Boland Cellar’s breakthrough at the International Wine and Spirit Competition is the classic tale of a plan that sometimes gels perfectly – in this case, a plan of teamwork and communication in a very complicated setup.

This much was apparent in an interview with Cellarmaster-Manager Altus le Roux shortly after his arrival from Bordeaux… but he had definitely not touched ground yet.

This brilliant performance, at what is probably the most important international competition, signifies not only a breakthrough for this Paarl Cellar, but is also a victory on many other fronts.

Altus’s distinction in a competition attracting 24 wine producing countries and literally thousands of entries, is a boost for the image of quality wine from the Cape. But it is also a victory for a cellar that has been producing affordable products, available on a national basis, for many years. Likewise for the bigger cellars operating on a co-operative basis – something that Boland does not broadcast with too much fanfare, considering the negative perceptions about the quality of co-op wines that have prevailed over the years.

But that was in the past; things have changed. Boland entered the third millennium as a transformed company and has since gone from strength to strength.

Today this cellar has 115 wine farmer shareholders and the typical co-op problems, namely lack of own marketing, style specialisation and focus, were surmounted long ago. Nowadays wines are carefully selected and vinified in conjunction with the member wine farmers and viticulturists, with the accompanying incentives for and absolute insistence on top quality grapes.

Obviously the trend is towards more premium wines, but Boland will not disappoint its loyal domestic market for affordable products, Altus emphasised. After all, how can they, with a production of 13 million litres to move, he asked.

At the time of going to press, the management and board were addressing the problem of a price structure for the winning wines, of which stocks are rather limited – 1 200 bottles of the Cab and 3 600 of the Shiraz. “Indeed, this is something very special and the prices will be increased, with a view to the foreign market where the demand is now very strong,” Altus said. On the domestic market these wines are almost sold out, but wine lovers who are fortunate may find a bottle or two on liquor store shelves at approximately R50 and R36 respectively.

Altus says the success achieved by Boland may be ascribed to teamwork, and the meticulous chain only ends with the consumer.

“The wine grape farmers who are members of Boland Cellar co-operate closely with our viticulturist, Jurie Germishuys, to deliver nothing but the best grapes from the most suitable areas for specific varieties to the cellar.”

Here the winemaking team, comprising Johan Joubert, Naudé Bruwer and Bernard Smuts, ensure that the maximum benefit is derived from quality grapes without interfering with nature. The consumer remains the main indicator, however, and the wines are made in the styles demanded by the consumer, without sacrificing quality.

According to Altus, the biggest problem they have surmounted is the communication gap between grape farmers and their cellars. And the biggest secret, as far as they are concerned, is the appointment, five years ago, of a viticulturist, Jurie – “whose widespread experience and thorough knowledge enabled him to provide the required guidance with authority… he is able to identify top blocks and keep them separate… and to determine optimal ripeness”.

Other key factors in their “master plan” were annual visits of their team to other, leading cellars, as well as the importation of foreign winemakers for the pressing season at Boland – to enable cross-pollination of knowledge.

“What is more, Boland investigated what the market wants… and found a dislike for thin wines with low alcohol and green tannins. We are looking for more rounded, ‘longer’ wines, with fruitiness, that can be enjoyed now, but will also mature well.”

An interesting aspect is that all possible facts and statistics are documented, so that there can be a frame of reference for future queries.

The total vineyard is subdivided into five regions, essentially according to micro-climate. The crop is allocated to the two cellars along geographic divisions mainly, with the Dal Josafat cellar specialising in Chardonnay and Shiraz while the “top one”, in Northern Paarl, makes Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet. The red wine production increased by 50% this year and the ratio of white to red should be even in 2004.

Boland Cellar’s achievements in Bordeaux are subsequent to a very successful 2000. At the 2000 Michelangelo International Wine Awards in Johannesburg the Boland Sauvignon Blanc 2000 was the only white table wine to receive double gold; the Boland Pinotage 1999 Reserve was one of only ten South African red wines to receive gold at the Air France Wine Awards, while their star also shone brightly, as mentioned above, at the annual Veritas Awards with three double gold (Cab ’99, White and Red Muscadel, both ’97), three gold and eight silver awards. The Cab ’99 was the one to be named the best international Cabernet Sauvignon.

The cellar’s fun wine, the Bon Vino, a 500 ml screw cap “dinky”, was the proud recipient of one of the above-mentioned golds – for the second year running… talking of quality affordable wines!

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