Tim James: Cape Vintner Classification – a year or so on
By Christian Eedes, 23 February 2015
Over a year ago – in December 2013 – a new association of Cape wine producers was formed: the Cape Vintner Classification (CVC). Most observers were uncritical in reacting to what seemed to me mostly empty rhetoric, and enthusiastically applauded its promise “to build South Africa’s reputation as a producer of world-class wines and to promote the Cape’s distinctive site specific wines”. My own scepticism was partly because of the fixation with the old concept of “estates”, but mostly because it was unclear how candidates and wines would be assessed.
Still with eyebrows raised, I’ve returned to the CVC website a few times to see if progress had occurred in this organisation lacking both members and a clear strategy as to how to get any. A recent visit did reveal some advance. Firstly, I was pleased to see that there’d finally been a tacit admission that the law no longer recognises “estates” as such, but only producers registered to make “estate wines”. Some other changes are apparent, including the abandonment of a size criterion for members.
Also, 14 months later, there are some actual members! Not a lot (Almenkerk, Anthonij Rupert, La Motte, Lourensford, Paul Cluver and Vergelegen), but there are also ten “provisional” members. Nothing is said, however, about the particular wines achieving either the “Terrain specific” or “Vineyard” classification. Interestingly there seems to have been no public communication of these developments – a silence probably more appropriate than the initial puffery. One hopes that the CVC has belatedly realised the advantage of having something tangible to offer other than grand aspirations.
(Incidentally, although Anthonij Rupert is named as a member, the latest listing on the SAWIS website of “Units registered for the production of estate wine” does not include this producer – so either SAWIS is out of date, or Anthonij Rupert has not yet acted on its recent conversion to the delights of estate wines, or the CVC has waived this criterion.)
I asked Don Tooth, Vergelegen MD and one of the CVC movers and shakers, for comment on progress. He tells me that, indeed, “there have been some CVC accredited wines”, and that the organisation is “finalising the ‘naming’ and seal”. “We have had 51 applicants”, he says, “of which 28 have been able to submit completed application forms, seven have been granted membership and 13 provisional membership.” (These numbers exceed those shown on the website.)
Tooth says further that, “of the accredited members that could submit wines for review, there were 82 potential wines – 26 were accepted / submitted for review, 18 wines were accepted as CVC wines (entry level), and 4 wines were accepted as part of the top tier (of which two were from Vergelegen).” (That sounds pleasingly rigorous.) “I believe we have made good progress but still have a way to go”, he adds; “I remain convinced that if we do this well, Brand SA will be the beneficiary”.
Amen to all that. It does seem that it’s been accepted that, for an organisation with the CVC’s professed ambitions, attested wine quality is more significant than an old-boys’ network and nostalgia for that old squandered “estate” system. And that working out the (as yet unexplained) nitty-gritty of how to assess wines should have been a priority rather than an afterthought.
Perhaps, when there are more members, enough to make a more meaningful impact on the world, there will be a re-launch of the CVC, implicitly recognising that the first one was premature (though I daresay the powers-that-be within it will again ensure that I’m not invited!). The CVC could grow into some actual relevance.
- Tim James is founder of Grape.co.za and contributes to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.