Last night, Raka winery owner Pietie Dreyer was still partying on from his Michelangelo International Wine Awards triumph of Saturday night when his Raka Biography Shiraz 2007 won the Ferroprint Grand Prix Trophy for best wine of show. His voice was shot worse than Tom Waits but it was quite appropriate that he took the party to Johannesburg’s newest “classic Italian restaurant” il Giardino Degli Ulivi, an offshoot of Assaggi in Brian Green’s retro chic 44 Stanley Avenue precinct. Pietie never takes an advertisement, relying on his folksy floorshow featuring outrageous anecdotes, that he performs in restaurants and wine shows in 43 countries around the world, dishing out order forms to diners and listening to their comments – and acting on them. A plan that is very clearly working.
Italian connections come thick and fast with Pietie. In 1979 he bought his farm in the Akkedisberg outside of Stanford from a former Italian prisoner of war called Francisco “who had got stinking rich farming onions.” Pietie started out “with zilch. I ran away from home. My mother wanted me to become a minister, but I ended up a public prosecutor.”
His big break came when he bought a 1957 Peugeot from an elderly gentleman with a cane for R19 after being polite to him. A car which he later swapped for a boat, a trailer plus two outboard motors and R1000 to a fisherman who had rolled his bakkie. His beginners luck held and “on the 19th of January, I caught a ton of geelbek. I took one of the smallest fish, gave it to my boss Isak Steyn and told him I was quitting. I ran away again.”
Life at sea was a hard but lucrative one: 21 days on, four days off. So in 1979 he bought himself a BMW motorcycle. Touring around the Cape, as he drove over the hill at Stanford he saw his dream farm “in a glen in the southernmost mountain range in Africa.” After six months spent “catching tuna for the Portuguese”, Pietie paid for his dream, cash.
It was Francisco who told Pietie to make wine, but the hardheaded calamari fisherman first had to waste R4 million planting Citrus. “The quality of fruit was fantastic but there was too much wind damage. In 1998, Francisco passed away and while my wife Elna was away visiting family in Citrusdal, I bought a Caterpillar digger and turned the trees upside down and planted vines.”
Today Pietie makes a juicy Sangiovese (R50 from the cellar) as his tribute to Francisco but it is his Shiraz and Bordeaux blend called Quinary “made as a tribute to the toilers of the vine” that puts him on the vinous radar screen. Another way of showing his gratitude to his workers is through regular trips to the Hermanus Spur when hamburgers are on a BOGOF special. “It’s four drinks per man and then off to the Stardust cinema. Man, we’ve seen some wonderful flicks like Paljas – the story of a deaf and dumb boy in the Karoo when the circus drives through town and breaks down. It made my foreman give up drink.”
The Quinary 2004 was my pick of the evening, a wine of which Pietie makes 140 000 bottles and which he sells in 43 countries. It will even end up in Harrod’s hampers this year. The Michelangelo judges, bizarrely reckoned to be more authoritative than normal as the panel consists of “international judges plus only one local judge” (Christine Rudman, take a bow along with no fewer than four French pundits) called the Biography 2007 “a world class Shiraz.”
The spicy varietal dominated the awards and the 196 Michelangelo Shiraz entries compares favourably with the Lexus Shiraz Challenge lineup of 114. Which included the Biography 2006 (rated 2½ stars, a wine Pietie said he never entered). “They must have changed their panels as my wines don’t feature any more. My Quinary got one star in their Bordeaux tasting.”
Pietie sure picked his evening to play the Big Smoke with Brian Green stressing over empty tables cancelled at the last minute by local bankers mesmerized by Wall Street that fell over 500 points as Pietie told the one about his cook (“not koek”) Suikers who came into his employ after being dismissed by Southern Suns after being caught smuggling frozen chickens in his pants.