The GVG Diaries: Chatting to Charles

The middle of the second day of the Good Value Guru roadtrip and we come over all claustrophobic: we’ve arrived at Fairview in Paarl and are confronted with more wine tourists than we’ve met on the whole trip to date. We chatted to the man himself, Charles Back, in his Goat Shed restaurant over an Italian Salami and Fairview Brie Panini (R38) and a double espresso (R12) which claims to be “the best coffee in the Cape.”

cb The GVG Diaries: Chatting to Charles

Q: What’s new? We hear you bought your neighbour’s farm?

A: Who told you that? Yes, we’ve just bought Diamant which gives us another 250ha and we’re busy planting Roussanne, Petit Syrah, Tempranillo and Grenache trellised on single poles.

Q: Like Eben Sadie does in the Swartland?

A: And Priorat. We’ve made the first Tannat in SA and it’s already in bottle. Chris, go and fetch one.

Chris Bryant, dapper media liaison, disappears to fetch a bottle of wine of the great variety of Uruguay and Cahors. Made from the first crop from four year old vines from the 2006 vintage, it is rough and spicy. CB thinks it works on its own as well as being a handy blending component.

A: These varieties are fine in this environment. Our soil is decomposed granite and shale.

Q: Like Eben Sadie’s in Priorat.

A: Yes. Our best wines are made from Syrah grown on shale. What else is new? Wine tourism is a big thing for me – we do around 10% of our business through the tasting room but these xenophobic attacks are making me nervous. I want to keep our wine tourism business at about this level, but in a growing business. We’ve also bought a farm in Darling (called The Towers – that’s appropriate given the goat connection) and the farm Houmoed behind Meerlust. So we now have terroirs on the cool climate Darling side and the warmer sites at Malmesbury like Spice Route which are suitable for Rhône-style wines. We’re also now part owner of the old Citrusdal Co-op and make fair-trade wines for Sainsbury, Asda, Marks & Spencer and Majestic (major UK supermarket chains).

We’re post empowerment now. Land ownership is crucial and our farm workers are still waiting for their land to be subdivided out at Klapmuts. Its twelve years later and they’re still waiting. I’ve spoken to the Minister of Agriculture and Kader Asmal when he was chairing the Wine Council and nothing happened. They said they’d look into it but they don’t care. The land has little agricultural potential, so there is no reason for the hold-up. Especially when you read in the Sunday Papers about the big Klapmuts farm (and existing wine brand) that is being subdivided straight away.

Q: This must be Anura with the Alan Boesak connection?

A: Read the newspaper. A straight BEE deal is easy – you just haul out your cheque book. But a holistic approach is more difficult. We’ve got a blogspot recording all out trials and tribulations. I’ll send you the address.

Q: But why don’t you just buy-in grapes and avoid the political hassles?

A: Anyone can do that. I want to make a difference. Here, taste this barrel sample of the 2008 Petit Syrah. Hand sorted, it has lovely flavor concentration.