Subterranean homesick blues

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the world’s biggest winemaker (by volume) – Constellation – snapping up local winemaker Bruce Jack earlier this week, was not that the suits at Constellation chose Jack. But rather how the news was broken, on the website of the UK’s first lady of wine, Jancis Robinson MW, on Monday. Local websites ate JR’s dust with Grape reporting on her report on Tuesday while Winenews and Business Day came out on Wednesday. It was Harold “super mac” Macmillan giving a Winds of Change speech from London. Neocolonialism? Surely not!
bruce sml Subterranean homesick blues
But then Constellation own SA’s largest export brand, Kumala, which famously has assets of one bakkie and a cell phone. So the SA wine media are mostly irrelevant to them, as indeed they are to most people. Kumala’s modest assets are a good fit with Jack’s philosophy of a virtual vineyard and raised a chuckle about those earnest reports that noted no vineyards were changing hands. Just as well – there are none.

But the Constellation announcement is a wind of change for SA wine for the simple reason that Jack has a detectable South African profile whereas most people think that Kumala is Australian (the gecko on the label helps a lot) –probably the main reason for its success in the UK. Apart from whacky brand names (like “love handles” and “the glass carriage”), Jack is a pioneer of unusual cultivars, unexpected locations and the screw cap.

His Weather Girl white blend covers most of these bases and it blew punters away at Saturday’s Cape Winemakers Guild Auction – averaging well over two hundred a bottle for a screwcap wine, nogal. The grapes hail from Elim, where the wind blows so strongly, only those with the best grip ever make it into a bottle of wine.

Based in Rochester, New York, Constellation is one thirsty conglomerate. It bought Australian producer BRL Hardy for $1.1 billion in 2003, then Robert Mondavi for $1.3 billion and last year gobbled up Canadian Vincor (owner of Kumala) for $1.1 billion. So Bruce Jack’s Flagstone operation is unlikely to give it indigestion.

As Bob Dylan sang in Subterranean Homesick Blues “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” But when it comes to SA wine, a weathergirl is a different matter entirely.

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