An Opimian Trip to South Africa
PRODUCERS DEALING WITH DROUGHT
In collaboration with Greg Rinehart, Area Representative, Central Ontario
According to Greg Rinehart, Opimian’s Area Representative for Central Ontario, “something is happening in South Africa that is unique in the wine world. Call it energy, call it creativity, call it optimism, call it all three. But it’s apparent to anyone who visits the Cape. South Africa holds its own with the heavyweights of the wine world, and yet much of it is underpriced relative to peers. This Cellar Offering is one of my largest purchases of the year and this year will be no exception.” Among Greg’s favourites are Bosman’s Optenhorst Chenin Blanc, easily voted the number one wine by members in last year’s Opimian South African trip; Richard Kershaw’s The Smuggler’s Boot Pinot Noir (lot 1622) and his Elgin Chardonnay, Clonal Selection (lot 1619), and of course Warwick’s legendary Trilogy (lot 1612).
During the trip, Opimians had the opportunity to visit several of our suppliers and meet the winemakers who are responsible for the delicious wines offered in the current offering. They shared their successes and their concerns, particularly during the drought that was taking place in the country. As recently as last month, South Africa declared several regions disaster areas, with quite a few areas having had no rainfall over five years. Last year at Bosman Family Vineyards, the long drought had weakened the vines; the harvest was down in terms of volume and took place earlier than usual. However, the quality remained, and we can taste the results in their wines this year. What does this mean for the country’s flagship grape, Pinotage? Seventeen million litres of this uniquely South African grape variety were exported in 2018. Although the harvest yielded fewer grapes, the quality remained optimal, proving that this local variety is exceptionally adapted to its environment. Try Warwick’s Old Bush Vines Pinotage (lot 1610) to taste for yourself!
THE PINOT NOIRS OF ELGIN
Heather Downey, Area Representative, Northeastern Ontario
South Africa is one of the most beautiful wine regions and scenic travel destinations that I have had the privilege to visit, with vineyards and breathtaking views nestled between mountains and ocean. Over our week there with Opimian, our days were filled with beautiful vineyards, educational tours, and delightful social events with Opimian producers. The more experience I have with winemakers, the more I appreciate the smaller producers who take great pride in quality-driven and sustainable wines.
One of my fondest memories was the day spent with Richard Kershaw MW. Richard is a legendary winemaker and is recognized for the world-class wines he creates in the Elgin area of South Africa. Both his expertise and ability to infuse humour and humility into our visit made for truly pleasurable learning. Richard spoke to us about the care that goes into his product, and indicated that “a single barrel will make you work as hard as a 30,000 litre tank.”
One of my favourite wines from his collection is the Smuggler’s Boot Pinot Noir (lot 1622). The clever branding refers to the maverick maneuvers that early winemakers used in order to attain great varietals—even if they were not allowed. The 1970s’ embargos facing South Africa meant they could not access numerous Vitis Vinifera, including Pinot Noir clones. The vignerons would travel to Europe, fill their Wellington boots with Pinot Noir plantings and smuggle the contraband vegetation back home. Fortunately, the commission eventually approved the grape. From then onward, growers attained the ability to grow this noble grape, and the Pinot plantings increased.
In Elgin the climate is cool, with undulating terrain and sandstone terroir that breeds fabulous expressions of Pinot Noir. Despite the dry spell that has challenged South Africa in recent years, Elgin, with 1,000 mm of rainfall per year, has not experienced drought and has a very sunny, albeit cool climate, influenced by the ‘Cape Doctor’, the south-easterly wind infamous in Cape Town.
Pinot Noir has been described as elegant, finicky and misunderstood. This fruity mix of cherries, strawberries, flowers, menthol and herbs is all of that and more. You would be wise to have this wine well stocked in your cellar.
VIEW THESE ADDITIONAL VIDEOS FROM OPIMIAN’S TRIP TO SOUTH AFRICA