Food and wine appreciation in a time of anxiety and anger
By Christian Eedes, 23 June 2020
The individual post to attract the most traffic on this site last week was not, as you might have guessed, the Prescient Chenin Blanc Report but rather Daisy Jones’s piece entitled Best Cape Town take-aways, in which she listed some of the more compelling home delivery options available under lockdown from such top-end establishments as LukeDaleRoberts.com, Chefs Warehouse Beau Constantia and FYN amongst others.
It did not find universal favour, however. In the comments section, “Mark” was moved to remark “You jokers have too much money… and to call this article Best Cape Town Take-Aways just highlights the disregard you have for the other Cape Town… check your privilege”. Jones replied: “I’m sorry this article came across to you as elitist — and worse, insensitive to suffering. This is mainly an article about fancy food, and even though it’s less expensive now, it’s still unattainable for most — I get that. You’ve made me think. My next article will be about the best, most affordable take-aways in Cape Town. I’m going to focus on local independents, not wealthy fast food chains. Please let me know if you have any tips.”
Great cooking comes from anywhere and not that Jones needs me to plead her case, she’s always been as much inclined to write about Rogan Josh from Bibi’s Kitchen in downtown Wynberg as high tea at the Mount Nelson. That the fine dining restaurants are generally valued above the neighbourhood hole-in-the-wall is problematic. You can decide how much racism and social division (in the sense of the rich needing ways to differentiate their dining from the masses) plays a role…
In a not unrelated vein, what to make of the spread of prices across the top 10 wines in the Prescient Chenin Blanc Report? The average price of these is R247,30 a bottle which might appear healthy enough in terms of ensuring the economic sustainability of the industry but the deviation from that average is extraordinary with the unwooded Stellenrust 2019 the cheapest at R68 and Raats Family Wines Eden High Density Single Vineyard 2018 the most expensive at R800.
Revisiting the Stellenrust 2019 after the release of the Report, I tweeted “Stupendously good – Top 10 in the Prescient Report. Unoaked, total production 240K bottles, cellar door price: R68/btl. Give it a funky name, keep volumes a closely guarded secret, jack the price up and then let’s see what happens…”
Some seemed to take this as an argument on my part to make what is clearly a good wine less economically accessible and thereby perpetuate wine elitism, snobbery or something else nefarious… It was, rather, a call once again to producers that they should always be looking to scale and scale in such a way (build brands) as to demand the best price possible – there is no environmental sustainability and social upliftment without economic viability.
Is the Stellenrust too cheap to be taken seriously? Winemaker Tertius Boshoff, tells me even at this cellar-door price of R68, he is still making “margin and profit” (it bears mentioning that this wine sells for around £10 in the UK, equivalent to R215 at the time of writing, which poses questions about how optimally aligned the supply chain is and whether or not the Rand is fairly valued relative to the Pound). In addition, Boshoff also makes multiple versions of Chenin Blanc, the others all selling for more than this supposedly entry-level version so a low-priced wine can be justified when the overall business model is carefully though-out.
It took Gavin Slabbert, responsible along with Bruwer Raats for the most expensive wine in the line-up, namely Eden High Density Single Vineyard 2018 to observe that the Stellenrust 2019’s good performance has more pros than cons. “Wines like this and our own Original [unwooded and R145 a bottle] show that Chenin Blanc from old vines made with attention to detail can be exceptional without being small volume and they catapult the category into the spotlight. When it comes to something like Eden, then consumers typically have a greater wine understanding and you have to give them more reasons to purchase.” To summarise, then: “Expensive” doesn’t necessarily equate to “best”, thank goodness, but be aware that always shopping down is not without consequence.