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Celebrating a landmark

© Cape Times Friday 13th June 2014

2014 is definitely the Year of Anniversaries. Of course the most important one is the celebrations of Twenty Years of Freedom, remembering the 1994 elections which signalled a new era of hope and excitement for many. So it’s probably no coincidence that a lot of businesses date their inception back to the same date and are thus celebrating special occasions of their own this year as well.

One such is Ken Forrester Wines, officially begun the year before when Ken and wife Teresa moved their family down from Johannesburg, but since the first wines were made in 1994, this is a coming of age story whichever year you choose. Ken and Teresa wanted to raise their daughters in a country environment and settled on a dilapidated seventeenth century farm and buildings in the Helderberg. Over the following two decades, they revamped the historic manor house, replanted the vineyards and rejuvenated some of the last remaining Chenin Blanc bushvines in Stellenbosch.

Now known as the King of Chenin, it’s kind of ironic that the first wine made by Ken (with friends and neighbours Mike Dobrovic and Larry Jacobs) was actually a Sauvignon Blanc, but in his second year of production, he made a Chenin and he’s been making it ever since. In fact, the vines used for his premium Chenin, the FMC, are actually celebrating an anniversary of their own, planted as they were 40 years ago in 1974. Ken is a tireless advocate for his favourite grape, and it’s thanks to the persistence of players such as him, Bruwer Raats, Irina von Holdt and others, that Chenin is finally getting the recognition it deserves after twenty years of increasingly great wines.

Twenty years - it is almost hard to believe that so much change has taken place in such a short time. For example – can you imagine a restaurant wine list without Haute Cabrière Chardonnay/Pinot Noir? But in 1994, the von Arnim’s were still awaiting bank approval to buy their mountain cellar home and the pressure was on when the annual harvest of grapes for their burgeoning MCC brand seemed disastrous. “The crop was very small” recalls Achim von Arnim “and the base wine was 12% alcohol by volume, making it unsuitable for the MCC, but we had to market our crop somehow in order to repay our bank loan.” Their solution was to make a still wine from the grapes and it proved so popular, they’ve been making it ever since to the delight of their millions of adoring fans.

It’s quite a feat to create such an enduring brand, particularly when it seemed that financial ruin was staring them in the face, and it took an unusual amount of determination and faith on the part of the von Arnims to make the best of a difficult situation. Similar determination and focus fuelled the creation of another brand, also celebrating an anniversary this year (albeit slightly more than 20 years), – the legendary Spatzendreck from Delheim.

It is more than 50 years since this Late Harvest wine with its cheeky label of a sparrow pooping in the barrel was launched, and yet it could easily have been the end of winemaking at Delheim if owner/winemaker Spatz Sperling had taken a comment the wrong way. When his wine was likened to the less-than-complimentary German word ‘dreck’, rather than be downcast, Spatz decided that failures are the base of eventual success. More than 50 years later, South Africa and the rest of the world have taken this wine to their hearts (although not everyone has taken to the label, twice-awarded ‘Worst Wine Label in the World’!) and the newly re-launched 2013 version is an utterly delicious mouthful of fresh litchis and flowers. A splendid way to celebrate any anniversary!

Q&A with Cyril Meidinger, Robinson & Sinclair Wine...

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