“Nine fearless, imaginative and inventive South African winemakers invite you to an elegant dinner with a difference” is an offer that’s hard to refuse. Especially when the fearless nine, all members of Alex Dale’s Grapeminds club, include such National Treasures as Eben Sequilo Sadie and Niels Luddite Verburg as well as “diamonds that want to stay coal” (to borrow from Tom Waits) Albie de Toren Koch and Kevin Ataraxia Grant. As for elegance, bussing foreign attendees from Cape Wine 2008 to louche London Road in salty Salt River (via wild and windy Woodstock) and an industrial set straight out of Charles Dickens, was a funny way to start.
Herded into a Victorian alley like a cast of extras from Oliver Twist with Americans recoiling from involuntary butt-brushes galore, as the first rain drops started to fall, the capacious doors of Pete Goffe-Wood’s Kitchen Cowboy set were theatrically thrown open and a five course dinner of veal sweetbreads and goat’s cheese pannacotta, quail breast on samp and yellowtail on grits quickly followed.
Wines arrived in flights of two like animals boarding Noah’s Ark: a Slowine Sauvignon Blend and Bruce Jack’s most appropriately named Weather Girl. Paul Cluver’s Pinot Noir went best with the quail but Eben’s Sequilo red was arguably the superior wine. Albie’s De Toren 2002 gives the lie to 2002 being written off as a kak vintage while Kevin’s Ataraxia Chardonnay was simply sublime. Winemakers played a game of musical tables throughout the meal, swapping them between each of the five courses, so a constant stream of gossip was constantly on tap.
Bruwer Raats on how he’s saving the Montpellier clone of Chenin Blanc, Bruce Jack on the fires of 26 January 2006 that wiped out his Elim vineyards and the eyebrows of his heroic firefighting neighbour. But the highlight of the evening came at the end of proceedings: an emotional Eben Sadie on how he’d rather be in Salt River than anywhere else on earth followed by a Swedish sommelier calling the cows home in an ancient dialect. Pure Enya or as Alex Dale crowned her, “Wine Idol.”