Without a well-considered marketing plan, essentially establishing an image for a brand, any producer, even with the best wines, will battle to be noticed in this crowded market.
Events at three different producers this past week have caused me to reflect on how they are perceived in the market. These are obviously my own views, as a consumer rather than a writer, but they will doubtless be shared by others.
Kanonkop has to be a benchmark example of successful marketing. It is a team with no tall poppies. Its wines have been well-regarded since the first releases in the early 1970s; today, it is rightly regarded as one of the Cape’s First Growths. If it’s particularly associated with pinotage, Paul Sauer, the flagship Bordeaux blend is generally thought of as the grander wine.
When the Krige family introduced the Black Label Pinotage, in effect a single vineyard wine from the oldest block on the farm, now in its mid-50s, that leveraged the variety to another level. It is sold only through three retailers; Wine Cellar, Cybercellar and Wade Bales’ Wine Society , who also act as brokers for those who wish to re-sell their wine.
This innovation has proved a remarkable success, with the admittedly limited quantity, selling out in the three vintages released to date: this is no small achievement at R1000+ per bottle price tag. Buyers’ confidence has not been misplaced. At the launch of the latest 2008 last week, guests on the farm were treated to a vertical tasting. I loved the maiden 2006 from the first sip; it’s big and bold but more sophisticated than many young pinotages having good fruit without being overly fruity; the variety’s typical vibrant tannins providing freshness as well as form. I admit I wasn’t so taken with the 2007 last year, it had too much of that sweet pinotage fruit. Another year has reined in both in fragrance and form; it is now more pinot like, but not nearly so much as the latest 2008. None are anywhere near ready so I do hope some who buy them are drinkers rather than investors and willing to wait.
Functions at Kanonkop always include a few older wines, generously offered in the certainty that they do mature. My favourites of the evening were the 1995 Paul Sauer and 2001 Pinotage, the latter gorgeously savoury and Burgundian. But there’s no need to take my word for it. Another of the Krige’s innovations is to offer ten year old pinotages from the farm; the 2001 will be sold for around R120, a 20 per cent premium on original selling price. What better way to persuade doubters or anyone of the pleasures mature pinotage can provide. And I’ve no doubt many will take up the offer, confident in Kanonkop’s track record.
For me, Kleine Zalze has an under-the-radar image, something owner, Kobus Basson neither denies nor seemingly regrets. The property’s reputation lies mainly in its Cellar Selection Bush Vine Chenin Blanc, regularly awarded for its quality and even more so for its great value at around R32. But thanks to winemaker, Johan Joubert and Basson pictured in the cellar), I got up close to many more of this numerous range, all suitably accompanied by tapas from French Toast. Perhaps it’s indicative of their marketing approach (or my lack of initiative?) but I didn’t realise how successful the top-pf-the-range, Family Reserve trio are: the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc is a Platter five star, as is the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon; this latter also took the trophy on the Tri Nations (but somehow, it failed the nod on the Top 100). It will probably sell for a reasonable R205 when it is released. The sauvignon is multi-sourced, fermented with several yeasts and left sur lie for 11 months; the result captures fruit of the new world superimposed on the minerality, mouthfeel and dry finish of tradition. Minerals, tiny tight tannins and pure cassis intensity are some of the, admittedly big cabernet’s attractions.
Later in the week, Tim James, guest taster, Ingrid Motteux and I tasted for new releases, the Chenin Blanc 2010 (still good value at R62 ex-cellar) and Shiraz 2009 (R95) from the Vineyard Selection range, a level below the Family Reserve. With its portion of botrytised grapes from 30 to 55 year old vineyards, larger oak and natural ferment this is a bigger, richer wine than the better-known Bush Vine; it partnered well with the spiced calamari at French Toast and would do well with curries. It has concentration, volume with clean, dry though fruity length (16/20). Ingrid demurred, finding too much oak and sweetness. Stylistically, I don’t like the mint on the Shiraz; its silky texture and decent freshness is rather spoilt by over-extraction and a slight alcoholic burn (15). KZ’s marketing might be under the radar, but the wines shouldn’t be.
So to Ken Forrester, the brand and the man; the man is the brand, few would deny that, with chenin the variety that drives him (literally; who else but Ken would have grabbed the CHENIN number plate?!) and he has been one of the main driving forces behind chenin’s renaissance.
Our purpose at last week’s tasting was to examine and enjoy ten vintages of The FMC (Forrester Meinert Chenin, for those who wonder), Martin Meinert being a partner and winemaker since day one.
The chenin project, as it was dubbed, started in 1998; the first FMC, a CWG wine, came two vintages later. It is based on what is now a just over four hectare, 37-year-old vineyard; unmissable, when you’re driving towards 96 Winery Road from the R44, as the photo shows. It is otherwise a concept rather than terroir wine.
There are botrytised grapes in the mix, which undergoes spontaneous ferment in 400 litre barrels, some new. Splashes of the previous or following vintage is usually included but there is no recipe; the final blend has to be given the nod by Mrs F, who has no compunction in instructing F & M to ‘start from scratch’ if it doesn’t hit the mark. She’s done a great job so far; only the 2004 is tiring, while 2008, 2006 and 2003 – all offering complexity and charm – would persuade anyone to chenin’s cause.
What I learned from the vertical is don’t be in a hurry to open the wines; if the current 2009 tastes a little too sweet and oaky, shut it away for three to four years and it should be on a par with the trio mentioned above.
Forrester, the man and the brand are so chenin focussed, it’s easy to forget there are other tantalising wines in the range.