Interview: Bruce Jack of Flagstone

August 11, 2015
by Christian
in Opinion & Analysis
with 1 Comment

Bruce_Jack-The_Drift_FarmFrom the August issue of Business Day WANTED: It was back in 1998 that Bruce Jack, now 46, founded Flagstone as a “virtual winery” with facilities initially located at the Waterfront in Cape Town. He was later to give up ownership (although staying on as winemaker) in order to become consultant on mega export brand Kumala.

He has worked in Bordeaux, Sonoma Coast, Napa, McLaren Vale, Barossa, La Rioja, Terra Alta, Jumilla, Rueda, South of France, and all over South Africa. His most recent venture is making wines on the family farm called The Drift Farm near Napier in the Overberg. “It’s special because of the isolation, the unusual soil, the constant wind, the wildlife and endemic fynbos”, he says.

Flagstone Dragon Tree is a red blend consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Pinotage which is a bit unusual. Explain the thinking behind it.
1999 was the first vintage of DT so I think this must also have been the first commercial bottling of a Cape Blend. Flagstone also had the first commercial bottling of a SA Viognier, by the way.

The idea with DT was all based on a winemaking concept of blending. We wanted to use Pinotage the same way one uses Grenache in a blend – to give the wine length and a juicy finish. Pinotage, when good, does that brilliantly, even better than Grenache. We blended Pinotage with Cab and Shiraz to make something that wouldn’t be done elsewhere, especially in the old world. However, a consistent hallmark of DT over the last 16 vintages has been fine, chalky tannin – very much a European type of tannin feel.

Pinotage per se has caused a lot of controversy over the years. Your thoughts about the variety?
Like many interesting and intriguing things in life, Pinotage is misunderstood. When it’s good, Pinotage is brilliant; but like Pinot there’s a lot of crap around. That’s not a problem – it is characteristic of many enigmatic varieties. I love making it and I love drinking it.

Argentina has Malbec. New Zealand has Sauvignon Blanc. Does South Africa need a signature grape?
I think we do better white blends than any other country, Rhône included.

You’re a student of wine industry economics. What are the global macro trends for the next five to 10 years?
Stylistically entry-level wines will get sweeter, much sweeter. Then when people realise how bad that is, they’ll get dryer again. To survive, premium wine will have to become better at differentiation, and better at communicating differentiation. Bordeaux will start to suffer, as will Burgundy. New, premium regions will be found outside of the Old World.

From a business perspective Chinese food groups will start buying up big wine and spirits companies. The UK press will start to lose their opinion-forming power. Direct sales to end-consumers will drive more and more super premium business. Collaborative, group-driven opinion forming will be the order of the day.

When it comes to the top end of the liquor market, grain spirits have stolen a march on wine recently. Why is this?
They don’t talk about product intrinsics to sell. They rather sell stories. They also have much lower production costs, so they have much more money to spend on marketing.

How does the wine industry reverse this trend?
Basically it can’t. Our production constraints are too onerous, meaning there isn’t enough money to market properly on an industry scale.

Many commentators feel the Swartland has got a lot right when it comes to marketing. Do you agree?
Yes, because they are selling something other than wine, they are selling a form of social protest – something people like to associate with, because of what it says about them – hip, happening and alternative. It has at least another five years to run.

Favourite wine region and why?
Elim, because of the real people and the wild oysters.

Jumilla, because of so many vineyards over 100 years old and their traditional rice dish with snails, rabbit and black pudding.

Terra Alta, because of the social history and the braaied lamb cutlets.

Sonoma coast, because of the sea mist, the Vietnam war vets in hiding and the biodynamic vineyard growers.

The Overberg Highlands, because it is home.

Most memorable wine experience?
Basically my life since I was about 14.

What dish do you reckon goes best with Dragon Tree 2013?
In summer, sushi – I kid you not. In winter, Eland shank.

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One Comment

  1. Pierre RabieOctober 27, 2015 at 9:56 amReply

    When Bruce speaks, I listen…Would love to try the Dragon Tree, great name aimed at China perhaps?

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