A Digger’s a Wonderful Thing
Visiting vineyards can be a soulless, lonely affair, making polite noises to winemakers whilst repeatedly forcing oneself to kiss yet another frog in the hope of finding a Princess. It was, therefore, a matter of celebration when we realised that our trip to South Africa coincided with that of Lis and Andrew (Digger) Darwin of the eponymous Herefordshire wine merchants who are here on a similar mission whilst taking in a friend’s wedding on the way. Working our way around such an array of vineyards with a couple of like-minded souls adds tenfold to the enjoyment, all the more so as it provides a daily audience for Connolly’s views on Brexit, Trump, French elections yadda, yadda, yadda – just don’t get me started.
(Susan Eramus of Vrede en Lust)
Whilst we may well share views on wine and one or two other matters, in one respect Digger and I could not differ more; whilst I am happy to go about the day’s activities pausing for no more than the odd glass of water, Digger is a man who never knowingly goes unlunched. I fear that Wednesday might have provided something of a culture shock. Meeting up at Vrede en Lust, we were greeted by a first team of Marketing and sales manager, Anneen du Toit, Viticulturist and part owner, Etienne Buys and, taking time out of the winery to conduct our tasting, winemaker Susan Erasmus. Let there be no doubt, this is a hugely professional and serious operation with a broad range of very good wines – White Mischief is an intriguing blend of 6 varietals with a lovely, pebbley minerality, Early Mist Riesling, a frighteningly drinkable, off-dry style that could put paid to many an afternoon’s plans, Cotes de Savoye is a chunky, Rhone blend of Syrah, Grenache and Viognier whilst the Lady J Syrah was a really exceptional single varietal. With an additional dozen or so wines thrown into the mix together with a fair amount of chit chat it was 1.00 pm before we left with our next appointment scheduled for 2.30 a good hour’s drive away. There was only one thing for it – skip lunch!. It’s a truly terrible thing to witness a man of mature years break down in front of you but I sense that with appropriate counselling and time to reflect, there is a strong likelihood that Digger may make a complete recovery.
To compound his grief, when we arrived at our next appointment at Longridge, they were in the midst of setting up for a dinner that evening for 200 guests - the aromas that greeted us were a joy to behold as, it’s fair to say, were the wines that were presented by Sales Manager Shaun Page and, when he wasn’t rushing out to check on the winery, winemaker Jasper Raats. With a series of awards and a trophy cupboard which, it’s fair to say, is more along the lines of Barcelona than Birmingham City this is a truly impressive line-up. Stars of the show were the ridiculously pretty, The Emily, a Chardonnay Pinot Noir blend that just cries out to be drunk, a delicate, beautifully balanced 2015 Chardonnay, the truly exceptional, Bordeaux style, Eklipika 2014 – widely regarded as one of the country’s finest reds and, for me the real surprise – Pinotage 2015 – it’s Pinotage Jim but not as we know it; bright, full of sweet red fruit and not a trace of burnt rubber in sight.
(Waterkloof use horses to maintain the vineyards)
Thursday was all about Waterkloof – brainchild of Stockport born wine merchant Paul Boutinot this is cutting edge viticulture under the stewardship of the quite remarkable Christian Loots. It’s fair to say that the hour or so spent in his presence taught me more about Biodynamics than the precious 57 years and the value of his work was born out by the range of wines presented by the hugely talented winemaker, Nadia Barnard. This should be on everyone’s tick list for South African vineyard visits, not least for the superb restaurant (we got lunch).
Onwards and upwards
The life of a vintner can be a lonely, frustrating experience but, just occasionally, it throws up the sort of opportunity that makes the whole thing worthwhile.
So it was that, in the company of food and drink writer and Birmingham legend, Paul Fulford, I set about one of the toughest food and wine matching challenges to date in the beautiful surroundings of Chung Ying Central on Colmore Row
For the final week we look at Louisvale, and will be opening their Stone Road Sauvignon Blanc and the newly arrived sparkling MCC Brut Chardonnay-
“We have a particular soft spot for Louisvale as it was our introduction to them 12 months ago and the subsequent success that their wines have enjoyed that encouraged this project in the first instance.