepts 27 male members, which caused a ripple of dissent from the ladies present.  The Club representative described the members as being very sensible and disciplined, meeting monthly.  Every second year each member presents a new wine to the fellow members, and in alternate years they have to make a ‘mystery wine’. The club was named after Bacchus, the ‘god of wine‘.  They have participated in the Blaauwklippen blending competition since its inception, and made the finals for the first time this year.

*   The Wwiwweww club representative Jon-Marc Loureiro is a lawyer and was an excellent speaker, telling the funny story about how they describe their wines in terms of ‘female voluptuousness‘ rather than in serious wine terminology.  Their club started at UCT, and a number of members have carried on, the 12 – 15 members accepted on the basis of being ‘nice people’, and the club has had various names over the past fifteen years. The wine club is unstructured and informal. The name emerged from their lack of success in making the finals, having entered since 2004, being an abbreviation of ‘When will we ever win’. They received the good news that their question had been answered, and that they had won the blending competition, with a blend of 32% Shiraz, 30% Zinfandel, 20 % Cabernet Franc, and 18% Petit Verdot. Rolf showed me their entry form, and their motivation for their blend was equally funny: “We liked the result which was not intuitive but came together like Cosatu demonstrators to a call to march. The tannins were prevalent but we saw… tasted enough acid and fruit that will come to the fore over time. Particular mention must be made of the Zinfandel and Petit Verdot”. The club won a trophy, six magnums of their blend, glassware from Vitria, and the weekend in Stellenbosch.

The Le Nose wine club from Somerset West won the Newcomer Club Award, entering for the first time.  Rolf admitted that it had been one of their toughest tastings, with a score range of 14,29 – 16,50 out of 20.

The lunch commenced with a starter of Kataifi wrapped prawns with marinated cucumber spaghetti, beetroot carpaccio, and a citrus reduction, which was served with a Blaauwklippen Viognier 2011. ‘Kataifi’ is a very fine vermicelli-like pastry used to make desserts in various Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, particularly Palestinian or Greek, a Google search revealed.  This was followed by a choice of seared tuna with miso marmalade, and Confit duck leg and seared duck breast with truffle cauliflower purée, sautéed greens, and spiced duck jus, which we enjoyed with the new winning Blaauwklippen Barouche 2011.  For dessert we had golden fried brown bread ice cream with slow roasted plums and Melba sauce, with the Blaauwklippen Noble Late Harvest Viognier 2012.

The Blaauwklippen Blending Competition clearly is a highlight for wine lovers, and is an important element of the Blaauwklippen marketing programme, with Rolf and his colleagues travelling around the country, meeting with the finalist wine clubs, and keeping in close communication with them throughout the year.  The new Blaauwklippen Barouche Magnum is available from the wine estate’s tasting centre at R134, and at selected retail outlets.  The 30th anniversary of the Blaauwklippen Blending Competition in 2013 is eagerly awaited.

Disclosure: We received a magnum of the new Blaauwklippen Barouche with the media pack.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: Twitter: @WhaleCottage

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