The context of today’s interview with Mzo Mvemve and Bruwer Raats fell by the wayside. Here is the interview in full.
When empowerment producer Lindiwe Wines was launched barely five years ago, its name “the one we have been waiting for” seemed appropriate for its intended beneficiaries: farm workers. Last month Lindiwe hit the wall and was liquidated in the Cape High Court, owing the National Empowerment Fund R4 million and KWV – which supplied the wine – another million. Yet another failed empowerment venture that has seen the transformation of SA wine struggle to reach escape velocity, crashing down to earth like a burnt out rocket.
Transformation by individuals, rather than quangos or corporations, is an altogether different story. Perhaps the most successful individual initiative is the brand De Compostella – Latin for “field of stars” – a joint venture by two of the Cape’s leading winemakers: Mzo Mvemve and Bruwer Raats.
Santiago de Compostela in north western Spain was the goal of medieval pilgrims intent on praying at the tomb of the apostle St. James. The pilgrimage is still popular today and this namesake Bordeaux blend is the culmination of a long walk for SA wine. I spoke to the two creators recently.
How can two people make a wine? Isn’t making wine like directing a movie?
Mzo: Our collaboration was founded on respect and friendship, which has made working together rather easy. No egos. We both understand the process and appreciate each other’s input.
Bruwer: We realized that if we combine our skills, knowing that each one of us has different attributes, we can make a better wine than an individual can, provided that our individual attributes complement each other, which we believe they do.
It’s been a big hit overseas, with 93/100 point scores in two top international magazines.
Bruwer: Most definitely. What I appreciate from magazines like Wine Spectator and Decanter UK is that they taste the wines absolutely blind and they taste each wine in its category and therefore the results are honest and fair. Not only do they taste Bordeaux style blends from South Africa but they are exposed to top quality wines from all over the world and therefore the 93 we received is not an SA 93 but is an internationally comparable score of 93.
Mzo: We’re chuffed that we’re being recognised through blind tasting. I must also add that consumers both from here and abroad have been very supportive and we’re very grateful for that.
Christian Eedes, editor of WINE magazine, recently played devil’s advocate, suggesting that “the international acclaim Bordeaux-style red blend MR Mveme [sic] Raats De Compostella currently attracts might be due to the picture-perfect collaboration between a white and a black winemaker as much as wine quality.” His organ rated your wine a less than stellar 2½ stars (out of five). What do you make of his comments?
Mzo: I believe it is quality in the end that is being recognized, nothing else; WINE magazine did not agree and we don’t think it was a black and white issue – or was it? Attributing a person’s effort to race does nothing more than reveal our ugly past, a much missed place for some.
Bruwer: This is a very unfortunate remark and the only people that have raised this issue are South Africans. Everybody else around the world tastes the wine and recognizes it for its quality and could not be bothered what colour the winemakers are. I suppose that this comment underlines the perception of journalists in this country that there is a racial issue in the wine industry that has not been dealt with. The 2½ star rating from WINE magazine is a reflection on them and their tasting abilities rather than on the wine.
The Spectator and Decanter ratings were made blind, yet local guides like Platter’s assess wines sighted. Is it possible to judge a wine dispassionately if you can see the label?
Bruwer: Most definitely not. Human beings have preferences and favourites and we will always like certain things more than others. To eliminate all subjective human emotions from the process tasting blind is the great leveler. The 93 score in Wine Spectator and Decanter UK derives from a completely blind tasting and that is why everybody respects them for their tasting results as we do, and we are very proud of the result.
Mzo: Tasting is generally a biased process, though a blind tasting will be less so in comparison to when one sees the label, has free lunch with the wine, tastes with a winemaker, hears some romantic story, etc.