Insights gained drinking Cape Tawny on the Garden Route

By , 3 July 2019



I matriculated in 1988 when military conscription for white males was still compulsory, deployment for many at that time involving being sent to the townships to put down unrest by fellow citizens seeking political transformation. Tertiary study allowed military service to be deferred but application had to be made every year until it was finally done away with in 1993.

With South Africa’s GDP declining by 3.2% in the first quarter of this year, the largest drop in 10 years, and national politics in general disarray, not to mention the Proteas dismal performance in the Cricket World Cup, it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come as a country but man, it’s tough out there…

Keurboomstrand – a long way from home.

A recent vacation in Keurboomstrand on the Garden Route brought home the reality of local wine retail – shopping for personal consumption entailed a trip to nearby Plettenberg Bay, supposedly one of the most affluent holiday towns in the country, but Pick n Pay Liquor was an empty shell of a store, shelves devoid of product, my only purchase the second-last bottle of KWV Cape Tawny Dessert Wine, selling for R100 a bottle and fitted with a security tag to deter shop-lifting…

On to the TOPS at SPAR in Main Street which was better stocked but my suspicion here was that turn-over wasn’t fast because I was able to buy the 2015 vintage of both KWV The Mentors and Thelema Chardonnay as well as the 2013 vintage of Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon. Spend most of your time shuttling between Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek combined with the odd trip or two to Sandton, Gauteng plus an occasional visit to an international wine region provides a distorted view of what’s happening on the ground.

Given the state of the country, it has to be asked if a website premised solely on celebrating South African fine wine has any reason for being – it’s pretty depressing when as august a publication as the Daily Maverick feels compelled to publish articles such as “Five Ways not to be a Wine Wanker”, basically a thinly-veiled argument for wine populism – drink what you like and ignore the wine snobs.

Fine wine matters because it’s civilized and we need a bit of that in South Africa. It also matters because it’s an immense amount of fun – almost all winemakers are enthusiastic and engaging when talking about what they do and let’s not forget that wine is ultimately an intoxicant which takes us out of ourselves. A lot of lunches at Chez Eedes start off with discussions about fruit intensity and tannin management and end up with some rather uninhibited dancing to The Killers or The White Stripes…

Ultimately, however, fine wine is not simply a commodity – of course, the business of wine is important but so are the aesthetics – being concerned about taste and its correlative features such as origin and authenticity provides a counterpoint to the pursuit of filthy lucre which dominates so much of our lives. To take this further, quality distinctions can be made, even if scoring of wines has something of the absurd about it. Writing about wine is difficult – finding the language to describe taste is inherently fraught – but I count myself lucky to be part of a community that appreciates wine for its intrinsic value. It goes towards a life less ordinary.

Addendum: Visits were made to local wineries Bramon and Newstead, both offering very good hospitality and pleasant enough wines.


7 comment(s)

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    Carl | 28 February 2020

    Sedgefield had Aroma liquor, in a very unpretentious wood paneled shop on stilts. They had a superb selection of premium wines at very decent prices and bargain bins with excellent quaffing wines.
    Unfortunately it closed down to be replaced by a modern shopping complex which will most likely host a retailer with the standard fair.

    Billabong | 27 February 2020

    I had the pleasure of walking into a Tops in Umhlali KZN a few years ago. They were in the process of moving premises to a slightly posher place in Salt Rock KZN. So they were trying to flog all of their vintage product. I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw them selling 1966, 1967 and 1968 KWV vintage port for R175 a bottle. Very fine birthday years, and the good news is that the port was still in very good shape. The 1966 had caramelised slightly, but the 67 and 68 still displayed a lot of fruit and both were very smooth.

    Sam | 21 July 2019

    @Christian – thought-provoking on what’s happening ‘on the ground’ in retail out of the main centres of Gauteng and Cape Town. If you had driven 150km west to St Francis, for example, also tiny but affluent holiday town, you’d find an excellent selection at their local Tops, partly because the owner is a passionate wine lover. And you’ll find good selections in a few PE outlets, but in the main, the big retailers’ selections are fairly dismal.
    There’s a small, but enthusiastic and growing band of lovers of fine wine in this neck of woods, who appreciate the aesthetics, enjoy engaging with visiting winemakers and so on.
    Writing about wine for Weekend Post which covers E,Cape and some Garden Route, I find I have to strike a balance between interesting (and perhaps inspiring towards moving out of their comfort zone) fine wine lovers, and satisfying the majority who are looking for me to tell them about “something decent that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg”. (Winemag’s best value tastings are a really useful guide there!)

    Melissa Sutherland | 6 July 2019

    We recently did a road trip to Namibia and were super-impressed and surprised with the availability and quality of top South African wines in all the lodges, hotels and bottle stores. Though we were in a foreign country – and yes Namibia has 4 wineries but apparently nothing to write home about – we enjoyed some great South African wines as did all the German and American tourists we encountered along the way!

    Garth | 3 July 2019

    The more-money-than-taste set of bored Gautengers who populate Plett in the season don’t know one end of a good wine bottle from the other. Nor do their spoilt brat off-spring who are sent to trash the town during varsity and college breaks. It seems pointless looking for decent wine there under the circumstances.

    James | 3 July 2019

    I think you’d have had far more luck at the Thyme & Again farm stall . I was in Keurbooms a few years ago and only discovered their wine shop on the last day of my holiday. It was far more interesting than anything I could find in town.

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