Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Bordeaux out of South Africa

Published:  23 July, 2008

by Christian Davis

South African winemakers need encouragement, and while it is important to see the problems there, it is also important to note that there are people trying to do something about them. Alain Moueix, who has been making wine in South Africa in collaboration with Graham Knox since 1998, was recently speaking at a tasting in London arranged by importer John Armit Wines to show the 1999 vintage of Sejana ("trophy") and Naledi ("star"), available for $100 for a case of six. Moueix, who makes wine at Chteau Mazeyres, was accompanied by his father, Jean-Jacques, who owns Chteaux Trotanoy, Fonroque and St Andr Corbin. "I am not trying to make Bordeaux wines in South Africa," said Alain Moueix. "I am trying to make great wines in South Africa." Moueix described the problems he has had in finding the right vineyards producing the required quality of fruit. He is involved with two vineyards, one at Siyabonga and a 20ha one at Ingwe near False Bay. Ingwe has been planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc ("good potential for South Africa"), Petit Verdot and Tempranillo. Moueix said that he found the Merlot "a bit heavy", and that the Cabernet Sauvignon "lacked roundness", but the Cabernet Franc was "in the middle and had nice balance". He said that hitherto winemakers paid a set price for fruit irrespective of quality. He has been seeking to pay for plots which he knew produced quality fruit rather than pay for tonnage. He also explained that it was difficult to find old Cabernet vineyards, as much of the Cabernet vines were "infested with virus". He said the problem does not come from the soil but from the selection process. "You plant the vine and in two years it gets virused," he said. A Merlot clone from Bordeaux was one of the best, he claimed. To import vines is "very complicated" and Moueix predicted that in three to four years it will be nearly impossible to find new cuttings in South Africa. Another challenge, he discovered during the 1998/99 vintage, is that the South Africans tend to pick too early. "They are afraid of producing wines with too high pH levels and often acidify to correct it. I decide on taste, not on pH or acidity, which is critical if you want to produce good red wines," he said. He believes that: "There is good potential to make great wines. The problem is the philosophy of the winemakers. Many lack self-confidence. They look at Australia and they just want to copy instead of trying to do what is best in the vineyard. They need to try to find their own style." On the issue of workers' rights, Moueix said that there was a three-year project at Siyabonga, following a grant from the South African Wine Industry Trust, under which adults and children are being educated and taught vineyard techniques. "We are only at the start of the beginning. It is difficult when faced with someone who cannot write their name," said Moueix.