Different countries have reacted in different ways to the coronavirus epidemic. In terms of wine the harshest measures have been in South Africa. The government’s lockdown on March 15th forbade the bottling, labelling and packaging of wines. Wine tourism was forbidden understandably but the measures went further by forbidding the sale of alcohol domestically. Combined with the ban on transporting wines for export this was certainly a hammer blow to South African wineries. The transport ban was lifted, then reinstated but on May 1st eventually revoked, a huge relief for producers. Moreover, restrictions on wine production were also lifted so wineries could once more package their wines and send them for export. However, the effective Prohibition is still in place domestically, sales have plummeted. Tough times.
This comes at a time when South African wines have been gaining international recognition for their quality. Producers such as Sadie, Molyneux and Testalonga have earned their place on the world stage and writers such as Tim Atkin and Jamie Goode have championed their cause. Back in the 1980s and 90s I used to buy wines from the likes of Fairview and Forrester but then I felt South African wines rather lost their way.
My reintroduction came back in 2015 after a visit to Domaine Vassal, France’s treasury of vines, with a group of natural producers in the Languedoc. I think it was Cameron who had worked harvest with us that year who brought along a skin contact wine from Testalonga and it made a big impression.
The following year I visited the Real Wine Fair in London and met Craig Hawkins of Testalonga who proved to be a fan of Coutelou wines. Just as I was to become of Craig’s wines. I have been buying them ever since and just this week had a fabulously juicy Carignan Follow Your Dreams 2019, very reminiscent of Jeff’s winemaking. The Chenins and Cinsaults, skin contacts and PetNats have all become firm favourites of mine, I thin Craig is getting better and better with each vintage.
I have also enjoyed some of Elgin Ridge’s wines recently, the Sauvignon Blanc 282 having a lovely mineral (yes, I know) character to make the variety more complex. Radford Dale has provided me with some juicy, red fruit rosés well named as Thirst from both Gamay and Cinsault. Intellego’s Kedungu was a nice blend of Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvedre. Perhaps it is the use of grapes familiar to me from the Languedoc which gives these wines such an appeal to me. However, these are wines which hold their own in comparison to other countries, not mere copies. There is real talent in the winemaking and lovely fruit in the bottle.
The ban on local sales must be hitting South Africa’s winemakers hard. I wish them all the best and urge you to try their wines and support them, this is a country with a great wine future whatever current problems beset it.