Melvyn Minnaar: In praise of wine gums
By Melvyn Minnaar, 2 July 2023
Apparently ‘gummies’ is the new gateway to peace and pleasure. Or at least peaceful sleep, or pain relief, they tell me. The unsophisticated zol and the more slink, serene reefer have made way for gummies in all flavours that find favour. It contains the stuff for which we used to light up a high. Or some such.
I celebrate gummies of a different, perhaps more innocent, kind. And I have often wondered whether it was those that seduced me in youth into the adult world of wine enchantment and pleasure. Wine gums were on our sweeties menu at the best of childhood times. It remains, I admit to report. The selection of colours, shapes and flavours were and are as appealing as the slow chew they entice.
When our father could afford it, it bested the Wilson’s toffees and pink Star sweets that cost a couple of cents. These days, it is still a fairly affordable, if often a tad spiritless sweetie.
However, it remains an intriguing concept. Why wine gums? It seems to load something deeper into both the idea of a sweet and what wine represents. Of all the flavourings that could be used in combination with sugar for that peculiar sweet lust, why wine?
Open a baggie of Maynard’s Wine Gums and a forensic tasting reveals very little connection with our average taste experience of wine as we know and enjoy it. And yet. Something about that (artificial) citrusiness, apple, and berry flavours do spill over in one or two of today’s easy-drinkers.
Collecting brand variations were once a cheerful hobby. Overseas travelling pals used to pick up a bag for my pleasure, one of life’s small thrills. Checking out the various iterations was like an indulgent wine tasting but the recipe has little variation: hese are fruit gums.
Of course, the original is still around, even if it is hardly the same as those Maynard’s produced many decades ago. And there must be a reason that even Woolies and Haribo still sell versions. Which suggest that wine gummies are culture. Well sort of.
The lovely story starts back in the 1880s in London where Charles Riley Maynard and his brother Tom made sweets as a thriving home industry. The sales in their Stamford Hill neighbourhood took off. Mostly because Charles’s wife Sarah Ann by all reports was a mover and shaker. The sweets proved popular. So much so that their son, Charles Gordon, a Victorian entrepreneur set up a factory in 1909.
The idea of ‘wine gums’ was a clever marketing ploy. Like kids, grown-ups too like sweets, but by calling these fruit pastilles ‘wine gums’ it sounded so adult. Cunning Charles II.
But he had to convince his father, a teetotaller, that no real wine went into the recipe. So the bluff was ingeniously hidden by the different shapes, colours and forms which has (still has) “Claret”, “Burgundy”, “Sherry”, “Champagne”, “Port”, and later “Cognac” and “Gin” embossed on the moulds. The flavours were mostly apple, strawberry, orange and definitely blackberry for ‘port’. Most of today’s wine gums still echo this.
Which also brings me to ‘fruitiness’ and its appeal in today’s wines – often marked as a plus in ‘new-wave’ bottles. It is, I suppose more complex, but isn’t ‘fruitiness’ also a conceit of ‘easy-drinking’?
By which argument the Maynards were really clever to name their adult sweets to wines while serving them the simple-to-understand fruit flavours they did enjoy seasonally.
By way of aside, the writer Roald Dahl was a fan of this, basically classic Victorian, sweet. He kept some on his writing desk. A fellow fan told me years ago she ‘matures’ her wine gums. She puts the package fresh from the supermarket in the fridge for at least a week, sometimes longer. She insists that the wine gums contract more flavour and chewy grit. My own thinking is that this is just a method to avoid the immediate allure and urge to tear open the packet. As every wine gum junkie knows, the contents don’t last the day once you lay your fingers on it. And lastly, I have often visualised a truly South African set of wine gums, boasting ‘Pinotage’, ‘Steen’, ‘Muskadel’ and, yes, ‘Kaapse Vonkel’. How about it?
- Melvyn Minnaar has written about art and wine for various local and international publications over the years. The creativity that underpins these subjects is an enduring personal passion. He has served on a few “cultural committees”.
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