La Residence pulled out all the stops in hosting the Diners Club Winemaker of the Year 2013 Awards last night, seating and serving 150 guests in its massive entrance hall, lounge and dining room, demonstrating why it was recently voted joint Best Hotel in the world by Conde Nast Traveler. The Awards evening was described as ‘a gathering of wine aristocracy’, and the ‘Oscars of the Wine Awards’! The Diners Club Winemaker of the Year Award is the only award given to an individual, and is even more special in that it is received in the presence of an audience of experts and peers.
Gareth Cliff of 5FM was a good MC, admitting his ignorance as a wine drinker, and doing a brilliant Julius Malema impersonation based on wines (with Ed Morton and Nick Solomon of La Residence in the photograph below). As the venue was so large, video screens were set up throughout the venue, allowing each table to see a screen close by. A Twitter Feed ran on the screen, Cliff being a heavy Tweeter, which will have pleased his hosts at La Residence and Diners Club, with his 571343 Twitter Followers. Diners Club Winemaker of the Year 2013 Finalist Johan Jordaan from Spier was an informative and fun table neighbour, as was Franschhoek Tatler editor Siegfried Schäfer and Helgard van Schalkwyk from Lynx Wines. Johan was an excellent ‘lighting assistant’, in lighting my plates with his phone to photograph the food!
Johan shared that he has been at Spier for six years, having started at Slanghoek. He explained the origin of the name of ‘Creative Block‘, referring to an art empowerment project, whereby small artworks are prepared, and then framed and hung in blocks at Spier, and at Hollard. Art is an important focus at Spier, owning the largest Contemporary African art exhibition. The number three signifies that three cultivars were blended: Shiraz, Mourvedre, and Viognier. Johan was named Diners Club Winemaker of the Year in 2011, and shared that it had a significant effect on wine sales, and also on his career. The PR and Marketing by Diners Club is excellent, and they ran TV commercials prior to last night’s event, and will do more. The winner is flown around the country, and the winner and his/her wines are exposed at small group dinners and events.
The theme this year for Diners Club Winemaker of the Year was non-Bordeaux blends, which meant that winemakers could enter a wine which has been made from fewer or none of the five Bordeaux varieties. Judging was done at the end of September, of the record number of 87 entries received, and the judging panel included Dave Hughes, André Reboul, Carrie Adams, Margaret Fry, Colin Frith, Nomonde Khubeka, Suné Eksteen, and Diners Club and Platter’s critic Neil Pendock (who was accompanied by a dandy Distell date, and presents his business card on behalf of his petite Pendock Wine Gallery, seemingly no longer positioning himself as a writer)! One wine stood out for all the judges, and was announced as being the Arendskloof Voetspore 2011 made by New Cape Wine’s Christiaan Groenewald, an interesting blend of 60% Tannat and 40% Shiraz. He said that he makes his wines as ‘natural as possible, being grapes in a bottle’. He said his first job was at Standard Bank, causing a laugh as one could speculate that Neil Pendock would see something sinister in this! He spoke emotionally about the role of Dave Hughes in guiding him, about the quality of the farm that his late father left him, and the relationship he has with his workers, referring to ‘our farm’, with tears streaming. He described his wine as follows: ‘Beautifully lively red; a vast number of aromas; and mouth feel that lingers for a long time‘.
The other five Finalists were William Wilkinson of Wildekrans, entering his Cape Blend Barrel Select Reserve 2011; David Finlayson of Edgebaston. who thanked his father Walter for being his mentor, saying too that he is adventurous, and needs a new challenge, having entered The Pepper Pot 2012; Mary-Louise Nash of Black Pearl Wines, entering her Oro 2012, and spoke about doing everything herself, having planted her 16000 vines herself, giving her full control; Johan Malan of Simonsig, who entered The SMV 2012, having 33 years of experience, growing up on the wine estate, and knowing its terroir well; and Johan Jordaan from Spier, entering his Creative Block 3 2010, who said that wine reflects who the winemaker is and his/her passion for it.
This was the 33rd Diners Club Winemaker of the Year Award, and CEO of Diners Club Ebrahim Matthews thanked all for attending. They support learnerships, and therefore the Diners Club Bartho Eksteen Wine Academy was born. The acquisition of Platter’s South African Wines was a significant purchase, and this led to an upgrade of the website and Facebook page, as well as an update of their iPhone app. Former Platter’s publisher Andrew McDowall was thanked for his hard work in developing the publication. Mr Matthews does not drink alcohol, and said that one ‘does not need to drink wine to enjoy it’!
Mr Matthews said that it had been a good year for Diners Club and its owner Standard Bank. The Awards were described by Suné Eksteen as ‘the most important wine competition in South Africa’, a winemaker only winning once in a lifetime at best. The prestige of the Awards is growing, and they are receiving a growing number of entries. The Diners Club Young Winemaker of the Year was named as Murray Barlow of Rustenberg, for his Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2012, chosen as the best of 51 entries in the dry white wine category. Barlow recognised the 300 year history on the estate, and he thanked his father and their staff for making the Award possible. He has a Masters degree in Oenology from the University of Adelaide. The challenge is alternated annually as a dry white wine and a dry red wine maker. Other Finalists were Attie Louw of Opstal Estate, Hendrien de Munck of Longridge, David Sadie of Lemberg, Emile van der Merwe of Vondeling, and Narina Cloete of Quion Rock.
Chef Lennard Marais did a sterling job in preparing the three course meal, served by hired help alongside students from the Bartho Eksteen Academy. The starter was a New season asparagus velouté, served with pan- fried prawns, and a chervil and citrus salsa, paired with Rustenburg Chardonnay 2012. The main course was highly praised, being treacle bread crusted Karoo lamb rack, served with spiced creamed potato, fine beans, smoked rainbow carrots, and a delicious prune and pistachio chutney, paired with the Arendskloof blend. For dessert Valrhona chocolate torte was served, with honey and bergamot (citrus fruit) panna cotta as well as La Residence lavender ice cream. Evan Sampson showed the Conde Nast Traveler-recognised service level by having a cappuccino organised, and sending dishes to our table for the photography.
Diners Club must have spent a small fortune on the event, and demonstrated that when they do something, they do it well. They had chosen La Residence as the venue for last night’s event months ago, and could not have made a better choice given its status of being the best hotel in the world!
Disclosure: We received a Platter’s South African Wines 2014, a pen, and a wine opening kit with our media kit.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
Just FYI regarding winemakers only winning the award “once in their lives at best”: both Gunter Brözel and Walter Finlayson have won the award twice.
Thank you for your input
I was quoting Sune Eksteen, a judge of the Awards and whose husband Bartho Eksteen won last year, who was interviewed in the Diners Club video screened at the awards ceremony.
I think she was saying that it was such a special honour and the odds so small to win it ever, let alone more than once.