I sat down with Bruce Jack the other day, to get caught up on things in South Africa. Jack, 36, is the owner and winemaker at Flagstone winery, and he’s what I consider a typical South African vintner: quality oriented, producing a moderate volume (about 70,000 cases a year) and focusing on Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc (the Cape’s best grapes, along with Chenin Blanc).
Jack also has talent and passion, and his wines have been getting better since his first commercial vintage, 1999. But like many of his colleagues, he has struggled to find an audience here in the U.S. market – partly because of the difficulties in securing an importer who can navigate the various state regulations here, partly because South Africa has yet to grab hold of American wine consumers the way Australia or Argentina has.
Jack is especially enthused these days over the South African wine industry’s embrace of eco-friendly wine production. The industry has created a stringent inspection policy for all wineries – weekly visits from inspectors who check on irrigation, fertilizers, sprays and the like – and the wineries have to achieve certain standards for certification.
On the surface, it seems like a move aimed at catching the rising wave of consumer interest in ‘green wines’ – those that are made following either organic or biodynamic methods. But there’s more than just marketing at work here. If by May 2009 wineries haven’t gotten up to snuff with the regulations, they won’t be able to export their wines. Ouch.
“South Africa is an unpolluted place,” says Jack. “Bio-diversity is very important. We have so many plant species because our soils are so minerally. And of course, those same minerally soils can produce great wines. We need to respect that.”
South Africa only has about 250,000 acres of vineyard land, and not much more room for growth. It will never be a region that produces large quantities of inexpensive wine – like Australia, Argentina or Chile. Instead South African vintners are quickly realizing they need to position themselves as quality producers, focusing on small lots of terroir-driven wines that exploit the Cape’s multitude of microclimates, both warm and cool. (See the video excerpts from a recent conversation I had with Cape vintner Charles Back, owner of Fairview.)
|Select player to watch video interview with South African vintner Charles Back: Windows Media | Quicktime|
It's because of these factors that I find South Africa to be the most exciting of the three emerging regions I cover (Chile and Argentina are the other two). So far, the results from producers such as Fairview, De Trafford, Boekenhoutskloof, Buitenverwachting, Engelbrecht-Els, Hamilton Russell, Ken Forrester, Neil Ellis, Rudera, Thelema, Stark-Condé and others are most impressive to me because of what’s in the bottle, and that’s the bottom line. But there’s a lot that goes on outside the bottle as well, and South African vintners think their attention to bio-diversity could be a major advantage for them over other wine regions.
What do you think – do you buy wines based on the winemaking methods? Do organic or other responsible agricultural practices make a difference to you? And how interested are you in South African wines?
Chris Seiber — Newport Beach, CA — July 21, 2006 1:43pm ET
Brad Coelho — New York City — July 21, 2006 2:09pm ET
Winston Walker — Texas — July 21, 2006 3:42pm ET
Brett Roush — Tucson, AZ — July 22, 2006 9:09am ET
Apj Powers — Dallas, TX — July 23, 2006 3:30am ET
Tim Sylvester — Santa Monica, CA — July 26, 2006 4:23pm ET
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