Continuing my conversations with South African winemakers this week, Abrie Beeslaar of Kanonkop takes a few minutes to share his thoughts on Mandela, the state of S.A.’s wine industry, and why a judgment of Paris with South African wines is long overdue.
A brief background on Kanonkop:
Founded in 1910, the fourth generation family farm, presently run by brothers Johann and Paul Krige, has been owned and operated by the Sauer-Krige family since the early 1930s. The name Kanonkop is derived from a “kopje” (small hill) on the property, from which a cannon was fired in the 17th century to announce the arrival of the Dutch East India Company’s trading ships at Table Bay. Situated on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in Stellenbosch, Kanonkop encompasses just over 247 acres of vineyards at altitudes of 195–395 feet above sea level. Kanonkop boasts some of the Cape’s first commercially planted Pinotage vines, with an average age of over 50 years. These are maintained as traditional bush vines, while the Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc are trellised. The estate’s legendary Pinotage serves as a benchmark for this unique and exotic South African grape.
Where were you born and where do you live now?
I was born in Worcester and now reside on the Kanonkop farm which is located on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in Stellenbosch.
How did you get into the wine business?
I wanted to study Medicine, but did not qualify to get in. They recommended that I study agriculture for a year, and then reapply. I never reapplied.
We all witnessed around the world, the passing of Nelson Mandela this week. Do you feel he made a contribution, either directly or indirectly, to the wine industry? What is the mood of the country right now?
Mr. Mandela made a huge difference, both directly and indirectly. For instance, he improved land security and helped make South Africa more visible to the world. To talk about his legacy is a humbling feeling, and I think 99% of South Africans are morning the country’s loss, and are refocusing on what Mr. Mandela fought and stood for,
What are the challenges of making wine in your region?
The biggest challenge is the wind, and trying to figure out the intrinsics of each vintage.
Have South Africans’ wine preferences changed in the last 10 years?
I don’t think the South African wine consumer has changed differently than the rest of the world. The consumers are buying from the shelf to drink immediately; they are also buying wines they can understand, for instance a wine that has coffee aromatics.
Do you think South African wines have any particular reputation in the States that you think is inaccurate?
I think we still have a chance to establish ourselves as a quality driven country. Unfortunately, people are not prepared to take a risk on a wine at a higher price point. I see too many cheap wines in the market with labels I do not recognize. We must also do a Judgment of Paris with S.A. wines included!
Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected? I think Pinotage is not fully understood by most, but it is still respected.
What do you drink when relaxing at home? I like properly aged wines, especially from Burgundy and Italy.
What types of food do you like to eat? Like any South African, we are born with Braai tongs in our hands. So all kinds of meat, and my wife’s homemade sausage.
If you could be traveling right now, where would you be? Germany, in the Mosel!