It looks like the Swartland Heritage Festival will pick up where the Swartland Revolution left off. Set to take place on Friday 3 and Saturday 4 November, the Swartland Independent Producers will be hosting a programme of infotainment in the West Coast town of Paternoster – seminars by John Wurdeman from Pheasant’s Tears in Georgia plus Jan Boland Coetzee and viticulturist Rosa Kruger, food by chef Bertus Basson and music by Valiant Swart. On the Friday night, it’s also the release of the 2018 edition of the Platter’s SA Wine Guide at the Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town so you imagine at least some members of SIP will briefly be absent from the festival or sending someone else to accept their 5-Star accreditation…
Promotional events are an important way of communicating the values of a wine area. What was so admirable about the Swartland Revolution which ran from 2010 to 2015 was that it got the balance between information and entertainment spot on. In contrast, other districts and regions seem to struggle with this. The scale of this year’s Stellenbosch Wine Festival (presented by Pick n Pay) was impressive but there was little on offer to set a wine geek’s heart racing. That Stellenbosch has so far failed to get an annual Cabernet Sauvignon celebration off the ground is just astonishing.
Other annual gatherings err too much on providing entertainment. Robertson’s Wacky Wine Weekend may be hugely well attended, but the emphasis is very much more on “wacky” than “wine”. Those that attend clearly have great fun but I’m not sure anyone leaves with the region’s fine wine credentials firmly entrenched in his or her mind. Similarly, Franschhoek’s Bastille Festival has long been a riot of Tricolores, berets, baguettes and not much else. This year’s Bot River Barrels and Beards, meanwhile, was utterly bonkers.
The recently established Hemel-en-Aarde Winegrowers Pinot Noir Celebration and the Elgin Chardonnay Colloquium look promising but it’s early days for these two projects and they both need careful custodianship. There’s also the Breedekloof Makers – focusing on Chenin Blanc for now, this organization has done a great job of engaging with media so far and while they don’t yet have own annual celebration, it would be gratifying to see this happen.
There is, however, only so much that can be expected of a promotional event in terms of boosting the fortunes of a particular region. In a similar vein, while great accommodation, restaurants and activities such as hiking and mountain biking all go towards a more complete wine tourism experience in general, it’s a two-way relationship with what’s actually in the bottle. And, make no mistake, that’s what the Swartland has got right most of all – for all the great promotional activity, there’s a core of producers who are turning out wines not just of high quality but also great singularity.
That is not to say that other local regions can’t match them for wine quality but there typically seems to be not a strong enough attachment between regional identity and wine. Franschhoek should be championing its Semillon, Robertson its Chardonnay and, of course, Stellenbosch its Cab. This need not be at the expense of other varieties or styles (after all, the Swartland has a wide but somehow not incoherent wine offering) but it does need to be done otherwise wine inevitably becomes just another commodity in a very overtraded market place.