I’ve heard many a time that the easiest way is rarely the best way; the best grapes come from vines that struggle. You can take that and make it an analogy for lots of things, but I think it’s a rather direct analogy for the South African wine industry. There has been struggle, there has been challenge and there has been fight – but now, it’s fair to say, they are the bearer of some of the world’s most magnificent wines.
The first wines from South Africa were made 360 years ago from the French Muscadelle grape and in the centuries that followed, the country experienced a rollercoaster of success and failure. First came fame all over Europe in the late 1600s, then over production followed, then politician isolation, and – finally – a commitment to high quality winemaking and global embrace. KWV have been with the industry for over 100 years now and were initially formed to defend and protect farmers. In 1928, the developer of the Pinotage grape, Professor Abraham Izak Perold, joined KWV and became responsible for the experimentation of new cultivars and improving quality control.
I tasted a KWV Pinotage dedicated to Perold recently at a KWV wine dinner, hosted by winemaker Izele Van Blerk. Izele is like a rockstar – energetic, passionate and cool; one of a team of young, dynamic winemakers at KWV. The Pinotage that she has crafted is called Perold Tributum and it’s made with 34% Pinotage, 28% Cab Sauvignon, 28% Shiraz, 8% Malbec and 2% Petite Syrah. It’s a powerful wine, but still restrained and elegant. The tannins are big, but they are soft; it’s got solid structure, but you can also sink into the sumptuously velvety fruit. 2017 is one of the best vintages – it was a growing season of cool nights, producing small and concentrated berries.
South African winemakers have become masters at blending; Izele believes you can’t call yourself a winemaker if you don’t know how to blend. After surviving on very little sleep during the harvest and admittedly feeling grumpy from tiredness, blending time is a joyful period for Izele, where she is able to unleash her creativity. She sees herself as a painter with a blank canvas, about to create something brilliant, with all of the different components the vineyard has provided right at her fingertips.
KWV’s Orchestra, from The Mentors range, pays homage to masterful blending. Izele enjoyed being the conductor, knowing exactly when the violins or the trumpets had to come in (rather, the Cabernet or the Merlot), how much and for how long. Each year brings something different, depending on the weather conditions, the qualities of each grape variety, amongst endless other factors, and having the opportunity to embark on a vertical tasting of vintages 2009 through to 2016 showed how wildly the same wine can vary year to year. A bottle of wine really is like a time capsule, capturing the essence of a year in nature. Yet, it is still living and developing inside the bottle and the tasting experience also highlighted the excellent ageing potential of these wines; the freshness of the 2009 was superb.
Mother Nature was the primary inspiration for KWV’s The Mentors range, considered as life’s greatest mentor. The winemaking team have learned to work with nature and harness its raw power, adapting their techniques in the pursuit of harmony. The icon of the range, however, is Perold, whose pioneering influence at KWV and on modern South African viticulture as a whole, was groundbreaking.
Wine flowed generously throughout dinner and Izele was the first to say that wine is made to be drunk, even divulging that many a special bottle that she vowed to save had been popped open late at night with friends after a raucous dinner. After all, what is it all for if not to enjoy the fruits of one’s labour? It was abundantly clear how passionate Izele was about her wines and how eager she was to share them. But, perhaps the evening was more than KWV proudly showing their wines to their dinner guests; it was South Africa triumphantly showing their wines to the world.
Find out more about KWV’s The Mentors range here: https://www.kwv.co.za/our-brands/our-wines/the-mentors/