Rickety Bridge: Blazing new trails for South African wines

Even though South Africa produces more wine annually than all but six other countries, including more than Chile, New Zealand and Germany, its wines remain a bit of a mystery, especially in North American and the Caribbean.  

South Africa is considered “New World” when it comes to wine, but it’s by far the oldest of the New World, having produced wine for more than 350 years.

There are a couple of reasons why South Africa wine remains largely unknown in North America. Distance from the market is one. The South African government’s policy of apartheid and the international trade sanctions it prompted is another.

Although apartheid officially ended in 1994, it took South Africa a while longer to gear up for export production. In the meantime, it missed the global explosion of wine consumption, particularly in the United States, where in the 40-year period between 1960 and 2000 the annual consumption of table wine increased almost tenfold, from 53 million gallons to 507 million gallons.

New World wine producers like Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile were all able to gain strong footholds in the American market before South Africa was ready to export on a significant basis.

Now, however, South African wines are gaining more attention, even here in the Cayman Islands. Although some view the wines as a bit stuffy because of their reliance on Old World style without the vibrancy of New World fruit, the Franschhoek Valley winery Rickety Bridge and its young South African winemaker, Wynand Grobler, are shaking things up by producing elegant wines that are geared for the international palate.

Innovative wines 

Last month, Grobler, along with Rickety Bridge owner Duncan Spence and sales and marketing manager Andrew Harris, visited Grand Cayman to meet with restaurateurs and to host a winemaker’s dinner at the Westin Beach Resort’s Beach House restaurant.

Spence, who has a number of business interests in England and in South Africa, almost reluctantly became the sole owner of the winery in 2000. He set out to modernize the winery and raise the standard of the wines it produced. In 2007, he convinced Grobler to join Rickety Bridge.

Top image: The Rickety Bridge team, from left, Duncan Spence, Amy McKee, Andrew Harris and Wynand Grobler at Agua Restaurant & Lounge. – Photo: Alan Markoff

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