Selling SA Sauvignon Stateside

The wisdom of the Nederburg Auction inviting Washington wine blogger David White to open the auction last year, reveals itself in the most unexpected places.  Such as the columns of The Advertiser News, a US community newspaper which is the only branch of the dead-tree media’s decaying empire that is showing growth.  Community newspapers are probably the only hardcopy that will survive the digital revolution.  Last week, I asked Distell CEO Jan Scannell “who is doing the honours this year?” and he replied “I don’t know.”  Let’s hope it’s someone from the East, where a new dawn is breaking for SA wine.  Sir David Tang would be perfect for the part.

dw 300x110 Selling SA Sauvignon Stateside

Defending Sauvignon Blanc, David quotes one of two personal “aha” moments for the varietal which is something of a whipping boy in the USA.  Rather like the role Pinotage reprises in the UK.

“My second ‘aha’ moment occurred at a seminar on the versatility of South African Sauvignon Blanc, hosted by Duncan Savage of Cape Point Vineyards, one of South Africa’s most well-known winemakers.  We made it through wines from six producers, all from different parts of South Africa.  Each wine had balance, complexity and freshness — and I would have confidently put any of them up against the finest Sauvignon Blancs in the world.”

Let’s hope David’s Damascus moment came as a pay-off for the R1 585 595 WOSA spent on a Mobile Master Class last year.  An initiative roundly slammed by producers left out in the cold as “scandalously unfair marketing support to some of WOSA’s pets.” Although come to think of it, I remember David asking directions to Cape Point Vineyards the day after the Auction.  So perhaps SA Sauvignon producers should be thanking Nederburg whose own Sauvignons are benchmarks.

But no matter who facilitated, David’s comments are a feather in the cap for SA SB, but before SBIG, the Sauvignon Blanc Interest Group, puffs up like the bottom of a baboon in Brian Berkman’s stylish Pringle Bay holiday home (surely peacock’s tail?, ed.), David brings the SA expression down to earth with the observation “this isn’t to say that there isn’t an awful lot of terrible Sauvignon Blanc.  Green wines don’t make it.  In South Africa and France, where the best examples are marked by subtle aromatics, like chalk and white flowers, too many Sauvignon Blancs are excessively green. Sometimes, the wines smell like over-the-hill asparagus and seem thin and alcoholic on the palate.”  Something judges at next month’s varietal tasting sponsored by FNB should guard against.

David’s final point is a killer: “Perhaps the best thing about Sauvignon Blanc is its price.  Dozens of wonderful examples cost less than $15 per bottle.”  But in SA the varietal is often seriously over-priced.  When a leading Elgin producer can sell 30,000 litres of 2012 SB at under R12 a litre (or less than R9 a bottle) to another Elgin producer who retails his 2011 for R57, SA consumers should be excused for feeling squeezed tighter than a Sauvignon Blanc pip.  Especially when the seller insists he is making a profit.

That said, Johan Wegner is selling Thys Louw’s excellently quaffable 2011 for R25 a bottle at Getwine, the place I buy my wine.  And while perhaps not elegantly Elgin, it is certainly Durbanville deftig, which is good enough for this Sauvignon Blanc boetie.