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Durban - To the ears of the winemakers mentioned, it would have been an early Christmas present, but in its significance to the broader industry, there is no running away from the reality – South African wines are capturing the hearts and minds of international commentators and audiences and the upswing can only bring a much-needed boom to a struggling economy.

In an editorial published in the December edition, Decanter magazine content editor Christ Stimpfig could not have had more praise for the country if the ink in his pen had run dry from writing.

His opening statement was that in having returned from a week in the Cape, he could not recall “ever having been so enthused and enthralled by a wine trip” – and described South Africa as now being a strong contender for the world’s most improved and exciting wine nation.

He said our transformation was both rapid and ongoing and the pace of change “staggering”. It was not just the exceptional wines and differing price points that were the country’s trump cards, but also our winemakers’ abilities to be fashioning unusual, fascinating and delicious wines with a real sense of style.

Among his list of impressive wines were the “revitalised chardonnays, elegant pinot noirs, savoury chenin blancs, brilliant syrahs and stunning sauvignons (both blanc and cabernet)” – issues many South African wine lovers have been quietly savouring for years to their benefit.

Yet, this change does not happen without motivated and dedicated personalities. Key among those have been Chris Mullineux (and a personal praise would also go to wife Andrea), Chris and Suzaan Alheit, J D Pretorius, Duncan Savage, Peter de Wet, Samantha O’Keefe, Peter-Allan Finlayson, Matt Day and Eben Sadie.

The role the Swartland Independent Movement has played can also not be ignored, because these have been the winemakers at the forefront of not just testing, but literally pounding away, at the boundaries that have held fast for generations.

In the past two decades South Africa has opened up new wine-growing regions in Botrivier, Elgin, Cederberg, Citrusdal Mountains, Elim, Cape Agulhas and Cape Infanta, and Stimpfig says these experiences are showing in the wines produced.

Yet, he was not the only international voice praising the strides made. In November London-based Master of Wine Jancis Robinson said she was most excited about the wines emerging from the southern hemisphere – and “extremely impressed with the new generation of winemakers in South Africa”.

“I think the new generation in South Africa will change people’s opinions. Winemakers like Eben Sadie, Chris and Andrea Mullineux and Adi Badenhorst, among others, will open people’s eyes … these aren’t copies of French bottlings, but wines uniquely South African,” she said.

Maybe the best news was Stimpfig’s belief that these achievements were only now coming into the limelight, and things can only improve. South Africa has a weakening currency (even more so since his visit) making even our premium brands ludicrously underpriced in dollars, pounds or euros and is cleaning up its virus-infected vines to ensure a solid foundation for years to come.

Praise of this nature is earned only by hard work and dedication and those of us who only enjoy the end product should raise a glass to the strides the industry has made that will not only pay dividends for the individuals, but also for the thousands of people the industry supports and the auxiliary industries like tourism that bring those precious hard currencies into our economy.

The Mercury

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