Gumede from the Groot Gariep

The old Namaqualand farmer eventually makes it to the sea. Standing on the beach he contemplates the ocean and imagines all the things he could do back home with two dams as big as this one.

To an Aussie, Upington would be Beyond the Black Stump – the uttermost. Located 800 Km from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Windhoek, of Upington Gertrude Stein might have said “there’s no there, there.” A sentiment held by the Cape-based panjandrums of SA wine as the five wineries of the Orange River appellation are all but invisible even if Spar, the nation’s largest liquor retailer, does R25 million business in the region each year. The recent biennial industry trade show was inappropriately and insensitively called Cape Wine 2008 which makes you wonder why organizers WOSA (Wines of SA) don’t re-baptize themselves WOC and have done with it.

or Gumede from the Groot Gariep

Spar have been doing business for seven years along the Groot Gariep and their annual Orange River Winemaker of the Year Competition is the richest wine show in terms of prizes and most influential in terms of quality improvements tastable in the wines through the far-sighted policy of sending winning winemakers to France for a harvest. Two are there at the minute.

Judging of 43 finalists in the 2008 competition concluded on Friday evening and last night the results were announced at a Greek-themed dinner in the local school hall. That transformation of the industry is slowly taking places was confirmed with the trophy for best junior winemaker trousered by Philani Gumede from Upington Cellar.

A prize was also awarded to the farmer whose vineyards produce an incredible 60 tons of grapes – although his reward is probably already in his bank account. Farming practices which make the facile economic analyses of the state of the wine industry in the national press look threadbare indeed. For while the usual Job’s comforters climb out of the cellar woodwork, the simple financial facts of Orange River producers are reflected in the submissions for the “mature wines” class of the show: four entries (a lone 2005 Shiraz, two 2007 Muscadels and a Jerepigo). Victims of their own success, as wines are sold as they’re produced, leaving maturation stocks sparse to the point of invisibility.

Also humbling was the importance attached to the recent Veritas awards handed out last weekend at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Speaker after speaker in Upington celebrated the two gold medal Muscadels with a bronze medal regarded as an inspiration to do better next year. All that’s missing is a couple of dams as big as the Atlantic…

The evening ended on a bizarre note when someone asked if the very grand papparrazza (snapped below) was May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, previously châtelaine of Bordeaux second growth Pichon Lalande.

or1 Gumede from the Groot Gariep