Rugby players make good wine too
Rugby players are transferring their skills from field to vineyard
That rugby trumps wine in the national game roshambo (rock-paper-scissors) was clear at last month's Nederburg auction. Blogger David White's opening address was delayed by 30 minutes and the auction venue transformed into a sports bar by big screen TVs to accommodate the Springbok demolition of Fiji.
The victory put buyers in a good mood and prices rose 32% higher than last year - miraculous in these tough economic climes. The cherry on top was Ireland humiliating Australia, our leading competitor in rugby and wine exports.
Springbok legend Hempies du Toit was in the rose garden celebrating the win, yet sad that he had no wine on the auction.
"I sent them my 2001 Annandale cabernet," he remarked, "but they turned me down." Pity, as the auction was something of a love-in for the elderly, with three bottles of Chateau Libertas 1961 knocked down for R20000. Not bad, when Pick n Pay discounts the current release at under R20 a bottle. How many other investments increase 33230% in 50 years? And if the market collapses, you can always drink your investment.
Nederburg makes a feature of its parsimonious selection of auction wines, with an acceptance rate at a blind tasting by a panel of gurus and sommeliers running at below 50%.
It's quite different to the children's-birthday-party approach applied at the Cape Winemakers Guild Auction, where everyone gets a present. All wines entered are accepted.
The nickname "Hempies" came from a pathological schoolboy inability to keep his white shirt tucked into his short pants. And although the man is larger than the proverbial brick outhouse, his Annandale cuvées imitate the elegant horse on the label and are true thoroughbreds.
Hempies was previously winemaker at Alto Estate, higher up the Helderberg, and credits rugby with defining their elegant style.
"I was 28 before I became a Springbok. Rugby took me to France, which influenced the style of wine I was to make later: elegance rather than traditional power."
Another rugby giant who makes wines that are remarkably nimble on their feet is Schalk Burger. His Meerkat Pinotage 2009 is not only the most affordable wine in this year's Absa Top 10 Pinotage selection, at an incredible R35 a bottle, but also one of the most elegant.
Hempies's successor at Alto is Schalk van der Westhuizen, "who played rugby in my slipstream," as Hempies recalls.
His 2007 vintage blend of cabernets franc and sauvignon is a subtle statement of cranberry with polished tannins and an unusual name: MPHS. For Hempies, "It's a nostalgia blend to honour my dad Piet" - the "P" in the name.
In its 90-year existence, the farm has had only four winemakers: Manie (Malan), Piet, Hempies and Schalk.
Hempies declares himself to be "a great fan of cinsaut, which tastes like pinot noir when it ages".
His 1984 Alto Rouge, still fresh and floral with juicy black-fruit flavours from the cinsaut component, proves his point.
Cinsaut, the forgotten hero of SA wine, is about to make a comeback with young Turks such as Adi Badenhorst planting it in the Swartland and Eben Sadie making a flamboyant fashion statement with his 2009 Cinsaut, "Pofadder".