THE Cape wine industry must be among the most dynamic in the world: despite one of the longest and most emasculating recessions in almost a century, it has proved resilient, creative, even optimistic.
From the moment the rand began strengthening in 2002, export revenues declined. Since about half of SA’s fine wine is sold beyond our borders, the erosion of that income was significant from the outset, and became increasingly important as time went by. The so-called emerging markets crisis of mid-2007 offered a brief reprieve, but the global financial crisis a year later put paid to that, as demand from our major export markets eased. SA has more than 700 wineries and fewer than 10 have failed over this 10-year roller-coaster era. At the same time, the number of new producers has doubled — a measure, admittedly, as much of the desperation of grape growers seeking to add value to their crop as the optimistic lack of insight with which they set off on this new challenge.
A combination of the incompetence of the government coupled with the aftermath of Marikana has partly vindicated this decision: the rand shed about 15% of its value in the past few months, making the exports of the second half of this year more profitable than most of the offshore sales of the past five years.
The local market is also marginally stronger, with per-capita consumption increasing for the first time in several years. It is probably too soon to replace the 10-year-old bakkies that have had to work harder than the manufacturers ever imagined, but the growers, and their bankers, are going to breathe more easily this Christmas than they have for years.
In the midst of all this, dozens of new wines, under new labels, are coming to market and many of them are worth the effort of tracking down. You won’t find all of them at traditional retailers: with more than 7,000 labels available, the long tail of Cape wine more closely resembles a spermatozoon than a Bengal tiger. However, Cybercellar, SA’s oldest online wine retailer, has upgraded its offering and now lists considerably more items than even the biggest conventional store.
Oldenberg Vineyards, a relative newcomer with a decent enough Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc, offers one of the Cape’s more striking Cabernet Francs.
It’s not an easy grape to get right: unless harvested fully ripe, it can deliver bone-chilling green notes. Prolonged hang time on the other hand costs the wine its natural propensity to elegance and intensity. The 2009 Oldenberg is one of the best Cab Francs I’ve tasted this year.
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