Sunday, December 14, 2008

2008 Playboy Collector Series Wines and Scores!

Its one month into the Playboy Collector's Series and we've got some great news! All wines are to be released by Mid December, in time for the Holidays. Since the release date in Late September, we've received word that the 2006 Sette Ponti Oreno, the 5th wine of the 2008 Playboy Collector's Series, was awarded the prestigious title of #16 inside the Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines of 2008!
Here is a list of the wines by month and the awards associated:
2005 Janzen Napa Valley Cabernet, 92 pts by Wine Enthusiast
2005 Gargiulo Money Road Cabernet Sauvignon, Top 20 New Wineries by Wines and Spirits Magazine.
2003 St. Supery Dollarhide Cabernet Sauvignon, Gold Medal Taster's Guild International Wine Competition
2003 Schug Heritage Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, 92 pts. Wine Enthusiast
2006 Sette Ponti Oreno, 96 pts Wine Spectator, #15 Top 100 Wines of 2008
2005 Vilafonte Series C, not yet scored, previous vintages yield 90-91 Pts by Wine Spectator
2006 San Guido Guidalberto by Sassicaia, 92 pts by Wine Spectator
2004 Nadia Santa Barbara Red Wine, not yet scored.
2005 Bodegas RODA Cirsion, 93 pts Wine Spectator
2006 Groom Barossa Valley Shiraz, Winemaker's Barrel Selection, 90+ pts by Wine Spectator
2001 Tom Eddy Cabernet Sauvignon, not yet scored, consistent 90-91 by Wine Spectator
2005 Robert Craig Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvingon, not yet scored, consistently 90-94 pts by Wine Advocate, Robert Parker
Based on our last tasting of Playboy Wines, and the success of our article on Wine Spectator, Luxist Magazine, and a few others, we feel very fortunate to be working with such prestigious and talented wine makers. We'll be keeping you updated on the 2008 Playboy Wine Collection. FYI, we will be shipping the first waves of product to our retailer partners in Chicago, Las Vegas, and New York for mid-December delivery.

Monday, December 08, 2008

US wine investment specialist talks on SA wines

12.5.08
Mike Fisher, a founding partner of US investment banking firm Global Wine Partners, believes South Africa, with its excellent wine-growing conditions, the beauty of its winelands and competitive cost structures, is well-placed to advance from its relative obscurity in the US to the point where it becomes better recognised for its quality offerings.
Fisher was in South Africa in November to attend the AGM of the Great Wine Capitals Global Network, and he was impressed by evidence of South Africa's ability to make high-quality wines. The local wine industry's sustainability initiatives also impressed him - he reckons they are ahead of most of those in California. However, in his view, South Africa was the least known of the major wine-producing regions amongst US consumers. “Go into any grocery store in the US and of the 300 wines on the shelves, you will be lucky to find more than one or two of South African origin.”He feels the success of boutique enterprises such as Vilafonté, in which well-known Californian winemaker Zelma Long and her viticulturist husband, Phil Freese, were involved at the Cape, or the Napa Valley's Hess Collection's investment in Glen Carlou, and similar projects, would help to advance the country's visibility as a quality producer amongst those with a keen interest in wine.Meanwhile, Constellation's Kumala and E&J Gallo's Sebeka labels would help to build awareness in more mainstream markets, he said.A harder sellWhile “not overwhelmed” by most Pinotage he tasted, although there were some notable exceptions, Fisher, who initially trained as a winemaker, found South Africa's expression of the Bordeaux varietals to be very good. Local Sauvignon blancs and Chenin blancs also impressed him. “South Africa's reputation as a producer of Sauvignon blanc is gaining ground. The same could happen with Chenin blanc but because it is still very much a secondary variety in the US, it will be a harder sell.”Fisher is also a specialist in mergers and acquisitions, valuations, corporate finance and wine business advisory services, and his company has offices in California, Sydney and Paris. He says that while it would be possible for US investors to buy land locally and produce quality wines very cost competitively, there would still be the hurdle of having to sell South Africa first and then penetrate a heavily traded US market. “The difficulty of gaining traction in the US market is not unique to South Africa. If US investors were to produce in Argentina or Chile they would still have to fight for their place on America's shelves,” he said.Another factor influencing the situation now is that given a general reluctance to invest during financially uncertain times, he predicts that there would be fewer investment transactions in the international wine industry over the next 12 to 18 months. “Moreover, the large companies have done their consolidating for now and it is not in the nature of the small specialist producers to amalgamate to achieve economies of scale,” he said.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wine Lovers Put President-Elect Barack Obama in Office

The presidential election is over, and President-Elect Barack Obama is busy interviewing potential cabinet members, but political experts will spend the next four years analyzing the election returns. A popular technique among political consultants in the past two races is microtargeting—looking for likely supporters by analyzing what they eat, what cars they drive, where they shop, even what magazines they subscribe to. But one factor they may want to be looking at is, which voters drink wine? Unfiltered's crack election team has crunched the numbers, and it's clear that states that like wine voted for Obama in overwhelming numbers. Nine of the top 10 wine-consuming states voted for Obama—only Texas broke rank and voted for Sen. John McCain. Looking further down the list, 20 of the top 25 wine-consuming states went for the President-to-be. In fact, the District of Columbia and the 28 states that voted for Obama drank 79.7 percent of the 300 million cases of wine consumed in the U.S. in 2007. (Wine consumption numbers by state come from the recently-released The U.S. Wine Market: Impact Databank Review and Forecast, 2008 edition, published by Wine Spectator's parent company.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

PLATTER WINE GUIDE AWARDS VILAFONTE FIVE STARS

At a function held at the Devon Valley Hotel last night, the 2009 'John Platter' Wine Guide was launched to the trade and media along with the much anticipated revealing of the 5 star winners.

The Vilafonté Winemaking Team is proud to announce that the Vilafonté ‘Series C’ has been awarded the 5 star rating for the first time. Californian winemaking partner Zelma Long had this to say; “We are thrilled with this award and feel that it gives recognition to our investment in South Africa, and to the passion that the Vilafonté partners have brought to our wines.”

Vilafonté is the first South African and American joint winemaking venture focused only on the production of the ultimate quality wines. Vilafonté is owned and managed by Zelma Long the winemaking partner, Dr. Phil Freese the winegrowing partner and Mike Ratcliffe, the managing Partner.

More about Vilafonté: http://www.vilafonte.com/
Contact: mike@vilafonte.com
Picture of the partners: Click Here
Hi res 300dpi image gallery: Click Here

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Wine Spectator California Wine Experience 2008

Vilafonte was very proud to be selected as one of the standard bearers of South African wine in he United States when it was selected to be poured at the California Wine Experience. The event, attended by passionate wine consumers from across the country is perhaps the most high profile wine event in America and we are justifiably chuffed. Reports coming in suggest that the Wine Experience was hugely succesful and that the wines were throughly appreciated. Vilafonte has had an excellent track record of scores with the Wine Spectator and a long-term relationship that is always appreciated.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

We are planting a vineyard in Cape Town!!

In conjunction with the historic Vineyard hotel in Cape Town, the Warwick and Vilafonte teams are planning the creation of a new urban vineyard on this historic site. Here is a cool video, the first of a 3-part before, during and after video archive of the event.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Vilafonte wins lots of new awards!

GERMANY: Mundus Vini 2008 awards released in Germany
We were (again) judged the most successful South African wine producer at the German International Wine Awards last week. We won the following accolades: Vilafonté Series M 2005 won the Great Gold Medal (Großes Gold!!!), Warwick Trilogy 2005 won a Gold Medal, Vilafonté Series C 2005 won a Gold Medal & Vilafonté Series M 2003 won a Gold Medal. Vilafonté has now entered 2 wines over 3 vintages and never received less than GOLD.

BELGIUM: Vilafonté takes Gold at the Concours Mondial in Brussels
Vilafonté Series C 2005 was awarded the elusive GOLD medal by 240 wine professionals judging in Europe’s biggest wine competition. The jury is composed solely of professional tasters, personalities and renowned experts in the field of wine: Oenologists, sommeliers, journalists, wine writers and international buyers and traders. A GOLD medal symbolises a wine scoring up to 95.9 points on a scale of 100 points.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

STOP PRESS
GREAT NEWS - VILAFONTE 'SERIES C' HAS BEEN
NOMINATED FOR ***** 5 STARS IN THE LATEST PLATTER!


Here is our annual summary written for the John Platter Wine Guide

The last twelve months have been an exciting time for the Vilafonté team – the first full year in our own facility. Our ongoing vision is to establish a diminutive stable of South African thoroughbreds. We have seen a consolidation of quality across all our inputs as a result of our efforts and feel this improvement will continue in future.
Vineyards
In this vein, the vineyard team has worked tirelessly to bring out of the vineyard small crops of intense flavors in our Bordeaux varietals. One hectare plots reflect the soil changes and each of these small plots produces grapes of distinct personality. As part of our ongoing planting programme, our first vineyard has been planted using EM38 ground penetrating radar – a new technique being developed and spearheaded by Phil Freese which promises to take a lot of the guesswork out of soil mapping and planting.Our vineyards are now into their second decade and we are in the exciting position to be able to start showing verticals of our wines with three vintages in the market, the 2006 bottled, the 2007 showing remarkable finesse and the small 2008 vintage promising big things.
What’s new?
Edward Pietersen continues his progress as Vineyard Manager. The fact that he has come from almost zero background in farming as a black construction worker to become a highly prized asset at Vilafonte is awesome. After three years under the tutelage of Phil Freese, he has risen to become a highly skilled and knowledgeable vineyard manager in his own right. He is currently a key part of our A-team and his progress shows no sign of abating.

New markets
Vilafonte continues expansion into Asia. You are now able to find Vilafonte in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Cambodia, Singapore from the Peninsula Hotel and the Four Seasons right down to the trendy wine bars that are springing up all over Asia. We can confidently say that Asia is the biggest driver for our growth and certainly the most exciting. Zelma plans a 2 week marketing trip to Hong Kong, Japan, Shanghai, Beijing and Taipei in November which will continue to drive our brand and build our presence. We have also expanded into Russia and Estonia with further developments pegged for 2009. France continues to surprise on the upside with a strong showing and potential for more growth in this interesting market.
These combined efforts have allowed us to continue filling the trophy cabinet with Golds at Mundus Vini for both wines, gold at Concours Mondial and 90 points or more from Wine & Spirits, Wine Enthusiast & Wine Spectator.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Here is a blog (stolen) from Tony Quinn's blog. Tony runs Cleveland Park and Liquor on Connecticutt avenue in DC - and is a long-time supporter.

It was I think back in 1995 when I met Zelma Long for the first time at the Citronelle restaurant in Washington D.C. I was just about to leave my job wholesaling wines for Wines Limited and start my new job with Forman Brothers Imports. I was replacing Chris that had been at Forman Brothers for forever. I was invited by Dee Hutton to come and meet Zelma at their kick-off meeting with the wine staff of Forman Brothers that I would become a part of : i.e. the retail(off-premise ) division. I had heard about Zelma Long for years. She and her ex-husband had started the LONG winery years ago and John still owns and runs it.Zelam had gone on to both be a part of the wine-making at the Robert Mondavi winery as well as the Simi winery. She was wearing her Simi hat so to speak when I met her at Citronelle. What a marvelous evening that was of fine hors d'ouevres and fine Simi wines. I have a list somewhere and may include it at a later date. This blog is however, more about her ventures with her new husband in South Africa. Together with Mike Ratcliffe of the WARWICK estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa they would make and promote two really " new " additions to the South African red vocabulary of wines. These two wines which we sell at the store are called " Series M " and " Series c " - both from the 2003 vintage that we began selling. The " M " is around $50 a bottle and the " C' is around $75. I use approximate prices because I have not bought the wines for awhile and prices may have gone up. They may have gone down, too. I'll have to check when back at the Cleveland Park Wines & Spirits tomorrow now that I am finally blogging about Zelma, VILAFONTE, Mike Ratcliffe and Dr. Phillip Freese ( head wine-grower of the VILAFONTE vineyard which he calls " different by design ", spent 13 years as Robert Mondavi's Vice-President of Wine Growing, also consulted at CAKEBREAD, FAR NIENTE, WARWICK, RUSTENBERG and DE WETSHOF( last 3 wineries in South Africa ) ). Impressive. Stylistically these two reds are " different by design " and by taste. I really like them with food but they remind me in my humble opinion of nothing else that I have ever had in South Africa.That of course begs the question of what they do indeed remind me of and whether or not that is a good thing. Does it matter? Yes and no. For me the two reds ( using clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Merlot ) are certainly more international in style : thicker, richer, denser, more weight and with what I like to refer to as " less wiggle room ". They are so tightly compact that in all this ripeness of fruit I feel like my palate has less room to breathe and that is less to my personal liking. I'd rather have more space between the gaps and various flavorings and tastes. I want my palate to be a part of the experience and to do that it needs some space, too. Sounds confusing, I know. But it is where I am at in my palate development and now having said that I can move on with this story.

For me everything is a story. I love stories, they are the best; they are the glue that binds and the part that I remember always.Zelma came once with my rep Chris Pigott to present the two wines initially in the store. That is what you will see pictures of now. I will have to find the other pictures of our marvelous lunch at Yannick Cam's marvelous Le Paradou restaurant. The luncheon was on October 17th, 2006 and both Zelma and Mike Ratcliffe were there. I have wonderful pictures of that, too ; I just have to find them now. I'm doing things a bit incompletely these days because I just want to get started, I just want to get some of these stories and pictures out in a public arena where they may be accessed and enjoyed I hope. The rest can follow, put that first foot-step out there and march forward.This whole blogging thing has been a marvelous outlet for me and I hope to go really far with it all with your patience and understanding. I'm trying to add to the equation of wine with interesting stories and vignettes and snippets of things that hopefully will " flesh-out " the wines and the people that either make them or pay for them to be made. I'm looking for sparks of the passion and the dedication and the humbleness and integrity of artistic/business production that result finally in wonderful wines to some of at least to be enjoyed. This is certainly less quantifiable than telling about points and scores and competitions : I find it refreshing , giving me my space to breathe and move more freely and appreciate on my terms all this first-hand and not spoon-fed to me by the many experts out there. End of editorializing, sorry, I can't help myself. I want people to have their own experiences on their own terms and to make their own marvelous discoveries and observations big and small. That's what they will always remember and carry with them and tell/share with others later.I still have not met Dr. Phillip Freese. I hope to someday. That will be nice when it happens. In the meantime I have met and enjoyed spending a little bit of time on more than one occasion now with both Zelma and Mike. Mike has conducted a tasting in our store in the past on his WARWICK WINES ( the Professor Black Sauvignon Blanc, the Chardonnay, the red Pinotage, the " Three Cape Ladies "( a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinotage ) and we sold a whole lot that evening especially of the Three Cape Ladies.At lunch we were served four of the WARWICK wines ( the Sauvignon Blanc 2005( $19 ), the Estate Pinotage 2004($25), the Estate Three Cape Ladies($27) and the Estate Red Reserve( $35). These prices are approximate and may not reflect the new prices and vintages on our shelves. Call for more current pricing and availability. From VILAFONTE we drank the two reds " M " and " C " Series at the prices quoted earlier above.In a past store email dated Tuesday, October 17th, 2006 I wrote about this incredible experience at Le Paradou. I don't want to rewrite it all. I liked best at the luncheon Mike's Estate Reserve 2001. I ordered with Zelma's counseling the Breast of Duck Foie Gras Tort, wild mushrooms and turnips ( Canette rotie en Aiguillette, Gateau de foie gras, fricassee de champignons, jeunes Navets a Fanes ). Sure does sound great in French, don't you agree?With the VILAFONTE reds here is what I wrote then " Then Zelma's VILAFONTE "M " and "C" were served and I almost fell out of my seat - I know I stopped mid sentence to FOCUS ALL MY ATTENTION on these two fabulous red Meritage Bordeaux-yet-not-yet-lusher-yet-riper-yet-more-unctuous-more-decadent wines. HOW DO THEY ACHIEVE SUCH RIPENESS and fullness and GENEROUSNESS/FORGIVENESS from these two young-vined wines? The " M" was perfect now, the "C" was delicious but I could wait more for it. ALL THE LEVELS / all the space on my taste buds were completely filled with both these wines! The foie gras was what made the difference- because of the added richness/concentration of ripe, not jammy fruit the foie gras was what cemented the two wines ( and Mike's WARWICK reserve 2001 ) with the breast of duck. As I was leaving I spotted Yannick and thanked him. "I wish VILAFONTE good luck and success in their ventures. For me the jury is still out. I'll have to wait and see and taste future vintages. For the time-being I'd personally prefer to buy more of Mike's wines as they are classic/traditional in style, less expensive and more to my taste at this moment in time. But as I said I applaud them for their efforts on these VILAFONTE wines, I wait to see and taste more and I thank them for including me in this amazing wine-food-pairing experience.As you can see from these pictures Zelma is busy signing my book. Everyone gets a white virgin sheet of paper to fill as they wish about their experience at Cleveland Park Wines and Spirits. They can say whatever they want in whatever language. I attach their business card to it and " voila " I have a part of the souvenir. They also sign my wine poster. I'm now working on the third such poster.I have to find what Zelma wrote and include it in a later blog with the pictures of the luncheon. For the time-being these will do nicely.
It's Monday, July 7th, 2008 here at home at 11:07 A.M. and I'm thinking of taking my wife out to lunch when she returns shortly. It's my day-off and that will be nice, just the two of us.

Cheers, TONY

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Vilafonte was represented at the Aspen 2008 Food & Wine Festival this year. A seminar on the cutting edge of South African Icon wines was presented. Pictured here are the presenters of the seminar attended by over 200 people. From left to right in the lower photograph. Rory Callahan, Ken Forrester, Mike Ratcliffe & George Miliotes. The seminar was a huge success with all members of the audience enjoying the fine wines presented. The Vilafonte Series C 2004 was a particular favourite and was tasting amazing on the day.
In addition to this, the Series M was being shown at the main tent of the Aspen Food and Wine Show and was tasted by hundreds of people, eager to participate in the small presence by South African wineries.












Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Vilafonte in Hawaii

It has been an action-packed couple of days as I touched down in Honolulu for a 4 day visit to the beautiful friendly islands. My schedule has been jammed with Warwick and Vilafonte promotional activities extending across the islands of Oahu and Maui. Our wines are represented in Hawaii by the 2nd biggest distributor in the islands called 'BETTER BRANDS" and I managed to get 45 minutes in front of all of them to introduce the wines and to do a mini-presentation on South African wines.

I also visited a number of restaurants, presented 2 wine dinners and met a whole bunch of really friendly people. All in all, it has been an eye-opener and definitely shows that this is a great market - as yet untouched by South African wines. This is the vacation capital of America!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Vilafonte selected as 'Wine of the day' by Wine Spectator


2008 Harvest report

Here are some in-depth comments from Phil, Zelma and myself on the 2008 vintage:

• The winter was above normal rainfall in amount and a long season with good rainfall throughout the season. We had early rains in the fall following the 2007 vintage and good steady rains through the season to result in a high annual total
• Early in the growing season we saw pressure from downy mildew and growers were kept on their toes with the continuing rains and mild weather of spring
• The summer temperatures were normal with their rhythm of warming and then cooling as the South Easterly breezes brought in the cooler temps.
• One uniqueness of the season was that the night temperatures were somewhat warmer than average and the relative humidity was higher. This combination lead to a more “continental” type of climate associated with the centre of Europe and the Bordeaux areas
• The season set up for the disease pressure mentioned above but also for a season with less extreme stresses on the vines with respect to temperature and drought.
• Ripeness did come with lower brix levels this season as a combination of the season comments above as well as some changes in management geared to the season.
• The ripening months of January and February were both about twice as rainy as recent history. The benefits were reduced stress on the vines and an evenness of ripening for the red grapes of Vilafonte. There was some disease pressure on fruit in different areas but Vilafonte was disease-free due to the location of the vineyard, our production of red fruit only and fresh breezes that prevail at the site. We saw the rains as freshening the vines and the relief of some of the stresses of late season and soils that are naturally managed toward the dry side
• January started mild with fewer late-January heat spikes than January of 2007
• Harvest began about 14 days later than last year – just as forecast from the flowering dates. The phenology cycle of the vines is quite regular and predictable as we build even more records with 2008 vintage being our 10th year after planting the majority of the vineyards in 1998
• Mid-February saw the beginning of the vintage harvesting Malbec and Merlot.
• We had temperature spikes on the normal rhythm of warming and then cooling as the sea breezes were pulled in. Night temperatures were warm and more humid than recent vintages. While this leads humans to consider this a warm to hot season the vines were loving the reduced stresses that temperature and relative humidity extremes can bring to the vines
• Berry size was small due in part to the added drainage we have at Vilafonte which allows us to get the free-draining excess moisture of the spring out of the soils as the vines begin to grow. Sub-surface drainage is not the usual for most South African vineyards.
• The vines woke up in the spring with some water deficits to lead to the smaller berries and the concentration of fruit characters followed on this reduced berry size. Small berries lead to intensity of fruit but of course the crop level is lower
• Ripening was moderate and on a very predictable rate that gave us time to achieve ripeness without bursts of high sugars
• Acidity was very similar to past seasons with natural acid levels that allowed for no additions at the winery and thus the natural balance of the wines is showing very nicely
• Quality: Superb; The best yet. Definitely more finesse in wines than other years. We achieved optimal tannin ripeness in all varietals that led to soft and elegant wines, but there is still the underlying intense fruit core of warmer years.
• Varietals: Malbec - extremely deep and concentrated, but still elegant in structure; Cab franc - More dark fruit than floral characters, elegant, fine and cool. Cab S - deep dark and long; Perfect structures this year. Merlot - Creamy, deep and long. Everything performed wonderfully.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Zelma's Harvest Observations 2008

Vilafonte, 2008

2008 will produce classic wines. And the personality and chemistry of our grapes has been quite distinct from 2007.
First a word about the weather. 2008 has been distinguished by a later bloom and cooler growing season, resulting in a later harvest for Vilafonte. Feb 15 was our first harvest day; the latest ever, but it was a smooth and relatively compact season; finishing on March 7.
During the harvest we saw the normal warm-sunny/cool-cloudy cycles; with light rain punctuating a few of them. For our Bordeaux varieties, with their open clusters, light crop and open canopy, the rain caused no trouble, indeed slowed rate of sugar increase and allowed continued ripening of flavors and tannins.
As a result, we were able to harvest ripe grapes at lower average sugars; with ripe, firm well flavored grapes coming off vines that looked quite “happy” – good green color and decent but not high vigor. And, as the grapes differed, so did fermentations. We noted a bit lighter color and higher tannins in the grapes, so were careful to get complete color extraction, and, after that, to manage the tannin extraction gently, to be sure we did not “over extract”, which can lead to harshness. A smaller than normal harvest allowed us to have excellent skin to juice ratios in the fermenter; perfect for getting “the goodies” (color, aroma, flavor, texture) from the grapes.
Fermentations went well this year, often finishing in barrels.
Overall, we estimate that our wines will be classic in structure; and marked with finesse, fine tannins, and fruit concentration, in the 2008 vintage.

Zelma Long
Winemaking Partner, Vilafonte
March 10, 2008

Friday, March 07, 2008

Zelma explains Berry sorting

We've shown you some clips on berry sorting - here Zelma Long gives us an explanation of why we are so meticulous about it and why it's so important:

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Rebecca 'Boo' Mahmouds SA harvest...

For the last 6 years, ever since I started in the wine industry, I proudly avoided having to work a harvest.

Growing up, there was constant yard work that needed to be done. My brother, sister and I tried to avoid it, but there was nowhere to hide. Mother Nature was the enemy. Rotten crab apples, reckless weeds, falling leaves…it was endless, thankless and considerably lacking in glamour. Not exactly my style. Working out in the lawn, weekend after weekend, I believed that one day, if I was very very good, that I would no longer have to do yard work ever again. Later in life, not surprisingly; I bought a condo.

Harvest to me, was yard work. Picking grapes did not look fun to me. It looked back breaking! I would listen patiently as colleagues would exalt their stories of working a harvest. Their eyes would be large with excitement, they would get that far-away look in their face…and I felt a
little sorry for them that they had clearly been swept away into a state of bliss…by yard work.

It was the middle of February and I was visiting South Africa with my friend and customer, Linda. We made good traveling partners because we agreed on most things. Until the subject of harvest came up. Linda was one of those doe-eyed earth mama harvest working wannabes. Me, not so much. I couldn't believe my six year stretch was coming to an end…because if Linda wanted to work harvest, then I had to as well. I was there in part, to entertain her. I had to play along.

6am came early. It was misting and cold. Linda and I had had a wonderful evening the night before with Mike, Phil and Zelma at Takara, and the beautiful warm evening turned into an electrical storm, with lights dancing across the horizon, followed by sheets of rain. It was very dramatic. When morning arrived, it brought the cold and wet with it and I just wanted to stay in bed. I thought for a moment that Mother Nature was going to save me! Perhaps she agreed that I had already done my share? But Linda was having none of it. "Get up." She said. And so I did.

I was grumpy and in need of coffee...but the sauvignon blanc berries beckoned and Ronald had no time for Princesses...so I grinned, or tired to, and went with him up the muddy, rainy hill.

I watched in confusion while people arrived to the vineyard in near euphoria...what was wrong with these people? What were they so excited about? They swarmed in enthusiasm to get the fruit from the vine. I felt confused and disconnected. What was I missing? Coffee? I knew they had had breakfast with Joshua, the winemaker, but what did he give them? ...I asked Joshua what he put in their muffins.

Phil called. He was waiting for us at the base of the mountain and we needed to get to Paarl for a vineyard walk with him and Edward before we drove to the winery to sort grapes. Oh joy. Mike drove us down the hill to meet him and Phil took one look at me and said, "You're wearing white?!" Clearly, he doesn't understand this isn't my bag. I climb into his car and off we go to the Vilafonte vineyards...

I shivered and shook through the vineyard explanation--and even though my feet were frozen (cold rain is better than warm rain-for the grapes anyway!) I stuck with him, numbers, data, graphs and all. If I was to be miserable, I was at least going to get something out of it. Perhaps I could finally get what he was talking about? Perhaps this was different?

Zelma arrives. "How was breakfast?" she asks. "What breakfast?" we reply. We continue with field work...looking at the map of the land owned by Vilafonte and comparing it to the land which has been planted...noticing the planted areas are in certain areas only--site specific planting. Pretty high tech. Thoughtful. Different. The blocks are also specific to a purpose--to be blended in either C or M--not both...small bell goes off. Site specific planning is unique in my world, and not at all like the other vineyards i have seen. Cool.

Phil pulls out more data. graphs, numbers...he can collect a lot of data! It means something, but does it count? How much of this really makes a difference in the bottle and how?

Zelma says we should go to breakfast. I am delighted. I am even more delighted when, on the way to breakfast, Phil asked if we need to stop at Warwick for anything as we will be passing by. Halleluiah! I change into jeans, sneaks, warm socks. My feet begin to thaw.

Toasty, fed and comfortable, I arrive at the Vilafonte winery prepared for the dread...the winery version of yard work. I stalled by taking out my camera to take pictures. Phil patiently walks me though the entire process and then Zelma does too. I learn from both. Hopping up on the platform to start sorting, I don't know...somewhere in midair I guess, I felt something shift. An investment inside me started to grow...I was the only person on that table who was going to be responsible for selling this wine. I had to ensure quality.

I picked and I sorted and I picked and I sorted...I was relentless. At one point (was it 15min or two hours later?) Zelma came to "rescue" me from sorting. Knowing i am not a fan of repetition, she feared I might be bored. I share with her my surprise at my own response to this! She gives me a knowing smile. She places me at the back end of the stemmer. Again, I am relentless--I pull out every green element to the mix. I felt responsible to do everything in my power to make sure the details were flawless. Every stem, every green bit was eradicated. I felt empowered. I was making wine with Zelma Long in South Africa!

We finished our work before I was ready to stop. It was only a half day, but it was invigorating! I went upstairs to wash off and prepare for my sit down tasting....concerned that I was now not overseeing these details...actually MISSING the work.

I tasted 2005, 2006 and 2007 vintages of Vilafonte with Linda and Zelma. Zelma tells us that 05 was an even vintage and was bottled a year ago. 06 was a windy vintage and water management was important-it was bottled a week ago. 07 was hot and was not bottled yet, but we had tank samples to taste. We taste in silence, make notes, taste again and share. I finish my line up and a light goes on. The data measured in the field is in the bottle!!!!!!!!!! FINALLY I get what Phil has been educating us on for years...they do not make wine...they grow it. Every step and every detail is measured and managed so that at the end of the day--irrespective of the vintage challenges, the same style Zelma is after is achieved year in and year out. Wow.

The wines taste related--clearly in the same family. Not at all identical but close relatives with an undeniable family relationship. Each one had their own beautiful personality and I was pleased by how much we have to look forward to. Of the many lights that went on for me during my trip, from actually enjoying the harvest experience, to finally understanding Phil's data and
its relation to the wine, the brightest one was that I never saw myself as anything more than a sales person who just happened to sell wine. From time to time, I understand a wine profoundly...but I never understood where it came from--how it could be shaped from grape to glass the way that Mike, Phil and Zelma do it. That day, in a small winery in the South of the
African Continent, something small inside me went AH HA. Thank you Zelma, Mike and Phil for this experience!!!

And thank you Linda for getting my butt out of bed!

boo

Friday, February 22, 2008

Berry Sorting in Action - don't blink!

In our last video, Bernard gave a us a run down of the berry sorting process used at Vilafonte.

In this video we take a look at the process in action and show just how meticulous our quality control is.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Harvest 2008 : Berry Sorting Explained

In this video - Bernard gives us a great explanation of the berry sorting process used at Vilafonte!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Preparation for harvest 2008

SOUTH AFRICAN BLOG AWARDS

Please have a look at the site http://www.sablogawards.com/ which is about to start the nominations for South Africa's best blog. PLEASE VOTE FOR US online by logging onto the site or by clicking on the logo here. Please vote for us in the Category 'Best SA Blog about Food or Wine'. Nominations and voting opens on 11th February 2008.

Harvest Planning
The first harvest planning meeting of the year went really well. For those in the Northern hemisphere, we are preparing to harvest our first Merlot vineyards on the 11th of February 2008 - it is a bit weird to be so different to the North, but there you go. The long, cold and wet winter (S Hemisphere summer) in 2007 has really set us up for a good looking harvest. Extended vine dromancy and a completely repleted water table have set up an excellent foundation which we will now build on.
The flowering window in 2007 was relatively narrow leading to an excelerated veraison and what looks like might be a very compact harvest. We will still be on the lookout for any kind of uneveness in the berries and will eploy our old tricks of 'berry variability analysis' priot to harvest to give us an indication of the extent to which we will have to rely on our grape pickers and sorters. We are now finished veraison in the Merlot and Malbec and approaching completion on the Cabs. This year we did something really interesting in one of our Malbec vineyards by taking a daily photograph of the same vine from pre- to post veraison. I am currently putting together a little video which I will post online which will show quite graphically the changes being experienced by the vine as it goes through veraison. Has anyone ever done this before? Please let me know...

Bottling the 2006 vintage
We are planning the bottling of the exemplary 2006 vintage in the first week of February this year. Zelma and Bernard are thrilled with the wines and it serves to quantifiy the growth in quality that we are experiencing as we develo our techniques, have moved into our own state-of-the-art winery and as the vineyards go past 10 years of age.

Friday, January 11, 2008