I spent last weekend at Groot Constantia. The weather was perfect, the surroundings beautiful. This estate really does have it all – great wine, views, expansive grounds, historical buildings, modest charm, modern art and multiple tasting areas.
But I was there to go back to school – wine school, specifically the WSET Level 2. Two days in the classroom – lead by the super Cathy Marston – learning about grape varieties, wines of the world and viticulture, with plenty of tasting and even some sabraging. This Saturday is the exam. I have plenty to revise and so I’ll combine this post with revision, and take you on a trip to France.
Imagine if every wine farm in Constantia grew only Sauvignon Blanc, or if all the wineries in Paarl grew only Shiraz. That’s how they roll in France – each wine-growing region has to follow strict guidelines on which grapes they grow, which wines they can make and in what way. In the Côte Rôtie in the Northern Rhône, one can only make red wine from Syrah. Viognier is grown but must be used in a red blend. And back over in the Northern Rhône in Hermitage, Rosé is a no-no.
Compare this to our native approach to winemaking – complete free for all. Wine farm owners can set up shop anywhere, plant any grape and make any wine: even a sparkling Shiraz (can’t wait to try Nitida’s) if they so wish.
And when the wine is bottled, they very helpfully tell us which grape it is we are drinking and which estate and part of the country it comes from – unlike in France, where if the wine is red and it says ‘Burgundy’ on the label, you’re expected to know it’s going to be Pinot Noir.
We’re pretty lucky, here in the New World.
Wish me luck in the exam… I’ll be raising a glass afterwards, whatever the outcome.
Photography Caroline Knight