“Drink today and drown all sorrow. You shall perhaps not do it tomorrow. Best,
while you have it, use your breath. There is no drinking after death”.
That was Ben Jonson, 11/6/1572 – 16/08/1637. Second as playwrite only to Shakespeare. Indeed, he is said to have been drinking with him in Stratford the week before the Bard died, and some even say it was that session that brought about the illness that lead to his death.
Nobody actually knows the cause of Shakespeare’s death. Remember what he had written on his tombstone: “ blessed be the man that spares these bones, And cursed be he that moves my bones”. Somebody did apparently steal his skull, however. In 2016 ground penetrating radar was used to scan the grave.
This found that the body in there was not in a coffin but had only been wrapped in cloth. It was also only a scant three feet down, and a box-shaped cutting going down toward to where the head should have been did not go any deeper. So what happened to the skull, and was the grave robber cursed? Is it even Shakespeare himself in there? We don’t know………..
On to some wine. Some of you may have heard that France has been hit with late season frosts. Temperatures of as low as -6º were recorded, snow fell. Particularly badly hit were the great regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux. In Champagne it went as low as -7º but hopefully the damage there was not as severe, because their Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are later ripening and had not yet budded.
Late frosts nail the buds, you see, and devastate the harvest. The extent of the damage is not yet known but early predictions are gloomy.
Wine growers there try to protect their grapes during cold snaps by lighting fires, even candles, simply to create some warm air. Helicopters are sometimes even flown over the vineyards to disturb the air, but it does not seem that all these efforts are ever really that successful, as a rule.
In South Africa frost has never been a problem. Hail can be, indeed also in France. The Cape does not get hail but one year Abingdon’s crop was hammered. They now have netting, by the way. The hail that year basically destroyed the whole crop. They did manage to bring out a very few bottles only. Suipie had one of them, a red, and it was pretty good, as Abingdon’s always are.
Someone else who seems completely incapable of producing anything other than decent wine is Bruce Jack. Suipie is laying in stocks of his Chenin Blanc, in 1.5l boxes, in case we are faced with another lockdown. A seriously pleasing white, is this one.
South African wine climatic conditions are remarkably consistent. France is a different story of course. This year’s late frosts are not all that unknown, but in contrast, the 2020 harvest in Burgundy was one of the earliest on record, because it was so hot.
There has been a trend there of higher temperatures with dry weather. Too much sun leads to bigger sugars and other problems , like early ripening causing loss of the unique elegance that comes with long and slow-ripening grapes.
The result of this is that in Burgundy they are beginning to experiment with different rootstocks, to produce later ripening with lower sugars and higher acids.
Suipie wonders it these French wine makers should not perhaps take a trip out here? Specifically, to visit the Swartland. In times gone by, the warmth of that region seemed to produce gallons and gallons of fruity reds with little acid balance and blowsy whites, pleasant enough but not great.
The wines of that area are now are miles away from that. Just have a look at Eben Sadie, or Mullineux, to take two examples. World Class, not to mention Kloovenberg, worth a visit not only because you might bump into Pieter-Steph du Toit, but also to taste some of the Cape’s finest olives!
Suipie is pleased to report that he had just acquired some le Bonheur Cinsault. Suipie has mentioned this varietal often enough, how it was originally seen as nothing more than a stock or blending wine.
In France it is known as Hermitage. That is where our pinotage came from, as you will all know, by crossing it with Pinot Noir. Suipie has had Hermitage from the Rhône Valley just below Burgundy and very nice it is too. They don’t hold it up as one of their top wine areas and perhaps the varietal is not capable of the same elegance and complexities, but that’s not to say it’s not seriously worth drinking.
The le Bonheur is simply a delight. Beautifully spicy red fruit with maybe a little oak only, and a delicate acid twist, a joy to drink from an estate Suipie has always held in high esteem.
They are based in Stellenbosch. Suipie understands that there is talk of a Petit Verdot and a Cabernet Franc being produced there. They already have the grapes, but have until now only used them for their flagship red blend, the Bordeaux-style Prima.
Suipie has said often enough that so much of what makes wine what it is, relates to how and where it is drunk. Eating is usually a rather pleasant exercise, as is being with friends. Wine is for both!
That is why Suipie has never been much at ease with wine-bought-as-investment, because mostly it won’t ever be drunk. What prompted this was the news that Rudy Kurniawan has just been released from jail in New York and deported back to Indonesia.
Suipie had also forgotten the name, but he was the chap who successfully conned many wealthy Americans with his wines.
He arrived in America on a student visa in about 1998. After it expired he remained, as an illegal alien. Somehow he made his way upwards in wine circles, and by 2006 he was said to be have been spending $1 million per month buying wine on auctions.
While some of his deals were genuine, others were not. When it was all exposed it emerged that he would buy French wine, usually Burgundian, and then blend it with Californian Pinot Noir and sell it with forged labels and other fakeries. It all started to unravel when he tried to sell a 1929 Domaine Ponsot, but the estate had not begun their own bottling until 1934.
It is believed he may have sold as many as 12 000 fake bottles, many of which are still in various collections, and worse still, nobody is able to tell which is genuine and which is not, because the packaging was so good.
He was apparently a delightful man to meet, with a superb palate. He once correctly identified ten out of twelve Burgundies tested blind. Those who did drink wine bought from him for a long time apparently never had to cause to doubt what they were drinking.
Two of his uncles on his mother’s side were found guilty of massive financial fraud and received prison sentences. What’s that about the apple not falling far from the tree?
Domaine Ponsot is quite interesting. It was founded by William Ponsot in 1872. Initially they only produced wine for private use and to supply a string of railway restaurants that the family owned. The winery was inherited by William’s nephew, with the delightful name of Hippolyte Ponsot, in 1926. The first labels were hand stamped and individually signed by him before they went out.
Kurniawan’s forgeries were identified by the current owner, Laurent Ponsot, and the estimated value of the wines that had been put up for sale on that day was $ 603 000.00.
At Domaine Ponsot, at harvest time the grapes are selected in the vineyard and not passed over a sorting table. They are generally not destemmed. A 1945-era vertical press is used for crushing. Aging is in barrels that are a minimum of 5 years old, for 30 months. Bottling only happens when there is a both a north wind and a waning moon. It is unclear to Suipie why this is required, but Suipie has heard of this sort of thing before. Avondale below the Klein Drakenstein Mountains near Paarl have similar ideas about wine making. Suipie remembers that they pack cows horns with cows manure and bury them in the vineyards in autumn on a “Root day”, with a descending moon, and lift them out in spring, also on a “Root day”. Suipie cannot remember now what a “Root day” is……..as the saying goes, you pays your moneys, you takes your chances.
Anyway, Ponsot’s labels have a white spot on them that turns grey if the ink on them has been exposed to extreme temperatures, to warn of possible damage.
To prevent future forgeries, the bottles also have a hologram placed on the capsule and a unique code, which is impossible to reproduce.
Suipie had never heard of this estate before, so it is true: you do learn something new everyday! Suipie does not, however, know what happened to the good Mr Kurniawan upon his return to his home country…..