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A story on opening up a new ward: Tradauw Highlands that appeared in a much reduced form in the Financial Mail last month.

When the economy goes pear-shaped, time to plant pears

“Six hours door-to-door” is the weekly commute for Grant Hatch, vice-president and head of strategy practice at Gemini Consulting, local affiliate of Capgemini. The doors are located at opposite ends of the country: Dunkeld and a farmhouse outside Barrydale, but the intellectual distance between the two is a lifetime.

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Hatch started out with a PhD in plant ecology from the University of Natal but like so many of the brightest and numerate best, a career in the financial markets beckoned, first with Cazenove and then Capgemini, and Hatch exchanged dirt for derivatives, strategies for soil.

Relocated to London, the closest he got to wine was the annual charity auction for the Jan Kriel School for disabled learners in Kuils River. The auction is a showcase for SA wine, “the marketing value of which is totally unexploited” and Hatch bought a 5L bottle of Neil Ellis Cabernet for £800 “as a donation to the school.”

Horrified at the financial disconnect between London and the real world (an Alice-in-Wonderland scenario that had workers on the lowest rungs of the economy assuming an international holiday twice a year was a birthright) Hatch decided that hard assets were the only investments that made any sense, with land and water up at the top of the list.

“When a billion Chinese went from one bowl of rice a day to two, we had a global food shortage. They now want their third bowl and a billion Indians have the same expectations.” So in 2004 with two UK investors he bought farms with 180ha of deciduous fruit at Die Vlakte at the top of the Op de Tradouw Pass outside Barrydale.

The farm next door was a 600ha sheep farm called Goedgeloof on which young Erlank Erasmus had planted 5ha of Shiraz, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. When the farm came up for sale, Hatch teamed up with UK-based partner Christopher Palmer-Tomkinson (uncle to IT girl Tara and gold miner in Kyrgyzstan) and started making wine, something Erasmus is now doing for Charles Back at Fairview.

The maiden 2007 vintage was made at the Barrydale Co-op and convinced Hatch of the merits of his high altitude Sauvignon Blanc (his vineyards are 1000m above sea level and the farm is typically 6 degrees cooler than Montagu in summer) and that his Shiraz was rubbish. So he planted a further 6ha of Sauvignon Blanc and sold off the Shiraz in bulk. The Sage of Sauvignon, Bartho Eksteen, was similarly impressed and the 2008 vintage was made in his state-of-the-art Hermanus cellar.

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The 2008 sold out at R60 a bottle leaving only some of the 2007 still available.

Hatch has brought the 2009 back closer to home, to Arendsig in Robertson where young Lourens van der Westhuizen makes a tropically fruited Sauvignon Blanc that impressed this pundit. “Erecting my own cellar on the farm does not make financial sense at all. I’d love to have teamed up with my neighbour Meyer Joubert but he’s just too busy making the best Syrah in the Klein Karoo.”

“Making wine is a strange business” he continues “none of my business models apply. Unlike apple farming, maximizing your yield does not maximize profit as quality drops. And you’re competing with ego-driven producers who can merrily market their brand at a loss.”

The only producer on a plateau that drops down to Barrydale by way of the Karoo Saloon – an excellent biker bar and “moontlike put van sonde” (possible den of iniquity) according to the local newspaper – Hatch recently applied for designation as a wine producing ward.

The demarcation committee – an infamous goodtime gang of retired vinous bigwigs “who pitch up in a Kombi on your farm with their braai and demand wine” according to Kanonkop owner Johann Krige – duly arrived from the Cape. The demarcation was duly declared with Hatch’s two suggestions for names: Bo-Tradauw and Haut Tradauw, rejected in favour of their own: Tradauw Highlands. A most acceptable upper class moniker that will surely raise a chuckle in target markets when the 2009 vintage under the Star Hill brand is released later this year.

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