If the title of this piece struck you as sexist, please continue reading. It's not. It is however Women's month, and what better opportunity to celebrate women in the wine industry.
While female wine makers remain few and far between, the ladies who are tackling the industry are making a rather big splash. On 9 August, Women's Day, we featured the intriguing Momento wines of Marelise Niemann in our social media stories, and by running specials on the wine all day in both Alchemy and The 'Other' Room.
The packaging is artful and somewhat feminine. Beautiful. But the proof is in the content. When I tasted the wines, I was immediately impressed by their sensitivity. It's hard to describe - here is a delicate, feminine touch which I look forward to explore further, by drinking a lot more of it, of course. I'll get to the bottom of this, hopefully before I get to the bottom of the bottle. But I digress.
Her Momento Grenache is simply delicious. I found a fragrant lightness at first, yet a complexity that really intrigued me - a lingering impression. To summarise my experience of this wine - it is complete. Fruit, good structure, balance. But above all, that sensitivity for which I am still trying to find the words...
The unusual Momento Chenin Blanc-Verdelho blend is extraordinary. A regular customer at Alchemy, referred to simply as Clare for the purposes of this post, brought a British colleague for a drink a couple of weeks ago. She was keen to showcase truly special South African wine, rather than the mass produced export crap the Brits buy from Tesco, and so was I. Despite Clare's unfavourable views on oaked white wines, I recommended the Chenin-Verdelho blend. They immediately picked up the oak on the nose (even though old oak is used), but blindly trusting my judgement, continued to sample the wine. They were both blown away. Lovely fresh fruit, some citrus notes, a lingering finish. And that's my point - the sensitivity of the wine is such that it broke through the preconception of what oaked white wines are. A noteworthy accomplishment. (For the record, Clare has subsequently been back and, each time, has ordered the same wine.)
I sincerely hope that I will have the pleasure of drinking more wines from Marelise in the near future. I am yet to try her Tinta Barocca and I can't wait!
Very recently, I was introduced to The Garajeest, another extraordinary label by what appears to be an intriguing lady, Callan Williams. Callan apparently set out to become a ballet dancer, but made an about turn and now creates unconventional, limited production wines. Musical icons inspired the Bruce Cabernet Franc and Jim Semillon. I just got them both in - usually I taste wines before adding them to my list, but this time I took a leap of faith and secured some stock before doing so. I surely can't contain my curiosity much longer - if you pop in to Alchemy or The 'Other' Room one of these days, who knows, your timing might just present an opportunity for a taste, coinciding with me finally giving in and opening a bottle!
Marelise and Callan are just two examples of the women who are contributing to the wine revolution in South Africa. There are a handful of others, and of course I can't mention them all. Andrea Mullineux has achieved tremendous heights, Rianie Strydom has carved deep tracks in the industry as a whole, Trizanne Barnard is another trailblazer. Next week I'll be spending a bit of time with the amazing Christa from Huis van Chevallerie to taste her three very unique bubbles. I had the pleasure of meeting Christa and her wines a few years ago, and relish the thought of a reunion. Watch this space.
Time to wrap up. Like Clare, I hope you will challenge your preconceptions, or prejudices. Whether it be against oaked whites, a particular varietal, a particular region (see my take on Burgundy…). There is so much innovation in the wine industry, and it deserves, no requires, continued exploration. Singling out women may, ironically, imply prejudice, but I firmly believe that women are contributing significantly to moving SA wine forward, breaking new ground and bringing us special experiences. Perhaps the need to prove oneself in a male dominated world breeds creativity and a departure from the old.
Cheers to the ladies, and may we be blessed by more female wine makers taking the bold step into what remains a male dominated industry.
P.S. When I started writing this, I was sitting at Bloemfontein Airport waiting to board a delayed flight, drinking Riebeek Cellars Collection Pinotage. The most interesting of the wines on offer in the (tiny) lounge, it was pleasant and seemed right for the occasion. A couple of days later I finished writing with a glass of the beautiful Remhoogte Printer's Ink Pinotage (more about this at some other time perhaps). Oh OK, and before that I had a glass of Sutherland Unwooded Chardonnay. I love what I do…