Dan Nicholl: Cape Wine 2022 shows SA wine is on the up

By , 17 October 2022

Duncan Savage of Savage Wines at Cape Wine 2022. Image: Jamie Goode.

Velvety. Almost impossibly smooth, with a satin sheen of a finish. Fruity, but with an appreciable salinity to the nose. Definitely an older vintage than you’d first imagine. Rich and alluring, although perhaps lacking a little balance and complexity. But enough about Duncan Savage’s outfit as head boy of the Zoo Cru: what of the rest of Cape Wine 2022?

Savage’s team of garishly outfitted celebrity winemakers provided the most eye-catching aesthetic to three official days (and many more unofficial either side) presenting an industry in recovery to the world. And they made for quite a collective, beyond the disco/safari look they pulled off in a blur of technicolor polyester. (Chris Alheit in puma print tracksuit and oversized glasses suggested a young Elton John gone winemaking.) The queues to meet some of the world’s most exciting wine talent – John Seccombe, Peter-Allan Finlayson, Jessica Saurwein, Jean Smit, Trizanne Barnard and more – were considerable. But then so were most, as thousands of guests arrived to engage with nearly 500 producers, gathered together to make a considerable statement of intent on behalf of South African wine.

It meant that three days was nowhere near enough to get to everybody, particularly as every encounter on the surging expo floor sparked a whispered recommendation of someone else to track down. Have you tried Sakkie Mouton’s colombard? Don’t miss Gary Jordan’s assyrtiko! Did you get to the Old Vine Project stand? Been to Swartland corner? Had a chance to sample Bruwer Raats’s new MR de Compostella? Heard about Berene Sauls planting her first vineyard? You must do the Constantia tasting with Jono le Feuvre! And a hundred other suggestions and recommendations that must have made the international trade visitors’ navigation of Cape Wine a monumental task.

But if cramming in almost 500 producers over three days was a challenge (and in the case of the Dan Really Likes Wine team, hosting three live shows from Cape Wine, plus producing a daily highlights show, while meeting a stream of enthusiastic producers with new and exciting wine to share), then the blur of associated events only compounded that challenge. Every evening across the city, vintage tastings, varietal celebrations, collaborative showcases and more. Hedonism on tap, and wonderfully so.

I spent an evening in the company of Elgin’s pinot noir producers, hosted by Richard Kershaw; I left just before midnight, but I suspect Richard may well still be there, unpacking the grape with a knowledge and zeal that makes him such a local treasure. Wines Of South Africa’s top floor party at the Silo Hotel, DGB’s casino night, Advini’s 10-year celebration, the Chenin Blanc Association beach party (thankfully a late court order prevented Ken Forrester from turning up in speedo): this was a week that showed South Africa can do wine, and can do hospitality, and match the rest of the world for both.

(There was also a smaller, quieter event, blessed with a touch of romance thanks to Eskom, that was my favourite: the Vinoteque’s five decades of South African red wine, delivered at Bovine, the Camps Bay steakhouse overseen by Pete Goffe-Wood. Kicked off by a wine I’d have guessed was from the ‘90s, but which turned out to be a fresh, lively 1966 Zonnebloem, it included a ’67 Chateau Libertas – and an outstanding ’94 of the same – and a ’76 Nederburg, amongst a selection that underscored just how well South African wine can age. And that also illustrated just why Bennie Howard, masterful host for the night, is one of South African wine’s truly great assets.)

But back to the rest of the world… Over the course of three days, I spoke to guests from America, Greece, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Sweden, Australia and England, and other than nearly starting a West African war by bringing up the subject of jollof rice with visitors from Lagos and Accra, the feedback was all a variation on a single theme. We love the expo, we love South African wine, and we want to see more of it in our home markets.

So is that the world conquered, and South African wine on the home straight to success? No, of course not, and mostly for reasons that are all too familiar. The scale of premium South African wine remains modest. Logistics, both in penetrating markets like America, and simply getting to international markets, is a regular industry headache. And there’s competition aplenty from the rest of the winemaking world, amongst the many hurdles faced.

Miles Mossop of Miles Mossop Wines at the Zoo Cru stand, Cape Wine 2022. Image: Angela Lloyd.

But what Cape Wine 2022 did was to showcase unreservedly the energy and drive of the South African wine industry, and the people within it. After a horror run of alcohol bans, export restrictions and the general delight of COVID-19, and despite the continuing challenges of the economy, South Africa is striding back, thanks to extraordinarily resilient people, making extraordinarily good wine. More and more of the world is picking up on that, and the international visitors – along with the heartening volume of local trade in attendance – will return home spreading that gospel, for which Siobhan Thompson and the Wines of South Africa team deserve great credit. The carnival atmosphere of Duncan and his Zoo Cru summed it all up perfectly: we’re on a high, we’re on the up, and we deserve to celebrate what we’re doing.

  • Dan Nicholl is the founder and host of Dan Really Likes Wine. Dan is a former PICA Magazine Columnist of the Year, and has worked on television, radio, and in print and online journalism.


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