Lunch at Bizerca Bistro with Jean-Vincent Ridon in January did not drag as he had to bottle his 2012 vintage Chenin Blanc made from the oldest vine growing in the southern hemisphere. Planted in 1771, today it provides leafy shade to the schmodels of Max Models and ash trays of Bizerca, located in the aptly named Heritage Square in central Cape Town. Quite why the Chenin Blanc Producer’s Association does not make more of this extraordinary plant is a mystery as JV recently sent cuttings back to the Loire, as its genes have disappeared from the French pool. Confirming that when it comes to Chenin, Cape Town has something special. A terroir triffid tailor-made for tourism.
And something well worth preserving, as a glass of vintage 2011 confirms a rare Riesling-like minerality and a welcome change to boiled sweets. “That’s what old vines give you” says JV. Old vines and sensitive wine making from an elegant expat Frenchman who has a passion for making wine from city vineyards like his Clos d’Oranje, made from vines growing at the foot of Table Mountain in Oranjezicht.
A passion JV will nurture further as he’s given up making wine from his Roussillon vineyards in Southwest France to focus on rolling out wine for ordinary South Africans in an exciting new jv with the Cape Wine Academy and Southern Suns, to identify natural born tasters among ordinary people rather than the coterie of self-appointed experts who have succeeded in making wine an elitist drink.
JV bought his French vineyards a decade ago when the local Roussillon co-op hit the wall. Tipped off by Tom Lubbe, one of the pioneers of Next Level Swartland wines at Charles Back’s pioneering Spice Route along with Eben Sadie, JV made Roussillon’s best red in 2003.
“It was a hot vintage but I had experience in SA to deal with this” remembers JV. The locals were not impressed and spiked his car tyres five times and threw stones at his house. Bully boy behaviour taken even further across the Pyrenees last year, when envious locals sabotaged Eben Sadie’s Priorat winery, pouring bleach into his tanks and hastening the departure of Sadie from Spain. A warning to the Villiera Griers not to make wine to embarrass their neighbours at Domaine Grier in St. Paul de Fenouillet.
“Besides, I’m too old to commute” complains JV and he’ll be selling his Roussillon grapes either to the Co-op or Lubbe this year, in exchange for bottles of wine. JV has a disarming honesty and his once towering ego has subsided like yesterday’s soufflé. “I buy my Pinot Noir at Checkers from Concha y Toro [the leading Chilean producer]. At R65, it’s an incredible deal.”
The Platter sighted guide agrees on the merits of the ancient Chenin, awarding it four stars. Although with only 20 bottles made, it’s a miracle the five star red carpet was not rolled out. Something sure to change now that Diners Club has tied the marketing knot with the ubiquitous guide. While good wine needs no bush, Chenin from a 242 year old vine deserves more column centimetres.