October 31, 2006
Tom's Wine Of The Week
This week Tom Cannavan recommends Stormhoek Pinotage as his Wine Of The Week. Tom runs www.wine-pages.com which is one of the most informative and comprehensive wine websites out there, it's well worth visiting.
October 29, 2006
For the major part of Mandela’s stay on Robben Island, his cell, like all others, had no bed or mattress, just two mats. What appears to be a pillow are 5 blankets, which he had to keep like this when he was not asleep.
The mats provided were the best you could get. Note the South African Bureau of Standards stamp of approval (SABS).
There have been many requests to stay overnight in this all purpose room in the last 15 years. It served as bedoom, living room, bathroom and toilet, dining room and recreational space for one man for 18 years, though it is just 2 metres square (that’s 6ft 6in sq.).
This is where Nelson Mandela spent most of his time at Robben Island, sleeping, washing, eating, exercising and thinking. He is 6 ft 2in and couldn’t lie down without bent knees. The electric bulb burnt all night. He was taken out of the cell each day pre-dawn to join the other prisoners to break stones or make roads and returned to the lock up at 4 pm.
There are about a dozen cells on each side of this corridor in Block B, all principally the same. It’s where the most important political prisoners were kept.
Far from being in solitary, they were caged alongside each other. With care and discretion, they could communicate.
The idea was that they would do less damage if they were isolated from the rank and file political prisoners.
The diet was meagre and the beverages restricted to tea, coffee or water.
When Mandela was released, at the age of 72, he had never tasted dry wine. Within weeks, he was honoured and feted, virtually every day, and as a rule, next to his plate, he found the juice of the grape, fermented dry, red or white. He was not impressed.
He remains, today, the world’s most famous sweet wine lover.
October 28, 2006
Wow. I've got a lot to live up to after Jason's last post. "[Gia] is brilliant, a gifted writer and a talented tv presenter." Ah, shucks, Jason, you make me blush.
I've followed the whole Stormhoek online campaign since its inception. I've been to the Stormhoek-sponsored Geek Dinners in London, hung out with Hugh and Jason in Geneva, I was even one of the first group of bloggers who signed up to try Stormhoek out.
Basically, you could say that I'm a Stormhoek groupie.
So last week, when I was asked if I would be interested in writing for the Stormhoek blog, I jumped at the chance. Whether or not I deserve Jason's gushing, one thing's for sure, I'm definitely not a wine expert.
I can tell you everything you need to know about working in British television, but I don't know the first thing about the wine industry. I can explain pretty much everything you need to know about nuclear power, but couldn't tell you whether acidic or alkaline soil will produce a better wine. My day job on sci-fi film Sunshine has made me an expert on the science and mythology of the Sun, but I don't have the first clue about what effect the weather has on grapes. I can talk about politics, religion, science, technology, philosophy until the cows come home, but I couldn't even begin to describe the different tastes and aromas of a wine.
I do know that I don't like Chardonnay, I could probably live on Cabernet and Mature Cheddar (though am prevented from doing so by the fact that I'd probably outgrow my wardrobe every few months), I once had a dessert wine from Chateau D'Yquem which I decided wasn't a wine at all, but was, in fact, a bottled orgasm and I get a headache more often with red wine than white. But I don't know why.
I also know that I tend to think the whole 'wine thing' seems far too pretentious for me to really get into. I don't need to obsess over the minutiae of grape-growing or go through a laboured Sideways-like tasting routine to give me something to feel important about around lesser mortals. I, very simply, very unpretentiously, enjoy drinking good wine with friends over dinner.
Oh. And getting drunk. I like that, too.
When I think about all of my friends, I'd estimate that at least 90% of them drink wine... and probably only 5% actually know anything about wine. I think the vast majority of people who buy wine are actually confounded by the whole 'wine thing' - myself included. Choosing wine, when you know nothing about it, is filled with stress. It's fine when you're in a shop because there tends not to be a time pressure to the whole ordeal, but when you're in a restaurant and you lose that little game of 'Wine List Hot Potato', it feels like the whole evening's enjoyment rests entirely on your blind decision.
And did you know that every time you choose the wrong wine at a restaurant, a little kitten somewhere in the world 'gets it' in way far too horrific to detail here? It's true, you know.
The best thing about writing the Stormhoek blog is that I am finally able to tap into the wealth of knowledge you readers have. I'm going to skip over things like 'what are the best years for South African wines?' or 'what are the ideal conditions in which to store wine?' or 'decanting or aerating- discuss' and get to the real things I want to know about:
1. What is a good wine to take to a dinner party when you don't know what's being served?
2. If you don't know the names of wines or vineyards, how do you choose what to drink at a restaurant?
3. What if you don't finish the whole bottle? Can you keep it until the next day without it turning into vinegar?
4. How do you get red wine stains out of carpet/clothing?
5. Does that funny sucking/slurping way of tasting wine actually improve the flavour or do you just like looking silly?
So, if anyone has any answers to any of those questions, please feel free to fill me in - especially the last one 'cos I can't help but laugh when I see someone doing that...
One of the great things about being in the web 2.0 space is that we meet very smart, cool people who have interests as diverse as one can imagine. Gia is one of these people.
As we got to know Gia, we learned that she is brilliant, a gifted writer and a talented tv presenter. We consider ourselves very fortunate as Gia has agreed to join us as a guest blogger.
Hugh, Graham, Nick and I are really pleased to have her on the team. We’ve got the feeling that whether we like it or not Gia’s going to be doing her own thing and could possibly upset a few people by sacrificing a few wine trade holy cows. But hey, isn’t that what keeps things interesting?
Cheers Gia, good luck!
More Government Intervention: It's Good For You!
Last week UK regulators announced that they intend to put health warning labels on wine.
The powers that be seem to feel that the masses of binge drinkers that fill the pubs and streets of the UK on weekend nights will suddenly put down their glasses if they realize that drinking to excess is bad for your health.
The UK binge drinking phenomenon is a product of fundamental social problems. It is not due to the broad availability of alcohol. Warnings and ever increasing taxes will not remedy the problem. It will not cure the breakdown of the nuclear family or the fact that in the UK, public drunkenness is socially acceptable.
Cigarette smokers and drug abusers prove that people are happy to trade off a bit of hard-to-perceive ill health for some narcissistic self indulgence. A better message would be for the government to use respected members of popular culture to communicate: Only losers stagger down the street senselessly drunk. If the government advertised that alcohol causes impotence (like the cigarette folks did in the US), then maybe a few of the mostly young male offenders would start to listen.
Visit Italy, France, Spain. Public drunkenness is not the problem that it is in the UK, primarily because it is socially unacceptable. Change the acceptability in the UK and the problem takes care of itself.
BTW- UK industry folk, don't worry, "health warnings" have been required on US labels for years and it has had no negative effect on the business. In fact all of the "wine is good for your health" buzz was generated after warnings were put on the labels.
October 27, 2006
The ebb and flow of life
Susan Kruger has ferried food, water, materials and human cargo to Robben Island for decades.
Susan Kruger was the amiable wife of apartheid Justice and Police minister Jimmy Kruger, a Welsh orphan sent to South Africa during World War 11 and brought up (and renamed) by Afrikaans adoptive parents.
The Kruger’s names would by now have been long forgotten but for two memorials;
Susan’s boat and the death of Steve Biko, Jimmy’s personal nemesis.
Steve Biko, the leader of the Black Consciousness movement, was murdered by police while in custody and the erstwhile Welsh waif replied to a question in Parliament with “…his death leaves me cold”, cementing his place in South African history for generations to come.
Fortunately, many of the other political targets of Jimmy Kruger’s Police and Justice system survived to play out their jail terms on Robben Island. To get there, they had to be transported across the often stormy waters of Table Bay.
In 1979, Jimmy named a new harbour workboat after his wife and in 1980, this became a prison boat, carrying political prisoners and warders backwards and forwards between the island prison and Cape Town.
When Mandela was moved from Robben Island to Pollsmor Prison in 1982, Susan Kruger carried him in chains and leg irons in her damp belly to the mainland.
In over 10 years, several thousand dissidents made the trip to the Island, manacled in Mrs Kruger’s hold.
With the change of government in 1994, the prison was closed. However, Susan Kruger has continued to carry people to and from the island. Many of these are ex-residents of the prison. But today, as administrative staff and tourist guides, they now ride on the ferry’s upper decks.
Jay-Z Bigs Up Unknown Champagne
The Champagne company based in Chigny-Les-Roses is virtually unknown... Or, shall I say, 'was' virtually unknown.
Their top fizz is packaged in a gold plated bottle and the label is made of polished pewter.
So now, Brignac have hot footed it over to the USA to find an importer. The official launch is planned for December 06. Their boss, Brett Berish reckons the wine known simply as Ace of Spades or just Ace, will sell for about 300 bucks a throw.
I did some digging about and found that the brand is owned by Champagne house Cattier. They have a very similar looking product called Antique which sells in the UK for about £35. Surely Ace isn't the same product in another bottle?
Given that Cattier have been making wine since 1920, it's odd that the only reference to Armand de Brignac seems to be the endorsement by Jay-Z. AdeB might be a new invention, but the homies are bound to lap it up in the back of the Bentley.
October 18, 2006
Aussies not wanted
A year ago, this black wattle was just a metre high and virtually invisible among the native plants. It grows fast and reproduces freely and would, if left unchecked, replace all of the indigenous flora.
It is not generally known that there are more illegal Australians in the Western Cape than law-breaking South Africans. My wife and I are two of the interlopers. We try and justify our presence by removing thousands of Australians every year. When we arrived in this elevated valley above Wellington, we were greeted by a grey-green landscape of mostly protean renosterveld, patched here and there with the seaweed-green of tall bushes.
When we walked though the native flora, we encountered hakea sericea, originally imported to tame the Western Cape sand dunes, acacia saligna and acacia mearnsii, known as Port Jackson wattle and black wattle, respectively, and several different eucapyptus, broadly known as gum trees, which unwelcome invaders over much of the temperate zones of the whole planet.
The populations weren’t yet critical, but we found that the carpeted hillsides of protea bushes were peppered with baby wattle, hakea and gum trees.
It became clear that our fellow Australians would soon obliterate the slow-growing local flora. So we confess that we have become involved in planticide.
And now we even support the Springboks against the Wallabies.
The Siren Party in London
Apologies for not posting earlier, but we've been nursing some serious hangovers. The Siren launch party was held at 43. South Molton Street, in London’s West End last week.
For those who are not familiar with the London club scene, 43 South Molton is The Club for the London creative set. The waiting list for membership is as long as your arm. We gathered in The Trophy Room for the nights activities.
Guests from the drinks, tech, music, fashion and of course, media packed in to get their first taste of Siren Sauvignon Blanc and Pinotage.
Stormhoek DJ's Sandra and Sheila
Entertainment on the evening was provided by Stormhoek’s favourite DJ’s Sandra Davenport and Sheila Chipperfield, with the added attraction of Tattooist, Susan Lauren.
Sam gets the Stormhoek treatment from Tattooist, Susan
Richard Halliday from Dartington Glass kindly provided their radical new Solo glasses for the wines and, of course, Hugh was on hand to sign a limited edition cartoon created especially for the party.
Hugh in action!
A big thank you to Jasper and the 43 crew for looking after us so royally.
October 13, 2006
Spammed By Penfolds
The precipitous decline of two icons of the Australian wine business has been well documented. In addition to losing A$ 1 billion in the couple of years after their merger, in the UK, the able folks at Penfolds/Rosemount were able to also decimate what had been two of the strongest franchises in the wine market. Despite Fosters having taken them over, the brands are still mere shadows of their glorious past.
In more desperate moves to counter US market leader, Yellow Tail, the folks at Penfolds came up with what they considered to be their answer: Little Penguin. The label bears, as you would expect, a little colourful penguin, and epitomizes what has become to be known as “Critter Labels”. I haven’t had the wine, so I cannot comment on the quality.
It seems that the folks at Penfolds/Fosters have not progressed much. They have created what some lame marketing type might actually believe could become a viral, and I was spammed yesterday with the following message from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Little Penguin is at it again! If you ever feel like
you've done something stupid at a party then you'll
find this site really funny!
Check out http://penguinpartyfowl.com/index2.html
The 'sneezing' clip is my favourite!!
The lame-asses at Penfolds must have also slept through the web 101 class on permission marketing.
I am not really sure as to why I am so annoyed, I guess it is because these global wine companies have huge resources and should be doing amazing marketing, but they seem to most often wind up doing either elitist twaddle or lowest-common-denominator crap.
Guys, as a supposed global leader in the drinks business, you should know that it is not best practice to spam people from anonymous yahoo accounts. But, second thought, it seems to work for the Viagra guys… so, maybe I’ve got it all wrong.
October 9, 2006
Siren Launch Parteee
As you’d expect with such a glamorous wine, we are going to have an equally glamorous, sexy, super-fantastic launch party. The event will be held at 43 South Molton Street in Mayfair on the evening of October 9th. The party is by invitation only, but if you are a UK retail, restaurant or club person, email us and we will try to get you on the guest list.
Our friend Mark Eley, of the world renown fashion house of Eley-Kishimoto, won’t be able to attend as he is finishing up Paris Fashion Week, but Mark was so taken with The Siren that he has created a bespoke designs on Siren bottles to display at the party. The studio is now applying the designs to the bottles and they are looking really amazing.
In addition to fashion, Mark and his partner, Wakako Kishimoto, have done creative work over the years in industrial design as well, having designed for Volkswagen, Louis Vuitton, Mototola and Nike to name a few. We see it as a great opportunity to really integrate wine fashion and design. Next year, we should have a limited released of Eley Kishimoto designed bottles.
An Eley Kishimoto designed bus for London Transport
We’ll also have the usual assortment of super models, as our buddy Anina is getting her posse together for the event. A tattoo artist will adorn our lovely Siren on attendees arms, necks, breasts, buttocks, etc., I understand that we’ll be the first people in the wine trade to use the new stemless Dartington wine glassess. Allegedly, these glasses are so amazing that they can make any old Bulgarian Merlot taste like Petrus.
While we invited a number of our friends from the major UK grocery chains to attend, you won’t be seeing The Siren on any of the grocers shelves as it is destined for the restaurant, club and exclusive retailer trade only. We are thinking about a version for the UK grocers who have been so supportive of the regular Stormhoeks, but it will be some time off.
October 8, 2006
THE SIREN UNVEILED
Take Everything You Love About Wine and Cube it
It's been in the works for ten months. Thousands of man hours have be invested in it. Nearly 200 people (many volunteers) were involved in its creation. We had a number of initially insurmountable creative, technical and winemaking challenges along the way, but after all of that, we are happy to report that our open source baby, The Siren, is now a reality.
Hugh broke the news last week.
This is the week when we launch it to the UK general trade at the annual Wines of South Africa tasting in London.
The whole open source experiment was about trying to create something that was really different – by definition, an object that we couldn’t have come up with ourselves, a vision of nearly two hundred people who care about how we are doing things. We hoped that through our joint vision, we could possibly disrupt the paradigm of how wine is supposed to look and feel.
When you first pick up a bottle of Siren, you’re not sure if the wine is sealed in a contemporary crystal decanter. The bottle, by the way, is made in a special glass factory that only makes what is called “super white” glass. While it is not crystal, the bottle is of a quality that is far superior to any other wine bottle that you have probably ever seen. The factory only makes this type of glass. The silica is of a higher quality that assures flawless crystal clear bottles.
There are just two wines, which we will post about in more detail, separately. The Sauvignon is in our trademark, fresh style but with more intense fruit than the regular wine. The Pinotage is a bit darker and richer than our standard issue, which by the way, with our recent award and all, has made Graham a bit of a celeb in South Africa over the last month. He’s been so busy dealing with local orders and radio interviews, that he hasn’t had much time to post, but he promises to remedy that as soon as he can.
Sorry, for our friends in America, we have no ETA for release, but if you email Ian at Palm Bay Imports, and let him know you want a bottle or two, maybe they'll be encouraged to import some.
October 4, 2006
The Wine List 2007 Is Out!
Well, Matthew’s done it again.
After a marathon year of tasting over 25,000 wines, Matthew Jukes' top 250 have been collated in The Wine List 2007 published by Headline and available from all good book sellers for £9.99.
The book provides the perfect guide for anyone wanting to seek out the best bottles in the UK and the cover price is easily reclaimed by following his fool proof recommendations.
I’m delighted to say that Stormhoek comes out well and his comments are as follows:
Stormhoek Sauvignon Blanc 2006
This wine sports a “drink by date” – Stormy were the first to come up with this inspirational concept. The team knows that this exceptional Sauvignon needs to be enjoyed in the first year of its life – which neatly mirrors the life span of this book. They use an “Ultimate Freshness” guide on the bottle to ensure you drink it at its peak. Follow the instructions and bathe your taste buds in this wickedly refreshing, lime-juice-imbued wine. Stormy has always been a front runner – now they are the leader!
Stormhoek Pinot Grigio 2006
You wait all year for a £5.99 stonker and then two come along at once. I was the first bloke to taste the new 2006’s from Stormy Pants and I simply can’t leave the PG out of the mix. It’s wicked, it’s irreverent, it simply doesn’t give a toss what you think – I expect really hard thugs are reduced to tears when they taste this wine, it has so much attitude. So are you up to it? Come and have a go…..It’s only Pinot Grigio, after all.
Stormhoek Rose 2006
Stormy Pants Rose just keeps on getting better and better. If the White Stripes were a wine, this would be it – only a different colour! Packed to the rafters with ridiculously classy red berry fruit, this is a swaggering pickpocket of a wine because, before you know it, It’ll have emptied your wallet of its contents in double time and you’ll be skipping home to share the spoils with your nearest and weirdest!
Wow, Matthew, thanks very much and all power to your pen.