Lammershoek’s Craig Hawkins one of “30 Under 30 Top New Talent in the Wine World” - Oct 11th 2011
Wine & Spirits Magazine recently did a special feature highlighting 30 "Top New Talent" in the wine world; 30 folks from around the world under 30 years old who are "the most innovative and talented newcomers in the wine industry." As the article stated, "some of them make wine, while others sell it. All of them are names to know."
Of the 30 profiled, there were only two winemakers from the entire Southern Hemisphere, with one of them from South Africa. Craig Hawkins, the 29 year old winemaker at Lammershoek. Worthwhile Wine Co. is proud to be the exclusive US importer of these amazing wines. Organically grown, dry farmed (no irrigation), wild fermented (no commercial yeasts), and not fined, nor filtered. The flavors, intensity, balance, and distinctiveness of these wines are one of the reasons Rhone-style wines from South Africa's Swartland are becoming so well known and loved.
Like many of the young winemakers we have in our South Africa portfolio, Craig had plenty of international experience in his formative years, learning in Portugal's Douro region, "the importance of balance and acidity in a wine."
Worthwhile Wine in The Wine Advocate - Sep 8th 2011
The Wine Advocate remains one of the most influential wine publications in the world, so when Neal Martin recently went through a couple hundred SA wines, his perspective on the winemaking there, and the specific wines he reviewed is important. If you are a subscriber, you can read the entire report here http://www.erobertparker.com/members/winedata/articles/article597.asp
Below are some highlights from August 2011 Wine Advocate review of South African wines:
On the country:
“So, what do you think of South Africa?”
“Visceral,” I reply. “South Africa is visceral.”
Though I only visited the Western Cape, I returned with the impression of a compelling country of extremes and contradictions. Gentle hills lie in the shadows of sky-scraping mountains that tumble into oceans, whilst no-go townships of poverty lap against luxurious mansions patrolled by teams of security guards. Aesthetically, the Western Cape is an idyllic landscape that is counterbalanced by a palpable “edginess” in the atmosphere. You never know exactly what lies round the corner and that is precisely what makes this country intoxicating. This is a dynamic country coalescing after the tumultuous years of Apartheid, a country reborn and figuring out in which direction it should head.
In discussing the grape growing and winemaking since the end of Apartheid (1994): “On the negative side, producers have historically tended to plant unsuitable clones and inappropriate varieties vis-à-vis soil type, and many winemakers that I spoke to attributed this to the rush towards winemaking.” “Fortunately, many vineyard managers and winemakers are reorganizing their vineyards to address these issues. In particular, there is now more research into soil profiles and mapping them to more suitable grape varieties. To counter the summer heat, winemakers are eking out high altitude, cooler mesoclimates that extend the growing season and engender greater complexity. With this comes greater focus upon expressing terroir, whether it is the weathered shale of Swartland or the granitic foothills of Simonsberg Mountains. This is a more mature approach than “buffing up” wines in the winery that seemed prevalent during the 1990’s. South Africa is rich with interesting and often untapped terroirs. Hopefully the process of exploiting their potential is only just beginning.”
“Conversing with winemakers, it is clear that much has been learnt empirically over the last decade in terms of vineyard husbandry, and over the last couple of years they have begun adapting vineyards accordingly. It is the “little feet in the vineyard” philosophy that is being embraced, spending time amongst the vines and making pre-emptive moves to maintain healthy vines rather than treating any problems afterwards. As a consequence, wines are becoming cleaner and demonstrate more complexity than the vintages of yore.”
On Chenin Blanc: “Many tout Chenin Blanc, which currently represents 18% of total plantings, as South Africa’s trump card. Although some wines flirted with blandness, most likely through over-cropping, a top-class Chenin Blanc can be a magical experience, surfeit with complexity, nuance and personality. The great news is that you do not have to pay through the nose for some of the best wines and in fact several outstanding Chenin Blanc wines can be found between $15.00 and $20.00, sometimes even less.”
On Pinotage: Then there is Pinotage, South Africa’s pride and joy that covers 7% of total plantings. To many cognoscenti it is a laughing stock, a variety unable to make good quality, long-lasting wine. I must admit that my views of Pinotage completely changed during my tastings, for although there remains a trough of wretched wines, there is no doubt that Pinotage can make extremely competent wine when placed in the right hands.
Bottom Line: “For the consumer, there is a gamut of rich pickings to be found. Just pour without prejudice.”
Some of our wineries:
Morgenster: “Morgenster proved that they can produce a sublime combination of Old World meets New World Cabernet/Merlot based wines. The 300-year old estate in Somerset West used to be part of Vergelegen. In 1992 Giulio Bertrand purchased the estate, and the first vines were planted the following year. Since 1999, the busiest man in Bordeaux, Pierre Lurton, has consulted for Morgenster and together with winemaker Henry Kotze they impart a tangible Bordeaux sensibility to the wine. Their classically styled Proprietary Red is one of South Africa’s most eligible wines for aging and so I completed two small verticals that proved their wines can repay cellaring over a decade or more, commencing with their entry-level Lourens River Valley.” Morgenster 2006 – 94 “this exquisite 2006 should age well for well over a decade” Morgenster 2005 – 93 Morgenster 2003 – 93 “testifies that a South Africa Bordeaux can age with class.” Morgenster Lourens River Valley 2005 – 92
Morgenster Lourens River Valley – 92
Morgenster Lourens River Valley – 91
“Look out for Swartland’s Lammershoek: a good producer that is moving up the gears judging by the tank samples of 2010 I tasted. Much of that I think is due to winemaker Craig Hawkins who is moving away from higher alcohol wines i.e. around 13% and towards less extraction through less pigeage. The emphasis here is upon sustainability and minimal intervention and to exploit their parcels of 50-year old Chenin Blanc and Syrah.”
“Having put Hamilton Russell on the map, winemaker Kevin Grant departed to establish “Ataraxia” in the idyllic Hemel-en-Aarde valley. Since debuting in 2005 with out-sourced fruit, he has already fashioned some of South Africa’s finest Chardonnays, but he is already enthusiastic about his own fledgling 47-hectares of vine that should debut with the 2011 releases. In the meantime, Kevin showed me debut and recent vintages of portfolio, expounding his philosophy of terroir and mineralite rather than fruit.” Chardonnay 2009 – 93 “Corton-Charlemagne in all but name and price.”
Sauvignon Blanc 2010 – 90 “Impressive”
Human Rights Watch Report on South Africa - Aug 24th 2011
In case you haven’t seen it, two days ago Human Rights Watch released a report entitled Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries that was sent out under a press release entitled South Africa: Farmworkers’ Dismal, Dangerous Lives. From the titles alone, this seems to be a very damning report on the ways South African winery and fruit farmers treat South African workers. www.hrw.org/news/2011/08/23/south-africa-farmworkers-dismal-dangerous-lives
I’d like to be clear that there are certainly abuses of workers that go on in South Africa – as there are of undocumented migrant workers who pick grapes and all other fruits in the US and almost every other country. Behavior of this type by any farmer, anywhere, is reprehensible, inexcusable, and worthy of global review and scorn. For that, I commend what HRW is trying to do. However, one of the reasons we chose to focus on South Africa as the initial source of great wine for our earth and people friendly business is because of all the tremendous efforts made in South Africa toward bettering the lives of workers.
No matter how wide-spread the report headlines make this abuse seem, it simply isn’t the case. If you read deep enough into the HRW report it is clear the cases they discovered are isolated. My personal experience re-affirms the same. And while any abuse is disgusting and unacceptable, the fact that the abuse seems to be isolated is an extremely critical point. By making it initially appear the abuse is wide-spread, the report has the potential to harm the very people HRW claims to want to help.
It is critical for American consumers to understand just how much effort and investment is made on a large majority of wine farms in South Africa because it would be a tragedy for those doing the right thing to suffer because of the abuses of a few.
Our wineries build pre-schools for workers’ children, pay for workers to get training, support alcohol abuse programs, build workers housing, create after-school programs for workers’ children, provide management training and set aside management positions for workers. Some even create ownership opportunities for their workers. None of them do so because they are required to. They make these often difficult investments even in a bad economy because they truly care and have a deep commitment to making the lives of their workers better.
All of those programs, and the people they uplift, will suffer if this report causes American consumers to stop supporting the wineries implementing the programs. In that way, I strongly disagree with the way the press release by Human Rights Watch was written, and feel compelled to write this in an effort to ensure HRW doesn’t accidentally harm many workers while trying to help a few.
We started Worthwhile Wine Company to give consumers confidence that our wines are of great quality and distinctiveness, and that they are also created with care for the earth and people. We rely on 3rd party certifying bodies and our own personal visits to wineries to ensure this is true. Every effort possible has been made to ensure you can buy our great wines with confidence that our great wines are made in ways that are making better lives.
So, please be an educated and discerning consumer. Please do not support products from companies that may be abusing workers. But it is also critical that you continue to support products of high quality that are investing their time and money in the hard work of improving other peoples’ lives. In the end that is the best way for you to make a difference in the world and ensure that the damage done by a few despicable people isn’t made worse.
As just one example of what is also going on in South Africa, please watch Mark Solms tell the story of what has and continues to happen on Solms-Delta wine farm.
Thank you for your continued support of our wines, and of the process of improving the lives of the workers at our wineries.
Rooiberg one of TOP 55 Value Brands of the Year - May 19th 2011
Each year the critics at Wine and Spirits Magazine reviews tens of thousands of wines. And each year, they select their TOP VALUE BRANDS OF THE YEAR.
This year they selected 55 brands that across multiple wines, consistently deliver high value.
Just 55 out of an estimated more than 5,000 wine brands in the US. This is literally the TOP 1% OF WINE VALUE BRANDS IN THE US.
We could not be more proud that one of our wines is among those.
Rooiberg Winery is one of the Top 55 Value Brands of the Year. Specifically, Wine and Spirits said the following:
What: Modern wines ranging from plump and easy-drinking to spicy and sophisticated.
Standout: The Reserve Merlot, with foresty fruit and fleshy red tannins.
Where: Based in the Breede River Valley, Rooiberg works with 34 growers spread across Robertson’s limestone soils.
When: Pour the gentle Chardonnay at brunch; save the Merlot and the tart ’08 Roodewyn Cabernet–Merlot for barbecued spare ribs.
While the consistent quality and value are impressive, consider this. The wines are from grapes grown in accordance with South Africa's Biodiversity-Wine Initiative, and HAACP (Europe) organic certification.
These are truly worthwhile wines, and we are proud to have them. Check out our store finder to see if they're available near you yet. If not, please consider asking your favorite bottle shop to get them for you.
South African Wine Quality, Value, and Sales are all rising! - Apr 10th 2011
Mark Twain once said (something along the lines of) "There are lies. There are damn lies. And then there are statistics." I'm sure that statement can be proven to be statistically true some percentage of the time. Hopefully this is NOT one of them…
There have been a lot of people proclaim that South African wine is about to explode on the US scene for the last 15 years. I'm not going to do that here. But there are some undeniably positive trends for SA wine sales, and some of those figures are below.
More interesting is that I found a quantifiable way to explain why those sales are taking off, and why sales are likely to continue to grow (enough growth to move SA's market share from less than 2% of US sales to the 4% of global market share they have, perhaps?).
The first numbers are from the 2010 Gomberg-Fredrikson Report of wine sales in the US. This data shows two things:
South Africa's commitment a few years ago to shift their focus from a higher-volume, lower quality "bulk wine" strategy to a higher-quality bottled wine focus has had an impact. Total 9-liter volume was down when bulk wine is included.
Also seemingly as a result of this shift, total sales of BOTTLED South African wine have grown for multiple years, and in 2010 were up substantially more than average.
The DOLLAR VOLUME of SA bottled wine sales were roughly 6X the average for all imports.
This is great news for the American market – there have been far too few categories with that sort of quality-driven, dollar volume increases over the past few years.
So the question becomes why is this happening. And for that, I turn to the folks at Wine Spectator…
Arguably the largest and most influential wine publication in the world, they likely taste and professionally review more wine from more countries than any group of people in the world. The result of a years' worth of wine tasting there is what statisticians would call a "statistically significant sample size." In their March issue, Wine Spectator had a section called the Year in Review in which they showed the hard numbers behind all of that sipping and spitting and judging and rating. The chart below is mine; I made it from the data that was included in that report. It only shows two data points:
The percentage of all wines submitted that were rated 90 or higher, by country.
The average suggested retail price of all the wines that rated 90 or higher, by country.
The results are striking:
"Old World" producers Germany, France and Italy had highest percentage of reviewed wines rate 90+. Not surprising.They were also among the most expensive.
Of the "New World" countries, California is tied for the highest percentage of reviewed wines that rated 90+ at 29%. And their 90+ rated wines are pretty expensive.
South African wines were tied with California and ahead of every other country, also with 29% of their submitted wines rating 90+. And, they had the lowest average price for 90+ rated wines.
That is pretty strong data to suggest that SA is clearly among the best countries in the world at delivering a good bit of high quality wine at very reasonable prices. Which is exactly the wine for which the American consumer is searching.
Now, these are statistics, and there are some important points that could be made, such as SA submits a far smaller number of wines to Spectator than California, Australia, etc., and those are very valid points. But, they do nothing to undercut the idea that South Africa is now producing a lot of high quality wine at reasonable prices. It is real data that gives a solid and sustainable reason as to why sales of South African wines should continue to grow and that more Americans will continue to try and adopt South African wines.
Shameless plug: Our portfolio includes more than a dozen wines rated 90+ that retail for less than the Spectator SA average…
Our First 101 Rated Wine - Apr 1st 2011
From the beginning we could tell it was going to be a special evening. We had gathered from South Africa, Boston, Atlanta, Long Island, and Westchester County, to taste wines at a favorite restaurant out in New York. Five of us with a cumulative 120+ years of experience in the wine industry: Peter Ruggie and Dominico Spagnolo of Liberty Wine Selections, Judy Lebel of Best Year Ever, me, and Rijk Melck of Muratie Wine Estate. We had gathered that evening to taste the Muratie wines.
The wines were showing well, and having Rijk there to give us the history, explain the terroir, and describe that year's harvest and the winemaking process for each wine really added to the tasting. Then we got to his Dad's wine – the Ronnie Melck Shiraz – a tribute to his late father.
This wine had already received a Cellar Selection earlier in the year from Wine Enthusiast Magazine, and in short order is building a great reputation. As we all tasted the wine, formed our thoughts, and asked Rijk questions about the special lot of vines from which the wine is made and the unique open barrel fermentation technique used, nothing could have prepared us for what came next.
As we went around the table giving our critiques, there quickly became a groundswell toward a score none of us had ever experienced before – a 101.
Shocked at the result we'd come to, we wondered aloud whether it was right, or even possible for a wine to get a 101 score. We knew wine rating is done on a 100 point scale, but the four point scale for grading school students has an A+, and students now get credit for AP classes, allowing some of them to graduate with a 4.1+ GPA, so why not a 101 rated wine?!?!
So, after a few more sips of the amazing Ronnie Melck Shiraz from Muratie, and a few more sips of a few other wines at the table, and a return to sip a bit more of the Ronnie Melck Shiraz, we all happily agreed that we had, indeed, experienced our first 101 rated wine.
We ended the special evening with a train ride back into Manhattan, Rijk as proud as he could be, and all of us nearly giddy knowing we had now done what no one else had ever done – rated a wine 101 points on the 100 point scale.
Wine No.’s 6 and 7 in our 28 wines of February – De Waal - Feb 7th 2011
It is the 7th of February and we're up to 7 wines rated 90+ or "Best Buy" from our portfolio, so we're staying on track.
Today we'll look at two wines from De Waal. This is a great, old estate, founded in 1682, and has been a De Waal family concern since 1864. DeWaal is an iconic producer of Pinotage, the uniquely south African grape, including the very limtied release "Top of the Hill" Pinotage, made from the oldest Pinotage vines in the world.
But, as a show of their diversity, we're going to focus on two other wines:
Signal Rock, 2007. 90 in June 2010 Wine Enthusiast Magazine. A red blend described by the magazine thus: "Aromas of cigarbox, black fruit and spice are followed by blackberry, plum and pepper on the palate. Clean flavors, balanced tannins and minerality, and an overall easy-to-drink character recommend the blend. Pair with roasted meats, stews."
The DeWaal Young Vines Sauvignon Blanc received a "Best Buy" from Wine Enthusiast in December 2010 with the following review: "This is a fresh and easy to drink white that's perfect for pairing with salads or citrus-based grilled fish. Medium weight with prominent tart flavors of lemony citrus and green berries, and the finish offers a hint of fresh hay."
February Celebration of 28 90/Best Buy Wines – Cederberg - Feb 6th 2011
The next wines in our 28 wines of February celebration are from Cederberg. This is one of the most unique wineries in the world, isolated among natural areas high in the Cederberg Wilderness, they produce wines of intensity and distinctiveness.
One of the most distinctive wines is Bukettraube (Boo-kah-trah-buh). There are very few producers of this native Austrian grape, and the Cederberg Bukettraube has been described thus:
"much like a Muscat or Gewürtztraminer, but even juicier and less acidic. This wine also has an absolutely to-die-for nose: take a deep whiff, and it’s all peaches and honeysuckle. And not in that wine-speakey “I detect notes of peach”-kind of way. This fruit knocks you over and kisses you hard on the mouth, connoisseur or not. Fantastic."
Now for a couple of Cederberg's 90+ rated wines:
Chenin Blanc – 90 Wine & Spirits Magazine, February 2011. "Sea air is the most prevalent scent in this wine – a subtle saline aroma that gets you salivating. There's kiwi-berry fruit marked by herbal verbena notes, the wine's viscosity aerated by high acidity. It has potential to age for at least 5 years, but would be delicious now with beet and goat cheese salad."
Cederberg Cabernet Sauvignon – 91 Wine Enthusiast Magazine Feb 2011."Cocoa dusted black raspberry, black currant and plum aromas up front transition to flavors of blackberry and fudgy brownie. Creamy and full in the mouth with medium tannins and a velvety texture. Approachable now, but pair with a good steak or fatty game like shoulder lamb chops for balance."
Celebrating One Year of Wine Sales in Feb with 28 90+ and “Best Buy” wines. - Feb 2nd 2011
In February 2010 we had our first wine selected for the New York Times Wine Club, and our first wine sale. One year later, we celebrate February by highlighting the 28 wines in our portfolio that have received a 90+ or “Best Buy” rating in the last year – one per day (or sometimes two/day if I get too busy).
Yep, 28 wines in our little portfolio of South African wines (and they’re all sustainably made, to boot!).
So, let’s start with the A’s.
Ataraxia is Kevin Grant’s winery. Most of you know Kevin even if you’ve never heard of him. He was the winemaker at Hamilton Russell winery as they were establishing themselves as one of the premier wineries in South Africa. Stepping out on his own a few years ago, he has had an instant impact with 3 wines that have garnered consistent rave reviews – Sauvignon Blanc, Serenity red blend, and, of course, Chardonnay. Let’s take a quick look:
Serenity – A red wine blended of grapes that are unidentified, the march 2011 issue of Wine Enthusiast gave it a 91 rating and the following review:
A gorgeous and elegant compositionally undisclosed red blend from winemaker Kevin Grant, this has all the finesse and complexity of a great wine. Bright and inviting with juicy red plum, blueberry, and wild raspberry aromas and flavors laced with hints of smoky, woody spice and minerality. Silky in the mouth with fine tannins and a long, nuanced finish.
Chardonnay – Made in the much desired style of the cooler coastal areas of South Africa, Kevin continues to show the world how great South African Chardonnay can be. The January 2011 Wine & Spirits Magazine gave it a 91 rating and the following review:
“Sourced primarily from sandstone and clay-rich shale parcels in the Hemel-en-Aard and Elgin valleys, this richly textured Chardonnay offers flavors of baked apple and peach, fragrant with notes of cut grass and elderflower. The acidity carries the wine’s girth, making it feel firm as it lasts on savory barrel spice. A perfect companion to sea scallops sautéed in sheep’s milk butter.’
Sauvignon Blanc – Arguably the shiniest star of the trio of Ataraxia wines, this wine has received multiple 90+ ratings over the years and has been described by the Wine Spectator as “Superdelicious.”
Hi everyone. We are thrilled to tell you about a new Fair Trade Certified wine we are importing into the US called Partnership Vineyards. It started as a BEE (Black Enterprise Empowerment) venture with Riebeek Cellars and has also been certified Fair Trade.
Partnership Vineyards is the cooperation of farm and cellar workers, farmers and the winery, Riebeek Cellars, in the Riebeek Valley. Since 2004 we have planted almost 60 hectares of wine grapes on the farm called Partnership Vineyards.
Shareholding in this project is 40% farm and cellar workers, 40% farmers and 20% Riebeek Cellars. Riebeek Cellars serves as the marketing and production leg of the project while the farmers (together with funding from government) have given the money to start the project with. The farmers are still involved by giving expertise and ensuring that the project is farmed properly and managed successfully. The idea is to eventually buy out all the farmers' shares, in order to have 80% shareholding in the hands of the previously disadvantaged farm and cellar workers.
Not only will this project pay out dividends to its partners as soon as it becomes profitable, it also gives each of the partners his / her few acres of Africa to own for life and to serve as an inheritance for their children.
Today they launched their Facebook Fan Page and we encourage you all to become a fan and keep up with the wonderful work happening there.