Greg Sherwood MW: SA wine stands proud in London
By Greg Sherwood, 12 July 2023
You wait for a bus, and you wait, and you wait. Then, suddenly, two come past within a few seconds of each other. Hopefully, if you’re waiting for one, you wake up from your iPhone haze before the next bus zooms past you and you react. Now, I realise this might all sound foreign to South Africans as we can all only reminisce about times gone by when we had a skeleton bus service serving local metropolitan areas. But in London, well, surely you would expect more!? As I always tell the South Africans visiting London, don’t expect the grass to always be greener on the other side!
But thankfully, two massive South African wine tasting events passed off unhindered by the tube and train union’s endless summer strikes. As they say, it’s all about timing! Next week, the railway network looks set to be shut down for an entire week… for zero gain for unions, government, or passengers. But luckily, Museum Wines, (who yes, I consult to) finally hosted their first epic flagship South African producer extravaganza tasting event at the South African High Commission in Trafalgar Square in London, attended by the who’s who of the wine trade and wine media in the daytime and also over 90+ private clients in the evening.
Whether in my former life as Senior Wine Buyer at Handford Wines, or in my current role as Fine Wine Director at Museum Wines, promoting and championing South African wines has always been, well, at least for me, the most important part of my day job. I have done the hard yards promoting all the fine wine areas of the world, from Bordeaux to Burgundy, Barolo to Bolgheri, but now, I really just want to try and focus a bit more earnestly on the country I know and love the most, South Africa, producing some of the most exciting wines on the market at still vaguely affordable prices.
Any South African flagship tasting should base its focus around a range of prestige icon wines that set a global benchmark. But on top of that, Museum Wines decided to invite South African wine industry legend, Rosa Kruger to the UK to not only launch its South African tasting but also conduct a series of seminars explaining the current state of play in the local and international market with regards to the Old Vine Project – the Old Vine Registrar was launched globally on 26 June with Jancis Robinson MW OBE.
The second of the grand South African fine wine events held recently was the Wines of South Africa “Between the Bridges” South African producer tasting, profiling a broad array of producers including brand names as well as more boutique offerings. This was the first serious tasting endeavour from WOSA UK since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the event was an effort to reinvigorate the entire length and breadth of the South African wine category.
The Museum Wines tasting featured winemakers attending in person from Uva Mira, Naude Family Wines, Sakkie Mouton Family Wines, Brookdale, Holden Manz, Vilafonté, Raats Family Wines and Jordan Wines pouring their own wines as well as further representation from icons including Colmant Cap Classique, Natte Valleij, Lokaia, Spioenkop and Haut Espoir. A wonderfully vibrant range of wines attempting to fan the peacock tail of SA fine wine and display just some of the diversity available from boutique wineries.
But of course, the golden link between the two events witnessed this week was the queen of South African wine in London, Jo Wehring, who not only facilitated the Museum Wines flagship event at the South African High Commission, but also planned and organised the massive WOSA producer event on the South Bank of the Thames with a broad array of commercial and fine wine producers and distributors making up an enticing offering.
I have, as a buyer myself, been attending these sort of events for 20 years plus, so I know a successful trade crowd when I see it. WOSA faces all sorts of unnecessary flak from armchair observers but today, there was nothing but admiration and congratulations heading for the WOSA UK cru of Jo and Claudia Pritchard. They are unsung servants and heroes of South African wine, beavering away with incredibly meagre and ever diminishing resources and budgets in the face of a strong pound/rand exchange rate.
Many years ago, when editor Christian Eedes asked me to write a column from London, he just asked for me to give an ongoing assessment of wine and sentiment from London as it related to South African wine. A so called “post card from London” so to speak. Only we all know if I was to send a post card back to South Africa, today’s news traveling by the postal service would probably take a longer time frame to reach readers today than it would to send a copy of the Times newspaper to gentleman in the colonies in 1900s! So next time you berate the internet age and the invasive nature of social media, remember that so much of the wine trade today is so intricately interwoven into bloggers, journos and social media influencers before us old school wine trade critics even get a look in.
Back patting aside, the Museum Wines SA extravaganza featured some notable consumer highlights including Paul Gerber’s Colmant Cap Classique wines, Alex Milner’s old vine Natte Valleij Cinsaults, Ian Naude’s finest new releases yet in the way of his Grenache, Oupa Willem Heritage Blend and his Werfdans Cinsault 2017, and then of course a fine modern array of classy reds from Vilafonté, Raats Family Wines and Jordan Wines.
Highlights from the WOSA Between the Bridges tasting were equally numerous, with London’s greatest merchants in attendance in full South Africa mode, including Alliance Wines, Bancroft Wines, Awin Barrett Siegel, North South Wines, Rakq Wines, Enotia Wines, Seckford Wines as well as numerous other champions of the South African category. Undoubtedly a full-blown week of South African fine wine indulgence in London.
- Greg Sherwood was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and as the son of a career diplomat, spent his first 21 years traveling the globe with his parents. With a Business Management and Marketing degree from Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, Sherwood began his working career as a commodity trader. In 2000, he decided to make more of a long-held interest in wine taking a position at Handford Wines in South Kensington, London, working his way up to the position of Senior Wine Buyer. Earlier this year, he moved across to South African specialist merchant Museum Wines to become the Fine Wine Director. He qualified as a Master of Wine in 2007.
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