Sunday, October 14, 2012

Capewine Conference and Reception at Clifton Villa, South Africa

Sept. 25 & 26 – Tuesday morning was nice because I finally had a little time to sleep in before walking across the street from the Cullinan Hotel to the Capetown Conference Center. Capewine, held once every two years, was scheduled here for the next three days. Our schedules were flexible, and many MW’s had pre-arranged meetings with trade people to taste and negotiate wine purchases. Those of us in wine education and journalism, however, were free to wander through the exhibit hall and attend the many wine seminars.

Overview of South African Wine Stats

I attended the welcome seminar where statistics on the South African wine industry were provided, including the fact that South Africa is currently the 8th largest wine producer in world. The first harvest and crush took place in 1659, seven years after the Dutch arrived in the area in 1652. Today there are more than 650 wineries and over 3500 vineyards, and South Africa exports 53% of wine. Signature grape varietals include chenin blanc and pinotage.

South Africa is considered by some to be a fifth BRIC country – countries like Brazil, Russia, India, and China with huge work forces and the opportunity to achieve large economic gains in the next 50 years. Therefore some have added an “S” to “BRICS” to designate South Africa in this grouping. Indeed one speaker compared South Africa to a sleeping giant, and in a similar position to China in the 1970s before they took the world by storm with their manufacturing expertise.

I was interested to learn that South Africa is ranked 3rd in the world when it comes to financial competence, and was one of the few countries unmarred by the global recession. Apparently its banks are very conservative. In terms of wine, however, they believe they have a way to go, and need to create a wine drinking culture within their own country, which traditionally has drank brandy and spirits.

Other speakers described investment opportunities within the wine industry, including the former owner of Screaming Eagle who has purchased Mulderbash and Fable Wineries, and the CEO of Acccolade Wines (formerly Constellation International) who now owns the Flagstone brand in South Africa with plans to launch in the US market. For further information on South African wine and statistics, see

Great Seminar on Premium Wines of South Africa

I also attended a seminar where we tasted the six top premium wines in South Africa – all which have won numerous awards and competitions. Following is the list illustrating retail price points.

• The Stork 2008 Syrah, Stellenbosch ($70)
• Caldera 2010 Rhone Blend Swartland ($17)
• Ernie Els 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($36)
• 2009 Spier 5 Creative Block Bordeaux Blend ($18)
• 2004 Simosing Cape Blend ($25)
• 2010 Flagstone Pinotage Reserve ($110)

Spier Winery, Established 1692

My favorite from the above list was the 2009 Spier 5 Creative Block Bordeaux Blend ($18). I was so impressed by this wine and the amazing price point that I went in search of the winemaker to learn how the wine was made. He told me the grapes were all handpicked and sorted by varietal and lot, then went through a 3-day cold soak. Natural and commercial yeast fermentation in a combination of stainless and one ton vats. Delestage on tanks and hand punch down on vats. Fermentation temperature at 24 – 26 C for 12-14 days, then three-week extended maceration. Aged in 60 – 70% new French oak for 16 – 18 months. Blended 2 to 3 months before bottling and put back in barrel for flavor marriage. A lot of work for a wine that sells for only $18!

It turns out that Spier is one of the oldest wineries in South Africa, established in 1692. They also have multiple product lines ranging from everyday drinking wines of less than $10 and a cult wine that sells for over $100. For my money, I will seek out the $18 Creative Block – a seamless and beautifully complex wine.

Sunset Reception at Clifton Villa Overlooking Ocean

Later we dressed for the evening and boarded the van to drive about twenty minutes to the suburb of Clifton situated on cliffs overlooking the ocean. The drive itself was spectacular as the day had been sunny with clear blue skies, and the sun was starting to set as we passed by Table Mountain and wound our way down the hill towards the indigo ocean with frothy white waves.

It was a very elegant reception hosted by four high-end wineries. In addition to our MW crowd, a group of international sommeliers was also invited. As we entered we were each handed a glass of South African bubbly and then invited to watch the sunset over the infinity swimming pool that appeared to melt into the ocean. A violin and guitar duet played in the corner, and circulating waiters served small appetizers.

All the wines were excellent, but my favorite was the Ernie Fels Auction wine – a big complex red blend with a very long finish. Later in the evening we had a tour of the private art collection at the villa before heading back to the hotel.

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