Tim James: Adi Badenhorst, Jan Smuts and wine trophies

By , 29 August 2022



You might think Adi Badenhorst has done well enough with his wines, but he confesses to an ambition as yet unachieved: he’d like to win the General Smuts Trophy for the South African Champion at the Young Wine Show. Perhaps, he muses, he could do it with his Raaigras Grenache, which comes from a vineyard planted in 1952, the very year that the Trophy was first awarded.

Massive, of “Sterling Silver” and with “intricate detail” (as the Show website reminds us), the General Smuts Trophy is indeed a magnificent object. It beats the arty Trophy Wine Show cups designed by John Skotnes hands down. A trophy indeed! I did rather suspect that Adi was less concerned with the prestige of winning (sadly limited though that prestige might arguably be) than having an eye to giving the trophy pride of place among his splendid, and I suspect only partly ironic, collection of tarnished bric-a-brac from the old South Africa. But no, he’s entirely genuine, if admittedly nostalgic, and has regularly entered a wine – though he somehow “forgot” to do so this year. He vaguely recalls that he did win a bronze one year, for a cinsaut, he thinks. But he says he’d be willing to build a suitably strong shelf to bear the considerable weight of the Jan Smuts Trophy if it came his way.

I dare say, though, that even if Adi would be allowed to keep it for a year, it’s not the sort of thing you just chuck into the back of the bakkie to take back to the farm. Must be worth a fortune. And that applies to at least most of the other glittering trophies on offer at the Show.

Thys Louw and the rest of the Diemersdal team with the General Smuts trophy.

Adi aside, it does seem that many of the grander, newer private producers are too snooty to enter the Young Wine Show, even more than other competitions. The same goes, to a slightly lesser extent, for the Veritas Awards – which started off as the National Bottled Wine Show in in 1990, to complement the older one (and that dates back to 1833: it’s “the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere and is probably one of the oldest wine shows in the world” says the Show website.). I wonder how this happened, that the newer, and vastly more expensive, profit-making wine competitions (Trophy Wine Show, Michelangelo) have taken so many of the smarter producers, leaving the SA National Wine Show Association with the “co-ops” and some of the more tradition-oriented estates – such as Diemersdal, which took the Jan Smuts Trophy this year and, for the same wooded shiraz, the trophy for the best shiraz (the current Diemersdal Shiraz sells for R130 at Pick n Pay, though you can easily find it for less).

Previous modern-era winners, from 1980 (Meerlust) to 2000 (Cape Point Vineyards), included Vergelegen, Saxenburg, Klein Constantia and Delheim. The last few years don’t see many smart names like that. Probably, now, with other competitions available for those that like entering the things, there’s an understandable taint of being associated with the old South Africa and the old KWV-ruled Cape wine regime as the primary, originating limiting factor.

There are 18 SA Champion grand trophies in the Young Wine Show. The 2022 winners, among the 86 Gold Medals awarded to the 1218 entries, were announced last week. They included (by my count) seven that weren’t from producer cellars (the fomer co-ops), and most of those are of the “establishment” kind: Diemersdal, Van Loveren, Landskroon, Flagstone, KWV, Jakkalsvlei and De Krans. The other winners were Badsberg (the Pietman Hugo Trophy for the highest total points achieved with five entries), two Orange River Wine Cellars wineries, Slanghoek, Darling, Montagu and Perdeberg. Not names that feature frequently among the hipster 95-pointers on this website – though they might well appear occasionally amongst the Michelangelo lottery winners, for all I know.

If I’m a bit puzzled by the grandeur and the, let’s say, very local and incidental relevance of the Young Wine Show, I must reveal my more nerdy side by saying that I’m more puzzled and interested by a historical question.

Consider this triple conjunction: 1) Field Marshall The Right Honourable Jan Christian Smuts (OM CH DTD ED KC FRS), a leader of the United Party and Prime Minister defeated in the 1948 elections, an eminent international statesman regarded by many locals as having abandoned his roots and widely disliked among Afrikaners for his support for the Allies in the war and for his (only comparatively) enlightened attitudes to racial matters; 2) The year 1952 – four years after the National Party came to power; 3. An essentially Afrikaner wine establishment ruled by a KWV-state alliance. How did the then most prestigious award in Cape wine come to be named for Smuts? I don’t get it.

And what about this gorgeous bit of irony: Guess who is named as the winner of both the 1956 and 1957 General Smuts Trophies? None other than one DF Malan, Smuts’s political enemy, from 1948 to 1954 Prime Minister of South Africa. Not to mention that both of them were Swartland boys from Riebeek-West – Malan from Allesverloren wine farm. A mere half-day’s oxwagon journey from today’s little winegrowing empire of Adi Badenhorst – who nonetheless seems to aspire to look more like Paul Kruger than either of the later statesmen. You have to love this wine industry of ours.

  • Tim James is one of South Africa’s leading wine commentators, contributing to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.


4 comment(s)

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    Jeremy | 30 August 2022

    Wine is just an agricultural product ie grape juice. Have some perspective!

    Angela Lloyd | 30 August 2022

    Really enjoyed reading this, Tim. A bit of nostalgia for me. In the 1980s I used to go to all the Young Wine Shows (bar Orange River, distance only reason), from Calitzdorp to Vredendal & all regions in between. There was nowhere else where one could taste such a range of wines in those days.
    These shows were wonderful events; the wine people of each region showed such pride in organising the best show, each had its own character. The real competition was between the ladies; who could lay on the most and the most delicious meal, always a highlight after the tasting. Bredies, ribbetjies, boontjies, slaai, koeksusters et al, enough for Africa at each. One could take one’s time, as the speeches, for the most part in Afrikaans (tricky for me, but I usually got the gist), wandered lengthily & also with much pride. Oh, and there was often dancing afterwards before one tumbled into bed in some strange hotel at a late hour!
    What I’m trying to say is that these shows had gees, the wine folk were genuine, friendly and wanted one to enjoy their show and food. It wasn’t so much the quality of the wine – mixed at best in some years – but the show, dinner and people that made it.
    I haven’t been to a Young Wine Show in years, so don’t know whether the same atmosphere persists, but other shows today don’t compare, as professionally run as most are.
    Something to think about, Mike.

    Mike Froud | 29 August 2022

    Hard to believe that Winemag carries the results of The South African Young Wine Show, given that it remains irrelevant to the wine consumer. Most of the entries are not yet market-ready and might be quite different by the time they go on sale. Surely Adi Badenhorst was having you on, pulling your leg…

      Tim James | 29 August 2022

      Hey Mike – Relax a bit. This is about wine, which is a cultural thing, not just a marketing thing. Does Adi’s level of seriousness matter all that much? Remember the days when you were a journalist (or something)? It’s just a story.

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