October 27, 2005
Nazi raccoons destroy vineyards
Read this at www.decanter.com by Oliver Styles.
Thousands of marauding racoons, descendents of animals released by Hermann Goering, have overrun vineyards in central Germany.
The nocturnal mammals descended on vineyards in the Brandenburg region, west of Berlin, ruining the harvest. Ripening grapes are a favourite snack of the stripy-tailed rodent.
'Raccoons wiped out almost the entire harvest in a matter of days,' winemaker Werner Kothe told Deutsche Presse-Agentur. 'We have 540 vines and they have been stripped bare by these animals.'
The raccoon problem is well known in the area and although some residents take them on as pets, many consider the imported species pests.
Local authorities have now authorised a raccoon cull. Last year, a similar cull killed 3,471. There are an estimated 1m racoons in central Germany.
The animals were introduced by Nazi air force chief Hermann Goering in 1934 to 'enrich' Germany's fauna. With no natural predators their numbers have exploded.
The main winegrowing regions in west Germany – including the Mosel, Rheingau, Saar and Pfalz areas – are believed to be unaffected.
At Stormhoek, our vineyards are alive with wildlife and all are welcome. In fact, it's vital that we have a balance of nature on the property. But, luckily we don't have stormtrooping rodents rampaging around the farm. Just the odd porcupine!
Meeting Oz Clarke
Stormhoek was out in force the other day at the Wines Of South Africa annual wine fair held at Old Billingsgate Market in London . This important event attracts people in the wine business from all over the world. It's a great opportunity to exhibit all our newest wines and, of course, meet new people and old friends alike.
I spent some time with Oz Clarke. Oz is a major dude who is always very supportive and, quite honestly has probably forgotten more about the world of wine than I'll ever know.
He tasted all of our new Stormhoek wines and gave me some very useful advice as to how we could make our wines even better in the future by using a few crafty techniques in the winery. As we're always looking for ways to improve our wine, it's great to have such wisdom from outside. Thanks Oz, look forward to sharing the results with you.
October 20, 2005
Where was the original Cabernet vine?
These little Cabernet cuttings were stuck in the ground a few weeks ago and now they’re budding (it’s spring in South Africa). Next year they’ll be pulled up and supplied to the vineyard owner for replanting)
We have thousands of bits of it growing in our Stormhoek vineyards. Every Cabernet Sauvignon vine, in California, France, everywhere is a bit of the single, original Cabernet Sauvignon vine, wherever it was.
All grape vines are grown from cuttings. Each vine ripens hundreds of grapes each year and the average grape has a couple of seeds, but the seeds are never used, not ever.
No one knows how long ago the original Cabernet vine was chosen or where it was growing, perhaps 1000 years ago in France. And since then, every time we want to plant a vineyard we root the cuttings in a nursery block, get them growing and then plant them out a metre or so apart in a vineyard.
October 19, 2005
Varietal, the spice of life
Many thanks to the podcasters and bloggers attending the most recent New York Geek Dinner for a delightful evening.
I didn't get to stay as long as I would have liked, but I did enjoy helping get things off to a congenial start, helping Dave pour the Stormhoek. And not only the justifiably famous Sauvignon Blanc, but also the oh-so-tasty Shiraz. I might be mistaken, but I believe it was the first time out in public for the Stormhoek Shiraz here in the States. After a couple minutes in the glass the wine was showing admirably.
Taste-wise, a good South African Shiraz is halfway between the varietal's two best-known styles and regions. It's got the ripe fruit and black pepper of the better Aussies, and the smoky, plummy, bacon-fatty goodness from the Northern Rhone (where the grape's called Syrah). Of course, you generally pay a pretty penny for wine from the Barossa Valley, Hermitage, or Cote-Rotie. In Stormhoek you'll find a true expression of what happens to the grape when it's grown in South Africa. And I'm confident you're going to love it for its taste, and for its price.
October 14, 2005
The London Wine Show 2005
If you're anywhere near London at the end of the month, you can meet me and the rest of the Stormhoek team at The London Wine Show 2005.
We'll be there to show our newest wines, discuss the Stormhoek story and answer your questions.
The show is being held at the Business Design Centre in Islington (North London) from 27th - 30th October.
Check out the website at www.wineshow.co.uk. If you book in advance online, you save £5.00 on the ticket price.
See you there!
October 13, 2005
Who has the oldest mud?
[My right boot with 1000 million year old mud from the vineyard.]
We have very old mud.
These Stormhoek vineyards are planted in mud that is something like 1000 million years old. That’s about a quarter of the age of the planet. A thousand million years ago, this mud drifted downstream in a now vanished river and was deposited in a shallow sea, which must have been somewhere here, where we live, in today’s Wellington district in South Africa.
The mud solidified, under the pressure of the seawater and became what is known as mudstone or shale. It was still covered by the sea 500 million years later when Gondwanaland broke up, and South America (which must have been just over there on the western horizon then) drifted away to the west, creating the South Atlantic Ocean.
We came up out of the ocean depths 250 million years later, when volcanic activity lifted the shale and sandstone seabed above the surface. These sedimentary soils are now 300m above sea level.
This winter has been pretty wet (670mm so far this year) and mud has been a constant companion.
October 3, 2005
Life Before Chardonnay
When this book was published, my first, in 1976 (can you imagine how proud I was, mistakes and all), there weren’t any Chardonnay vineyards in South Africa, bar a row of diseased vines planted at the Research Institute.
Cruchen Blanc was Riesling, Riesling was Weisser Riesling, grapes were sold exclusively by weight and every ton of first grade grapes brought the same price, regardless of variety.
There were 38 licensed cellars that you might call small or family-sized, half a dozen liquor wholesaling companies that bought and sold almost all of the wine and over 70 co-operative wineries that made nearly all of it. Just imagine, I wrote a book about 38 little wineries that made and sold about 1% of South Africa’s wine. And all of the copies were sold within a year.
Grape production was controlled by a quota system. If you bought a farm without a quota you could plant vines, but if you tried to make wine and sell it, you would probably get arrested. I didn’t meet anyone who tried.
People dreamt of new areas but experimentation wasn’t possible. No new vine locations were established between 1898, when the war between the British and the farmers (known usually as the Anglo-Boer War) broke out and 1992, when the quota system was abandoned and Nelson Mandela had been a free man for 2 years.
Today we have vineyards planted in every province and serious new wineries (usually with a version of the Taj Mahal for a cellar) are launched at the rate of two a week. We now have over 500 private or estate wineries. And Chardonnay is nearly everywhere. Some wines, generally red, fetch $100 a bottle the moment they’re released and yet Cruchen Blanc is still Riesling and Riesling is still Weisser Riesling. Well, at least it is to South Africans.
Australia seems to be the only other country that has Cruchen and there they also call it Riesling (Clare), showing that at least they got the mistakes in their wines from South Africa. Both countries are forbidden to export a drop of Cruchen. But the locals don’t care. Cruchen (Riesling) is cheaper than real Riesling. So the locals drink the imposter and the real stuff gets exported. Germans visiting the southern hemisphere get confused.
In our stormy corner (that’s what Stormhoek means), we haven’t got Riesling or even Cruchen Blanc. We’ve got some ancient vineyards of Chenin and Semillon. And I see with delight that the people who make the rules want to know where there is wine made in this country from vineyards over 20 years old. That’s over half of this place.