South Africa Trip Day 2: My Name's Bob, Elemental Bob..
Day 2 of our 5 year mission to seek out new life, new civilisations and to boldly go where no Brummie Vintner has gone before. (*Editor’s note: it’s a 2 week mission in search of wine, not life. Or civilisations – that’s been done already).
As I was saying before I was interrupted, day 2 of our mission and today was all about Bob.
The day dawned bright and sunny (again) and 9.30 saw us pulling up at the quite outrageously beautiful estate of Stark-Conde to be met by the charming Francois Cillie who took us through a fascinating tasting of the Stark-Conde range in their tasting room (just happens to be on an island in the middle of their lake) before allowing us to play at being winemakers and trying our hand at pigeage (stomping down the grapeskins), with and without hats! If you should find yourself in this neck of the woods I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit to what is probably one of the most beautiful vineyards on the planet.
(The view from the tasting house, NB, note the distinct lack clouds and rain)
The second visit was largely fruitless in terms of wine but did go to prove that block paving drives, bronze sculptures and smart restaurants do not a winery make.
Then we met Bob. And Wade. And Craig.
(Bob (Craig) & Wade)
A greater contrast between visits 2 and 3 you could not imagine. Finding the Romond winery where Craig (Bob) and Wade independently rent a bit of space was a mission in itself and one that I sincerely hope the car hire company was not privy to. Up a track that was laughably described as an unpaved road, Harry our trusty Hyundai bumped and groaned before coming to an even rougher and narrower track at which point I’m sure I heard Harry mutter “now you’re seriously taking the P***.” Eventually we arrived at the winery to be met by skateboarder, winemaker and all around mystic Craig Sheard aka Elemental Bob. Craig is one of the new breed of young winemakers who, without the resources of major institutions or wealthy families behind them, have set about making truly exciting wines with the minimum of investment. Sourcing and buying small parcels of grapes that would otherwise have been sold to the co-operatives, they are creating some of the most interesting and original wines currently available.
Craig’s business card describes him as a “natural winemaker” but, obviously clocking my slight concern at seeing this (I reserve the right to retain a certain scepticism on the subject of natural wine) he suggested that “authentic” winemaker was perhaps a more appropriate handle (that’s alright then.) Let there be no doubt that Craig is a truly gifted and focussed winemaker (albeit as Wade his neighbour, mate and fellow vigneron says, “it’s more anti-winemaking than winemaking”) but these are not wines that are made to any sort of recipe. These are wines from the student school of cookery – a case of creating the very best that one can from what happens to be available. Ok, that’s something of an exaggeration but blends and winemaking strategies are evolving from year to year with no formulas or recipes involved. I think “authentic” probably sums up the approach better than any other term and I suspect that these are some of the most exciting wines that we shall come across whilst here.
Watch this space.
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.