Yesterday Blaauwklippen celebrated the 30th anniversary of its popular Blending Competition, and it was a day filled with celebratory balloons and nostalgic reflections of the heritage of the Blaauwklippen Blending Competition on the 331 year old wine estate in Stellenbosch. The competition has helped to demystify wine and make it more accessible to wine drinkers.
I have attended the Blaauwklippen Blending Competition (which they refer to as BBC) for a number of years, but had never seen so many guests before, 70 guests seated in the Barouche restaurant, many of whom having links to 1984, the first year of the blending competition. Blaauwklippen MD and Cellarmaster Rolf Zeitvogel reflected on the world 30 years ago, Apple having launched its Macintosh PC, Archbishop Tutu receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Mrs Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister of the UK, and Nelson Mandela seeing his wife Winnie for the first time in 22 years. Through a number of speakers, we heard about the history of the blending competition, having been the idea of Angela Lloyd, who at that stage worked at the Wine Tasting Centre, and who suggested the idea to then-winemaker Walter Finlayson. A total of 47 wine clubs entered in the first year. Initially the competition chose regional i.e. provincial winners, and the final winner was selected at the awards ceremony, the award-winning blend being made up for sale thereafter. Mr Finlayson was a double Diner’s Club Winemaker of the Year during his time at Blaauwklippen, in 1981 and 1982, with Rolf’s favourite variety Zinfandel. In an attempt to market Blaauwklippen nationally, the suggestion of a blending competition reaching wine societies around the country perfectly matched his marketing strategy, and they received a fantastic response. The Cape Wine Academy name was incorporated in the title of the competition in early days, but is no longer used. Representative John Michau of the winners of the very first blending competition in 1984, the Club de Vin of KwaZulu-Natal, attended the lunch. They shared that their winning blend was 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Merlot. They have entered the blending competition every year since then, and have not made the Finals of the competition ever again, they said with a laugh! Denise Hull of Vitria, a sponsor of the competition since day one, spoke highly about the growth in the stature of Blaauwklippen and its blending competition over the past 30 years.
Rolf said that the Western Cape has produced eight Finalists in the 30 years, the lead province. A total of 2250 wines have been entered in the blending competition in the past 30 years, by 75 clubs per competition on average. Three wine clubs had won the Finals twice, and the Vinos Club from Durban had been Finalists four times in the competition history. The competition is as popular as ever, and requires hard work, good communication and excellent organisation, Rolf’s PA Natalie Campbell running the blending competition. Rolf praised their PR Consultant Nicolette Waterford for her contribution to tracking the history of the Blaauwklippen Blending Competition, having grown up on the farm and having the information about the past competitions. The goal was to have fun, and to bring the Blaauwklippen wine into everyday homes. If a wine club had forgotten to enter, Blaauwklippen would follow up with them. The blends were bottled in magnums six years ago, and this coincided with Blaauwklippen Blending Competition label designs being done by Frans Groenewald. He captured the celebratory nature of the competition this year, and added a generous amount of balloons in his design.
The Wine Club Finalists for 2013 were introduced by Rolf:
* The Oude Molen Wynkring from Potchefstroom started in 1978, and has grown to 20 members, meeting every two months. They have entered the Blaauwklippen Blending Competition every year to date. They won the competition in 2003 and 2005.
* The Natalia Wine Society from the Natal Midlands has 28 members, its leader Laurence Davies explaining that they can get 28 tastings out of a bottle of wine! Their Society’s objectives are to create awareness of wines amongst their members, to enhance their appreciation, and to enjoy the social interaction. They meet monthly. They have been Finalists four times, and have won once in the past ten years since entering.
* The Web Wine Society from Port Elizabeth is not named after the internet, but is a combination of three surnames (Worthington, Embery, and Bennett) of the founding members. Dwayne Embery said it was prestigious to be present, hearing about the heritage of the competition. They have 10 members, as their dining room tables cannot seat more than this number, he explained. They meet monthly, and in the competition their analytic pharmacist members are important. They have entered three times and have been Finalists twice.
* Winemag.co.za Wine Club is driven by Sasha van Zyl, and is a club at work in Cape Town, this being their first entry in the competition. She said that they learnt a lot about blending, and that they are the media voice to the consumer.
Albert Basson is the winemaker with Rolf, and he said that a limit of 20% Shiraz had been set for the blends. They had also varied the component vintages: Merlot 2012, Malbec 2011, Cabernet Franc 2011, and Shiraz 2010. He gave a timeline of the Blending Competition, from preparing hampers for the clubs before the harvest started, registrations having been received from 91 wine clubs (88 from South Africa, one from Australia, one from Namibia, and one from Belgium) by April, the wine hampers having been sent to the clubs by May, and the clubs returning their blend recipes by June. He then had to make up the 91 samples, and led a taste panel of judges, including Clive Torr, Samarie Smith, Jonathan Snashall, and Elona Hesseling to choose the winner in July. Scores were very close. The winning blend was bottled in August.
Rolf announced the winners:
I met Alexandra Schörghuber, the owner of Blaauwklippen, who had flown in from Münich to attend the special celebration. She shared that Blaauwklippen was their first South African purchase (in 1999), and is the only asset they own now in our country, having sold Paulaner and the Arabella hotels in Cape Town and Kleinmond.
New Chef Stefan Muller impressed with his menu for the lunch, only having started at Blaauwklippen ten days ago. He told me that he previously worked at the Kove Collection in Camps Bay, and at The Coral International Hotel (now The Hilton) in Cape Town. The starter was a Chicken Ballotine with a sweet pepper and black olive farce which was set on basil aioli and served with a mini mushroom and feta quiche as well as a micro salad, which was paired with Blaauwklippen Chenin Blanc 2013. The main course was a choice of Roasted lamb rump with smoked potato purée, anchovy and caper butter, black olive jus and baby vegetables; and of Oven-roasted Norwegian salmon with a quinoa and Parmesan crust, served with a delicious mushroom and squid ragout and a grain mustard veloute, which received high praise at our section of the table. The main courses were paired with the new Blaauwklippen Barouche 2013, but at that stage the winner had not yet been announced. The dessert was a Macerated pear and spiced chocolate mousse served with chocolate Madeira cake, chantilly cream, and strawberry vodka jelly, which was served with Blaauwklippen Nobel Late Zinfandel.
The wine club representatives and sponsors speaking at the event emphasised that they felt part of the ‘Blaauwklippen family’, so important is the competition to them, and clearly so great is their loyalty to the wine brand. The Blending Competition is the highlight of the Wine Clubs’ annual calendar.
Disclosure: We received a magnum bottle of the Blaauwklippen Barouche 2013, a Birthday & Anniversary Calendar, and two wine glasses from Vitria with our media pack.
Blaauwklippen Vineyards. R44, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 880-0136 www.blaauwklippen.com Twitter: @Blaauwklippen Wine Tasting 10h00 – 18h30 (summer)/17h00 (winter). Cost is R144 from selected wine retailers and at the Blaauwklippen Tasting Centre.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage