While wine and rugby might share adjectives like robust and smooth, when they do, it is purely accidental and in my opinion, the ultimate wine and rugby relationship, is when you enjoy the one while watching the other! Still, while totally unrelated, an article on the depth of the Springbok rugby team as well as Tim Atkin’s 2021 SA wine report that was released this week, both made me think of exactly the same two concepts.
Jean de Villiers’ column for sarugbymag.co.za is all about the importance of depth in the squad and how the time after a world cup – especially a victory – is essential in introducing new players, experimenting and building depth. As with all other things, Covid threw a spanner in the works for SA Rugby, but despite this I think there is plenty of depth – especially among the forwards. While making seven changes to the team taking on the Wallabies this weekend, it is an experienced side with eight players on more than 50 caps and there are plenty of talented young players in the ranks. While headlines prefer fireworks and drama, it is often depth and consistency that determine success. Having said that, what would a game of rugby be without bouts of brilliance!
How does this relate to the state of SA wine? Over the last decade or so, SA wine saw a new generation of winemakers. Some called themselves revolutionaries and some of them were/are truly avant-garde and brought much-needed excitement to the traditional South African wine scene. Wine writers couldn’t be blamed for finding this hip crowd a bit more writeable than the Old Khaki-wearing team they already knew very well. At a recent wine tasting, the winemaker said that making an expensive wine is easy, the trick is to make an affordable wine. The same is often said about small volumes. Many of these interesting new players on the wine scene made small volumes of expensive wine. Bigger wine companies that have been producing wine at consistent quality and prices for years as well as historic wine estates who have been investing in brand South Africa, felt like they’ve been left out in the cold and many argued, that they are still the lifeline of the industry. And there’s truth in that, of course. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
Just like in rugby, while wine needs depth and consistency, it would be very dull without an enticing blend, interesting style or just a sensational label! What I really enjoy about Tim Atkin’s report, is the balance between depth and drama. Acknowledging stalwarts like Charles Back as well as young winemakers like Elizma Visser of Olifantsberg, awarding from the exclusive Sadie Family Columella to Du Toitskloof’s Red Muscadel.
Similar to Springbok rugby, SA wine has a lot of depth. Revolutionaries might have matured a bit and those with substance survived. The more conservative wineries might have been inspired by these brave efforts and some rose to the challenge of producing more exciting wines themselves. Just like balance is important for wine, it is important for the industry. Consistency and depth are crucial for success, but so are brilliance and bravery. In times of uncertainty and challenge, let’s enjoy a good day for SA wine!