It was just a picture-perfect setting for the announcement of champion bubblies in this year’s Cap Classique Challenge. Think flutes sparkling with a gentle fizz and white umbrellas on a backdrop of sunlight glinting off a flat, blue ocean as the award winners lined up alongside the team behind the overall champion: Anura Vineyards’ MCC Brut 2011.
For the 12 Apostles Hotel near Camps Bay, though, it was just another day in its magnificent, mountain-perched setting. Different story for the guests, who came from across the Cape Winelands and as far as Bonnievale, near Robertson.
Not all could be winners, of course, but it was still worth the effort, if only for the view, the opportunity to share a good meal with old and new friends, and have the news reinforced that despite the serious challenges facing the South African wine industry, Cap Classique is in good shape.
Considering that the wine style first appeared in this country a mere 45 years ago, some of SA’s most widely consumed wine brands today – the likes of JC le Roux Scintilla and Pongracz – are made in the Cape’s classic manner, or Méthode Cap Classique (MCC). The term isFrench and a local nod to the French region of Champagne that made wine with bubbles famous. These days, many producers around the world simply carbonate for a similar effect at a lower cost.
But not MCC, which uses the traditional methods. Today there are approximately 220 Cap Classique producers creating 300 brands and, in 2015 alone, Cap Classique sold 3.5 million bottles domestically with another 2.5 million exported to Africa, Europe, the US and the Far East. ‘Compare that to 15 years ago – when this competition was first held – and local sales of Cap Classique just edged the 700 000 bottles per year mark,’ says Joaquim S, the managing director of Amorim South Africa – sponsor of the competition.
While the popularity of MCC is evident, he says the industry needs to focus on ‘improving the presence of strong brands’, especially with the many inroads made locally by champagne. The imported product sold over 700 000 bottles here last year with its annual growth approaching 20%.
In the cellar, things have also taken a turn for the better. ‘We were overwhelmed with fresh, bright and well-made wines,’ reflects Cape Wine Master Allan Mullins, chairman of this year’s panel of judges. Cap Classiques were judged in categories Blanc de Blancs, Rosé, Blended Brut and a Museum Class for wines, including and before the 2008 vintage. Entries were also open to non-members of the Cap Classique Producers Association.
In addition to winning the trophy as Best Producer, the Anura Vineyards’ MCC Brut 2011 was also named Best Blended Brut and beat 112 other entries in the 15th running of the competition. The House of JC le Roux won two trophies – the Rosé category, with the JC le Roux Pinot Noir Rosé 2010, and, the Museum Class with the JC le Roux Scintilla Vintage Reserve 2008. JP Colmant won the trophy for Best Blanc de Blancs with the Colmant Brut Chardonnay MCC non-vintage.
A special award, named in honour of the late MCC pioneer Frans Malan and which recognises the contribution of individuals to the industry, was made to John and Erica Platter.