Weather-wise it might have been the coolest Vinexpo on record but, as an event, possibly one of the hottest, writes DAVE HUGHES, who was there … for the tenth time.

Early reports indicated 54 000 visitors, with a 6% increase in the number of foreigners, from altogether 130 countries. These included, for the first time, Mongolia, the Republic of Laos, Cuba and Serbia. The South African participation amounted to 30 exhibitors, compared with 83 at the earlier London Wine and Spirits Fair.

The 2 400 exhibitors from 43 world wine regions had to be in gear a day earlier, as the show opened on the Sunday and not Monday as had been the case in the past (the show is, of course, held in alternate years). This was a great innovation as traffic on the Sunday was greatly reduced and made getting there just so much easier.

Inside the exhibition grounds, the extra day seemed to have thinned out the pedestrian traffic and getting around the show was considerably easier than previously. The system of golf-cart style buggies that ran continuously up and down the road between the lake and Hall 1, was a vast improvement on the previous tractor-drawn trailers.

The new pre-fabricated, temporary “Hall 3” also had the effect of “stretching” the crowds. This was where the South African pavilion was situated. At first, many of the South African exhibitors were somewhat annoyed at being out of the “mainstream”. However, some of those same people later seemed much happier with their position, as the “new” hall attracted a high proportion of visitors.

Although generally regarded as a wine event only, over 12% of the stand area represented spirits of the world. A brand new area was “E-Commerce Corner”, which was situated in the new Hall 3. As ever, the programme was incredibly packed and it was impossible to attend even a fraction of what was on offer and still get around to taste meaningfully.

One of the best attended stands for tasting was the Canadian Inniskillen, where they lined up a number of their “ice wines” daily, with their amazing sparkling ice wine in the morning.

Boland rules the day!

The announcement at Vinexpo that Boland Winery is the recipient of the Robert Mondavi Trophy for the Winemaker of the Year would have gladdened the hearts of any South African. It was greeted with the warmest, most enthusiastic and longest applause imaginable – certainly the greatest applause of the day.

Before Altus le Roux’s name was called out for this honour, the only other two South Africans to have stolen this international wine spotlight, were Günter Brözel in 1985 and Beyers Truter in 1991.

The announcement of the results of the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC), now in its 31st year, is one of the most prestigious events at Vinexpo. The importance of this well-established competition was evident by the attendance of a number of their vice-presidents with no lesser personages on the stage than Robert Mondavi, Chris Hancock, Robert Drouhin, Peter Sichel, Mme May de Lencquesaing, Jean Hugel, Miguel Torres, Baroness Phillippine de Rothschild, Jose Ignacio Domecq Jnr (current President) and Warren Winiarski. The actual trophies are presented at an annual banquet in London’s Guild Hall, with typical British pomp and circumstance.

Of the 24 trophies announced, South Africa took four highly prestigious ones. Boland Cellar took the Warren Winiarski Trophy for the best Cabernet Sauvignon (1999) and the Chris Hancock trophy for the Best Shiraz (1998). This on its own caused something of a sensation with not an Aussie wine in the first three!

Kanonkop was awarded the KWV Perold Trophy for the best Pinotage, while the Chateau Pichon Longueville Trophy for the Best Blended Red Wine was taken by Vergelegen Flagship Blend (twice previously won by Kanonkop).

Then Boland took the Dave Hughes Trophy for the best South African Producer, which was followed by the BIG announcement.

Meanwhile, it had also been announced that Bertrams VOV 14 Year Old Brandy had won the Oude Meester Trophy for the Best Brandy World Wide in the International Wine and Spirit Competition.

Another great positive for South Africa was that two of its wines, Morgenhof Chenin Blanc and Paul Cluver Chardonnay, both 2000 vintage, were selected in the Top Ten wines in a novel competition for the best wine on the show, judged by selected wine journalists. South Africa was the only New World wine country to feature with Portugal and Germany bagging two listings each and France, Sardinia and Spain one apiece.

One of the “off-site” events was the tasting held at the fabulous St James Hotel, initiated by Michael Fridjhon and conducted by George Riedel, to find a glass best suited to tasting Pinotage. The primary evaluation has now been done, with the next to be held in South Africa with a number of prototype glasses which will be fashioned from the information gained in Bordeaux.

Boland Boosts SA

– Su Birch

That a winemaker from a co-operative cellar could win the coveted International Wine & Spirit Competition’s Robert Mondavi Trophy for Winemaker of the Year, was a significant boost to South Africa’s image as a producer of world-class wines, said CEO of Wines of South Africa (WOSA), Su Birch.

This London-based event is the longest-standing of its kind internationally and counts some of the world’s most respected palates on its judging panel.

Altus le Roux is the first from a co-operative cellar to do so and also secured his title in the face of more competitors than ever before in the contest that drew a 30% increase on last year’s entries and saw wine producers from 24 countries participate.

“In addition to the kudos his achievement has earned for the country, it also plays an important role in demonstrating that outstanding wines can be produced at co-operative cellars, which have not traditionally been viewed as sources of award-winning wines,” said Birch.

Striking gold

The South African wines which won gold medals at the IWSC were:

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1997
De Toren Fusion V 1999
Boland Cabernet Sauvignon 1999
Boland Shiraz 1998
Kanonkop Pinotage 1999
Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
Spice Route Flagship Syrah 1999
Vergelegen Flagship Bordeaux Blend 1998
Stellenzicht Syrah 1998
South Africa also clinched 69 silver medals.

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