Making waves - inland
In all the beauty of the Cape, there is one area that never fails to lift my spirits and touch my soul. Who could not feel the awe of the towering Witteberg and du Toitskloof mountains on emerging from the Huguenot tunnel and again, when they yield to the wide open spaces of the Breede River valley and yet again, the drama and majesty of the Hex River mountains commanding the horizon. Whether in winter, when cloaked in snow, after heavy rain, when soaked with sparkling waterfalls, in spring with the fynbos showing off its colourful best or even in summer with heat that can produce a mirage-like haze, there is no time of year that is not special.
There are also hectares of vines grown here, producing much wine, but the names of the cellars behind these wines in this district of Breedekloof are not so well known as those in more high-profile regions, still there are many recognisable names. For instance, and being strictly alphabetical: Badsberg, Bergsig, Deetlefs, Du Toitskloof, Opstal.
Yet in their latest blog post, du Toitskloof Winery bemoans the lack of attention the Breedekloof attracts. The blog notes that in the Swart/Smit publication Essential Guide to South African Wines: Terroir & Travel, ‘the Breede River Valley appeared glaringly absent, despite it being the largest by-volume contributor to Cape Winelands’ production.’ Only alongside Plettenberg Bay and Orange River towards the end of the book ‘was Breedekloof and Worcester, given a concise, text-based description.’
So why the lack of attention? This question, which concludes the penultimate paragraph, led to some concentrated thought on possible answers. I’d hasten to add, it’s a question regions other than Breedekloof might also usefully ask; Paarl and Tulbagh are two.
Firstly, and emphatically, it’s not about the wines, though a few more killers wouldn’t go amiss. Breedekloof has its own successes locally and internationally. Off the top of my head: Henri Swiegers’ Badsberg Badlese was Platter’s White Wine of the Year in the 2012 edition; Bergsig's De Wet Lategan enjoyed success in the 2011 FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top Ten with a wine under the Woolworths label and, of course Du Toitskloof Winery achieved the same success under their own label in 2012. A few years ago Lategan also won a medal for his Chardonnay on a French competition. Last year, Deetlefs Pinotage 2010 was one of three pinotages to be awarded gold medals on the Trophy Wine Show. Then several producers have had wines selected for the Nederburg Auction, and so the plaudits continue; there may be more than those I’ve mentioned.
No, to my mind – that of an observer rather than professional marketer or professional and relevant-to-the-subject anything else - the lack of attention has two sources.
Firstly, fragmentation. In the newsletter referred to above, Hemel en Aarde is cited as an area where ‘the cellars are doing something out-of-the-ordinary here, that sets this region apart ..’ Indeed, what they are doing, whether wittingly or unwittingly, is to focus on a signature variety for the valley: pinot noir has become their calling card, with its white Burgundian counterpart, chardonnay in strong support. This makes it so easy for the tourist, whether or not a committed winelover, to forge an association with the area. Yet look at what other wines are in their ranges: sauvignon blanc, viognier, merlot, pinotage, shiraz, Bordeaux-style blends, Rhône-style blends, blends of Italian varieties, among more. Nothing if not diverse then.
And think what a huge advantage South Africa has in this respect. We can forge an association with a variety or still without the restrictions that apply in France and other traditional wine producing countries.
There are other wine areas too that have successfully attached themselves to a variety by association but also produce a diversity of wines: Constantia with sauvignon blanc and sauvignon-semillon blends in supporting role; Elgin also sauvignon, though beating my usual drum, that shortly will change to chardonnay; the Swartland with shiraz, complemented by Rhône blends; Robertson with chardonnay, both in still and bubbly form, and so on. It goes without saying that quality is also a pre-requisite for such association to succeed.
I’m sure this is a continuing trend.
So Breedekloof is rich in chenin, by far the majority variety grown there, colombard (probably mostly distilled), chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, shiraz, cabernet, pinotage, merlot and muscat. Surely a signature grape or style can be established out of these; perhaps chenin, which, despite a growing number of high quality and profile wines, has yet to become synonymous with a region. That is a move that is as much about evolution as it is about a community decision.
But whatever variety or style does emerge – if indeed one does – there needs to be more excitement created around the area. That is the second reason I feel Breedekloof has a ‘lack of attention’.
A quick check on Breedekloof producers on Twitter tells me it’s a vastly underutilised social media tool; even those who are on Twitter don’t use it to full benefit. Du Toitskloof winery is the possible exception. I haven’t checked Facebook – to me it doesn’t have the immediacy of Twitter – nor the individual websites, but if they are like far too many others, they will be out of date and consumer un-friendly.
These are individual areas that could use improvement; I’ve noticed how more regions are communally and, I believe, effectively getting their message across. Constantia with the annual Constantia Fresh event; Elgin have held a couple of Tweet-ins (these still need refinement) but it has drawn attention to the area; Swartland has its revolution; then I’ve lost track with how many events are now on the Robertson calendar, each different in character to draw a wider crowd of winelovers.
The thing is, whatever methods are adopted to encourage greater recognition and attention in any region, it should keep its authentic character. I don’t go to the Swartland to experience Stellenbosch.
In my first blog for this year, I wrote about my hope that many more enthusiastic, talented youngsters will emerge, from all over the Cape winelands. That should include Breedekloof and other regions with unrealised potential.
So good producers of Breedekloof, without the waves of Walker Bay, you can still make waves as a popular, individual region of the Cape Winelands. Good luck.