What a time for me to enter the wine industry. The prophets of doom are louder than ever. Europe seems to be sinking into the abyss while America clamours to relieve its own debt woes. Our African resilience will probably see us through the economic meltdown but our loss to the Aussies sent me running for the Pinot and Prozac. Boy, do we need a drink now more than ever.

For generations winemakers have been celebrated like mythical gods. Silent whispers could be heard as they walked with confidence down the corridors, a playful brush of the hair as women swooned to catch a glimpse of their favourite fermenter of grapes. Sorry Vissie, but those days are over. The industry is now entering the era of the wine marketer. Wine business is far too competitive to rely on good wine and good looks alone.

After recently returning from my wine marketing studies in Australia I eased into our wine division as Marketing Manager, realising that a colourful life lies ahead. Over the past 3 months I've endured a photoshoot (discovering that I am far better suited to life behind the lens than in front); had an article published about my travels titled 'Intrepid traveller comes home to roost' giving anonymous bloggers the platform to take a cyberspace swing at my self-esteem (read the comments under the article); and had the pleasure of seeing Adi Badenhorst at Cape Wine Europe dressed in a denim jacket and jeans – the double denim, a memorable fashion flop.

Living up to my Rawbones name, I readily admit to being hopelessly undercooked in terms of industry experience. After watching Norma Ratcliffe buzz around the Spier Conference Centre at Allan Mullins Benefit it became clear that I need to court a sizeable portion of the Capes wine drinking population to make any headway in this industry. Thanks to my father's faulty DNA we share the trait of never remembering any names. An impediment that will make my industry courtship slightly harder.

My re-introduction into Africa has been wonderful. On my return, the family flew to Vic Falls and by lunchtime we were watching 3,000 elephant wallowing in the Chobe River delta. The Aussies can keep their big rock in the desert. I am happy to be home. It was surprising to find our Pinot Noir 2008 listed at the Vic Falls Hotel, which, by the way, has one of the best winelists I've seen, let alone in Zim! I duly quaffed a bottle to calm my shattered nerves after negotiating a number of near death experiences rafting down the mighty Zambezi. When the guide promises no crocs in the white water I suggest you check whether his fingers are crossed. That said, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
 


Cue fireworks, bells, whistles and scantily clad dancers gyrating to Kylie Minogues ... celebration times, come on.

Our Pinot Noir 2009 just received 5 stars in Platter. It's about time.

This fabulous achievement is a tribute to Vissie who has been producing consistently stellar Pinot since our first vintage in 2005. Well done squire you've made my job a lot easier. To his credit, he admits that the grapes do all the work with minimal intervention required in the cellar. Only 800 cases left ... that's the marketer in me speaking.

In February we harvested the first crop from our high-density Pinot Noir vineyard, 10,000 vines per hectare as opposed to the normal 3,000. Everything in the vineyard must be worked by hand as the vine spacing is too narrow to allow any machinery to pass. In a recent barrel tasting of our high-density block I was stunned by the phenomenal density and purity of fruit. This should get the average Pinophile puckering with excitement, good things are afoot!

The Five Nations Challenge is a competition between wines from the Southern Hemisphere; Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Fridjohn invites a select few wineries to represent the South African cause. Bryce Lawrence is excluded from the judging panel which is probably why our Chardonnay 2010 won a Double Gold while Paul Cluver, our neighbours, won the Trophy for Best White with their Chardonnay 2009.

Two Chardonnay's from Elgin, a mere coincidence or are the wine gods saying something?

In September we won the Winemakers Choice Diamond Award, again for our Chardonnay 2010, as judged by a panel of South African winemakers. I know I've been harping on about awards but we invest so much in participating that it seems a shame to keep all this good news to ourselves.

In early October we hosted a vertical tasting of our Sauvignons (SB 2010, SB 2009, SB 2007, SB 2006 and SB 2003) for the trade at The Grand in Granger Bay. That's how confident we are in the age-ability of our whites. Our Sauvignons have always had a dual personality, when young, they are crisp, fresh, herbaceous, with flavours of white grapefruit and a drop of granadilla, perfect for summer.

Unlike my balding father, they age gracefully, as the natural acidity relaxes; they get fuller, creamier and gain in richness which is a testament to the unique terroir of the Elgin Valley. Our maiden 2003 vintage is still drinking beautifully; sadly aged Sauvignon is a misunderstood category, with many associating old vintage Sauvignon as being un-fresh. The challenge is set for the cooler climate regions to educate consumers about the joys of aged whites. A lot easier said than done.

In her visit to South Africa, Michelle Obama had the pleasure of trying a few select wines presented by Vaughan Johnson. We are proud to say that our Sauvignon Blanc 2010 snuck its way onto the list. Given that she obviously loved our wine, I have plans to contact her about possible US importers. I'm sure she has nothing better to do.

Our MTB trails are expanding to include another 25km of exciting new terrain on neighbouring farms. Cyclists will still start and finish on Oak Valley. We aim to have the new trails open by early December 2011. We also have reason to believe the Absa Cape Epic 2012 will be returning here for its fifth consecutive year. Whoop! Whoop!

Our Flower division is the biggest producer and wholesaler of fresh cut flowers in the Cape and the supplier of choice to Woolworths. As it stands we have 17 hectares of greenhouse and some of the most sophisticated glasshouses in the country. In February 2012 we hope to launch our very own flower tours which should get the desperate housewives of the greater Cape Town area excited. By educating visitors we hope they walk away with some understanding of the work that goes into Woolies bouquets.
 


There is so much happening in the livestock division ... where do I start. Nicole Precoudis is a little Greek gem who has an incredible talent with food. An acclaimed restaurateur in her own right, she co-owned Icon and Cilantro in Joburg before buying a farm and starting an estate agency in Elgin. After years in the property business she's decided to return to her foodie roots and is now helping us develop an exciting new range of charcuterie and meat products; pancetta, coppa, salami, saucisson, hams, terrines, sausages etc.

I'm not one to toot my own horn, but Oak Valley produces the best pork in the Cape. A family friend, nicknamed 'Hitler's nephew' for his affinity to all things pork-related, exclaimed excitedly at dinner last month that our pork was the best he's ever tasted. And he's been around. The secret lies in our acorn-fed diet. The acorns are collected from the 4,500 oak trees on the farm, hence 'Oak Valley.' Last year we harvested 27 tonnes of acorns – no small feat!

We now have 17 Wagyu cattle, the nucleus of a breeding herd, with 3 more little ones on the way. You can't help but look at them and wonder what gastronomic delights await. We are obviously still a long way off a commercial size herd and in hindsight were a bit premature in our Wagyu marketing drive. When they are available, our mailing list readers will be the first to know.

As Marketing Manager my job is to convert you into an Oak Valley brand apostle. I plan to use every ounce of wit, charm and a hint of humour to keep you interested in our quarterly newsletters. Don't worry, I won't bombard you daily with promotional rubbish – I can't stand it myself.

As an aside, the plans for our new tasting room and deli were finalised last week, this is where I keep you in suspense with more details to follow in our summer newsletter. I will say this, it promises to be the sexiest spot in Elgin.

I hope you enjoyed my first newsletter.

Remember.

Wine is fine but whiskey's quicker.


21 October   Elegantly Elgin Spring Wine Festival, 5-9pm, Southern Sun, Newlands
26-28 October   Winex JHB, Sandton Convention Centre, Stand number M² 5
29-30 October   Elgin Open Gardens
4-6 November   Wines 2 Whales MTB Adventure
5-6 November   Elgin Open Gardens
11-13 November   Wines 2 Whales MTB Race
4 December   Spur Adventure MTB Race
OAK VALLEY ESTATES   South Africa   Tel. +27 (0)21 859 4110   wines@oak-valley.co.za   www.oakvalley.co.za
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