While Hoagy Carmichael famously had Georgia on his mind, I’ve had Paarl on mine recently. Probably because I’m MC’ing the Paarl Wine Challenge Awards function at the Grande Roche, tomorrow evening. From where I sit (in Birds Restaurant on Bree Street), Paarl has two problems: it hides in plain sight and focuses on Chenin Blanc and Shiraz. Or Syrah, if you smoke Gauloises and wear a Mr. Price black beret and don’t shave under your arms for added terroir.
The appellation is hidden in plain sight as it’s home to the two biggest brands in SA wine: KWV and Nederburg, yet no one associates their many awards and plaudits with the appellation. Did you know the KWV winemakers above won the most medals at the recent National Young Wine Show? Me neither, nor did I know they also won the Sarel Roussow Trophy for best producer in Paarl for the third consecutive year. Heck, I don’t even have the faintest idea who Sarel Roussow is. Perhaps a colleague of my all-time favourite Paarl personality Ritzema de la Bat. A former CEO of KWV, he also founded the Genealogical Institute of SA which is only natural when you have such a grand moniker.
Likewise when the much unlamented Wine magazine featured the appellation, they forgot to include Nederburg, which is only the most awarded SA producer in the universe. When the ivory tower eggheads of UCT listed their top 20 sighted producers last year, Nederburg was likewise excluded and so it was sweet revenge indeed when the lead singer of Gogol Bordello lookalike, Raz van Macici, was hailed as Diners Club Winemaker of the Year after a blind tasting. This is the only Diners award left with any semblance of credibility after the collapse of their Wine List Awards and Platter problems galore.
Likewise, by focusing on Chenin Blanc and Shiraz, is Paarl backing the right horse? At last week’s Cape Winemakers’ Guild pre-auction tasting there was only one Chenin on offer – from Tulbagh in the shape of the delectable Rijk’s. Do SA winemakers hate Chenin? Has it become the Pinotage of white wines?
Wosa claim, on the website for their Beautiful South swansong for CEO Su Birch in London next month, that Chenin is 18% of the national vineyard, but that figure is over a decade old. Are there no more recent numbers or is Wosa being lazy again? But care should be taken with new stats as the same website claims that Argentina, 5th largest wine producer in the world, has 217 Ha of vineyards – a figure from 2011. Imagine that, Argentina only ten times bigger than my humble Lemoenfontein! Are SA and Argentinian producers aware of the rubbish being spouted in their name?
In similar vein, there are 13 Shiraz and Syrahs on the CWG Auction this year, so is the Paarl wood getting lost in an SA forest? With so many Shirazes on the market, what makes Paarl unique? Paarl also has well documented political problems: Wellington did a UDI last year while the most unlikely producers are flocking to Franschhoek to sign up to the marketing juggernaut which has hit clear air turbulence of late, alienating most SA wine writers in the process.
Yet Paarl has a plethora of pluses: not least of which is the tasteable fact that it is home to some of the best wines in SA at the moment as a tasting of the Dry Land Range from Perdeberg will confirm. Charles Back is the most accomplished wine marketer in SA and Paarl Rock is a pocket-sized Table Mountain that soars in the icon stakes. All that’s needed is a Plan, which is something a boer readily makes, according to what I was taught in Volkspele.