Allée Bleue 21st July 2016
Issues and opinions
I love to ask those in the wine industry what, in their opinion, are the up and coming issues that the wine industry will have to address going forward. Many times the obvious issues are raised, such as climate change and the health and social issues associated with alcohol consumption, however sometimes I am surprised by the answers, as issues I had not considered are aired. This was the case during a visit to Allée Bleue wine estate, situated in the Franschhoek Valley South Africa.
The estate, purchased in 1999, is owned by the Dauphin Family, but dates back to 1690. It is a 200 ha farm, of which 25 ha is vines and 100 ha is other crops, it also has a picturesque Cape Dutch house. The company produces 365,000 bottles of wine annually, 60% is exported, (the UK agent is Vinumterra) and 40% is home trade, with half being local through the onsite shop and hospitality facility.
Daniel Van Zyl Du Toit has been the winemaker on the estate since 2009. For him the issues he faces are the world wide problems in the vineyard of downy and powdery mildew and the less usual issue worldwide of baboons. These creatures can be extremely destructive, and apparently a bit stupid. They pick a bunch of grapes and tuck the bunch under their armpit, then reach out to pick another bunch to put under the other armpit, of course as they reach out the first bunch drops to the ground. Hence they leave a trail of bunches throughput the vineyard. Apparently clever growers used to plant either a Ugni Blanc or Colombard vine at the end of each row of grapes. This is because both Ugni Blanc and Colombard are very acidic, so the baboons taste the grapes and spit them out due to the high acidity, and move on to the next vineyard.
Additionally lack of water remains a large issue across South Africa, with 2 dry winters in a row, it is estimated that the dry farmed vineyards of Wellington have lost 60% of tonnage over the last 2 years. Besides water, power on the estate can be an issue with an unreliable gas supply and expensive sources of electricity.
General Manager, Ansgar Flaatten, has different concerns regarding the wine industry in South Africa. He is really concerned about the lack of young people coming into the industry. The first generation of young guns winemakers are now around 35, fast approaching middle age, where are the next generation that will take the South African wine industry forward in the way these young guns did? Ansgar is concerned that young talent is not being attracted to the industry, perhaps due to the lack of a mentoring programme, which could lead to a problem of succession in the future.
Additionally there is a lack of people of colour in the wine industry, as in the model of Thandi, (South Africa’s first agricultural Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) project). Thandi Company is owned by 147 farm worker families, who hold 62% of the shares in the company. There are people of colour that have trained as winemakers, such as Nomonde Kubheka, but examples are fairly few. Ansgar is also skeptical about how much “Fairtrade” has been a positive force in the South African wine industry. He feels, initially, too many wineries were accredited, resulting in too much Fairtrade wine being produced for the size of the Fairtrade market, and as a consequence many wineries failed. That said South Africa is the largest producer of Fairtrade wine globally, with 24 producer organisations, and accounts for around two- thirds of global Fairtrade wine sales.
So along with the obvious issues there are some interesting opinions on less obvious issues in the South African wine trade. How these are addressed remains to be seen.
Wines tasted included
- Sparkling Brut Rosé a blend of Pinotage, Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc a pretty pale pink with lively perfume of strawberry and floral overtones complemented by racy acidity.
- Isabeau a lovely blend of Chardonnay, Semillon and Viognier blend, ½ fermented in inert vessels and then transferred to small oak barrels to complete fermentation. This transfer while risky does add great depth and complexity to this characterful wine with a peppery finish.