Chenin Blanc has been South Africa’s most widely planted grape for some time and as such, the fortunes of this category surely go a long way to determining those of the industry in general. How to ensure maximum excitement levels about the variety? The Chenin Blanc Challenge convened by Wine magazine ran from 1996 to 2011 but then the publication closed down and all of a sudden there was nothing – no annual awards or competition to measure quality and facilitate stylistic debate.
The producer body known as the Chenin Blanc Association entered into a series of painstaking negotiations with potential sponsors with a view to reviving the Challenge or something similar but without success for a long while.
At the beginning of April, however, the signing of a three-year sponsorship agreement with Standard Bank in support of a new competition to be known as the Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top Ten Challenge was announced. Winners will receive R20 000 each and significantly the money must be used for the economic and social upliftment of the workforce.
“Business is good and this is a small way for us to contribute to South African society and ensure greater prominence for local wine on the world stage,” said the financial institution’s joint CEO Ben Kruger at the annual Chenin Blanc Winter Showcase held at Delaire Graff Estate in Stellenbosch on 16 April.
“We view it as an ongoing partnership rather than a sponsorship,” said Ken Forrester, Chenin Blanc Association chairperson. “We’re helping Standard Bank direct funds to a real and tangible home. Chenin makes up 18% of the national vineyard and so the bank’s just got itself the biggest footprint [relative to other financial institutions]in the wine industry.”
And what of the Winter Showcase? The line-up consisted of 20 table wines made in a “richer, fuller, riper style” plus two sweet wines which will make good drinking during the upcoming colder months.
The standard was extraordinarily high overall – Jean Daneel Signature 2012, Kleine Zalze Family Reserve 2012, Opstal Carl Everson 2012 and Stellenrust “48” Barrel Fermented 2012 all rated 5 Stars in the current edition of Platter’s while stand-out wines for this taster were DeMorgenzon Reserve 2013, Kaapzicht “The 1947” 2013 (grapes come from a block planted by current winemaker Danie Steytler Junior’s great grandfather in 1947 and hence the name) and Ken Forrester The FMC 2012.
As a general observation, the wines were certainly full but not short of freshness. When this is put to Forrester, he agrees. “I think we are seeing better balance – we’re getting the rugby player to ballet dance, if you will, and the wines are more interesting as a result.”
What will take Chenin to even greater heights? “We’ve made terrific progress in everything from cellar practices through to packaging but I fear our viticulture is still where it was 10 years ago. Our vineyard workers don’t have the same skill sets as the rest of the world – the right education hasn’t been available – and we need to address that. That’s where Standard Bank’s involvement comes in.”