Ella Fitzgerald sang that “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it … that’s what gets results”.
Sadly, there’s a certain generation who won’t ever have heard the song or possibly even know who Ella Fitzgerald was. (My advice is to use the modern technology available and just Google it…)
It is a catchy tune and the message is a good one – especially when applied to the South African wine industry.
That South Africa is ‘one of the world’s most exciting wine regions’ is a claim which is being printed and repeated, time and again – each time with more conviction. An increasing number of international experts are visiting our shores in order to see and taste for themselves whether the wines and winemakers live up to the hype they’re generating.
The column centimetres being granted to some of South Africa’s finest and brightest (and tastiest!) on websites and in international magazines attests to the esteem with which they are regarded. There’s a confidence and assuredness on the part of South Africa’s winemakers which is a delight to behold. They are not brashly shouting the odds and proclaiming to be the best, something which might have happened in the past. They are quietly and calmly making spectacularly good wines which cannot be ignored.
What’s behind this confidence? A desire to express the best that local dirt and vines can. An appreciation for history and heritage in the form of old vine fruit. A sound knowledge of and understanding of what makes the world’s best wines the best – and an eagerness to compete at international level. Then there are sound fundamentals in terms of winemaking skills, much of these acquired during working stints at top producers abroad, and the ability to adapt or apply new – or ancient – techniques, which are then married with a well-defined and precise vision and concept of the goal in mind.
While competition results aren’t everything – after all, many of the country’s best producers never enter competitions – they are, however, a way of benchmarking, of judging your product and obtaining a third-party endorsement. Assorted competition results bear witness that South African wines are making notable strides, be they at the Decanter World Wine Awards, International Wine & Spirits Competition, International Wine Challenge, Concours Mondial or Chardonnay, Syrah or Muscat du Monde… South African wines are bringing home the proverbial bacon in gold, silver and bronze medal form.
South Africa is in a unique position to make the most of its tradition and heritage, as well as its relatively new rebirth as a wine producing nation post 1994. Our winemakers can use old vine Cinsaut, Grenache, Semillon and Chenin Blanc along with exciting new plantings of grapes such as Albarino and Grüner Veltliner to express the diversity which exists within our borders.
There’s a real excitement about what is happening on the local wine scene – be it natural winemaking, biodynamics and organics, foreign investment in wine farms and hospitality establishments, or an increased appreciation for venerable old vines and overlooked ‘unfashionable’ grape varieties and what they can contribute.
As Ella sang, it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. Right now, South Africa’s winemakers are getting the results for confidently and skilfully expressing what it is that makes our wines some of the most exciting in the world.
– Fiona McDonald