Being blessed with a face for radio, I’m being interviewed on Classic FM this evening on the subject of Mines and Wines, an article I penned for Classic Wine magazine this month. Not being sure of the reception in the Cape, I’m posting the story again for readers who will miss my dulcet tones.
There’s something weirdly symmetrical, in a bizarre, anarchic kind of way, about Mines and Wines. Turn the M of Mines upside down and Pluto (the Greek God of mining) morphs into Dionysus, the god of grog. Heck, abbreviate it to MW and you’ve got the salvation of many a fragile ego or bored house-husband. More socially acceptable than having an affair but not yet as trendy as mountain biking, the new golf.
Could this be why some many miners pack a corkscrew along with a geological hammer on field trips? Like Mark Bristow, CEO of Randgold Resources. When challenged to a bet by AngloGold Ashanti then CEO Mark Cutifani on whether the first gold from their JV Kibali mine in the DRC would be poured on schedule, the wager was a bottle of red.
Mark C is now CEO of Anglo American, owner of Vergelegen, which would have come in handy if he had won. He lost and now has to shell out R22K for a bottle of Robertson red. Certainly the most expensive blend to have emerged from that appellation. Springfield included.
Mark B is a guru of non-renewable resources with a message for renewable resources – like wine. Leading by example, he exports SA wine to his African mines and has established cellars at each one “so the hairy-assed miners have something decent to drink.”
Mark B probably does more to promote wine than WOSA in sub-Saharan Africa, identified as the premier growth destination at January’s Vinpro Open Day. In choosing a wine from the wrong side of the mountain, Mark B is proving he’s very much his own man as his bankers are the Rothschilds and he’s no stranger to Château Lafite and the odd Montrose from the Château owned by the billionaire Bouygues brothers who have extensive interests in construction. No, Mark B insisted on a red from Robertson, a 2013 blend of Cabernet, Shiraz and Mourvèdre. What a vote of confidence for the valley of wine and roses.
Mark has offered to open the first bottle at a dinner he’ll host to celebrate the Geology Society of SA giving him the first Des Pretorius Memorial Award for outstanding work in economic geology in Africa. Two different forms of terroir, vinous and mining, coming together in a bottle of wine made by his motorcycling mate Rob Alexander at his Windfall winery. This is what wine is all about – the story behind the bottle. It’s the sizzle that sells, not the steak.
Plan “A” was to auction the wine for charity and as the logo of Randgold Resources is a rhino, Save the Rhino made sense. Incredibly, the rhino huggers refused to have anything to do with extractive industries. This kind of faux selective morality beggars belief and compounds the rhino tragedy. So the rhino’s loss will be the geologist’s gain. Which is quite fitting, for if the gold price keeps on falling, geos may soon become as endangered as rhinos and will have to hold on to their horns.
Mark Cutifani is no one-trick pony. The industry is full of hairy ass miners. In addition to Vergelegen, the late Graham Beck was a coal miner as was Gary Harlow who owns Wildekrans which makes the best Pinotage in the Overberg. Gerard Holden is a mining financier who owns Holden Manz, one of the rising stars in Franchhoek while Gary Jordan was a geologist before he started making Jordan wines in the Stellenboschkloof; Christo Wiese was a diamond dog before he became a country squire on Lourensford.
The other side of the equation also works as miners are an ideal target market for SA wine exports: they have the cash to buy and understand terroir. WOSA should set up a mining directorate tout suite.
Executives at Hochschild Mining, one of Peru’s major players owned by the billionaire grandson of a Bolivian tin baron, imported half a container of SA wine last year after the success of a test import of several Cape icons chosen by geologist Andy Rompel (below). Their rule of thumb: Peter-Allan Finalyson’s Crystallum for the ladies, dad Peter’s Galpin Peak for men. Which sorts out Pinot Noir and comes as music to the ears of Hemel & Aarde wine marketers.
Connecting Mines and Wines is a no-brainer as geology is the starting point for all discussions on terroir. Clearly wines made from grapes grown on clay soils versus limestone versus granite versus sandstone has been done before, but the whole bigger picture has perhaps been overlooked.
I’m proposing a broader classification and imagine a triangle, a bit like a phase diagram, with vertices maritime (blue), mountain (green) and inland (red) wines from which every style can be fashioned. No wonder the South African Winelands form a geographic triangle. With vertices Bamboesbaai in the North, Constantia in the West (where it all started 355 years ago) and Outeniqua in the East where Boets Nel grows amazingly green grapes for his Garden Route Sauvignon Blanc.
I’d originally wanted to call inland appellations “continental” until a Stellenbosch marketer remarked “continental sounds too European” like those Viennese cafés that washed up in Hillbrow in the seventies that Ivan Vladislavich wrote about so edgily. Still Europe was the mother block which supplied the first alien invader vines for a wine industry at the southernmost tip all those years ago.
Some appellations are located near a Vertex of Terroir: Lambert’s Bay is exclusively maritime and is thus blue (a point recognized by Thys Louw if you consider the colour scheme of his Sir Lambert Sauvignon Blanc) and the home town of Boets Nel – Calitzdorp – is totally inland (and inbred in that forgotten valley called Die Hel) while others are mixtures. Stellenbosch is maritime and mountain and the corresponding colour is yellow – green and blue while the Swartland, literally “black land”, is a mixture of all three archetypes (white), negated.
Food can be represented in a triangle which corresponds to a wine Triangle of Terroir™. Shellfish and salmon trout work best with fresh maritime wines as does pork belly, as the high acids hydrolyse the fats. Game is paired with intensely flavoured mountain wines as the high tannins are antioxidants which aid digestion of protein while higher alcohol continental wines are indicated for grilled beef and chicken or sweet sauces, as sugar and alcohol molecules are similar in shape.
Wine may be chemically decomposed into a triangle with vertices tannin, body and structure at the top, sugar and alcohol bottom right and acid freshness bottom left. The trick of matching food and wine is to align the triangles. A task for a Pythagoras of the Palate. One day all restaurant wine lists will recognize that the owner’s favourites or at the other extreme, pages of Sauvignon Blancs, are like those palate cleansers from the eighties served between courses: a waste of time. You need a maritime model like Fryer’s Cove 2011, a mountain goat like the Cederberg 2011 and an inland identity such as the Du Toitskloof 2012.
After all, if you expect some of the +30,000 delegates at the annual Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada to patronize your establishment, meeting them halfway makes sense, both geological, vinous and marketing. Triangles of Terroir in a Mines and Wines context, is the key to understanding terroir, or pay dirt as miners call it.