When beauty is in the detail

Cape Town – I spent a couple of hours in paradise this week.

Well. maybe not paradise exactly, but it is a gorgeous piece of Cape Town.

I was invited to spend some time with Groot Constantia’s winemaker Boela Gerber, and so a gorgeous late summer Wednesday was spent on the country’s oldest wine estate rather than eating lunch at my desk.

I’m on a steep learning curve in the world of wine and the kind PR people who represent Groot Constantia thought I could up my game a little by spending some time there. Boela took me on a tour of the vineyards and we did some tasting of his fine wines sitting outside at Jonkershuis, and I did learn a lot.

Did you know that Groot Constantia gets more rain than the city of London (though there it falls all year round whereas here it falls in four months). That fact, together with a cooler summer than you get in other South African winegrowing areas, means that Groot Constantia’s sauvignon blanc is really good as sauvignon grapes don’t like heat or water stress.

And if you look at vineyards from above, you can see different growing patterns – a triangle that is slightly yellow, a patch that is greener than elsewhere – and these reflect differences in soil quality. Which means that within one vineyard, different horticultural practices are needed in different places. Boela noted: “Winemaking is not rocket science, but you do have to pay attention to small details.”

A tour of the cellar produced my usual feelings of mystification: barrels and pumps and pipes and fermenting all look like rocket science to me. I did get a grip though on how barrel size affects wine: the smaller the barrel, the greater contact the wine has with the oak, which affects the taste of the wine (hope I got that right, Boela).

Over lunch, I got to taste six wines: the 2015 sauvignon blanc, a semillon sauvignon blend and a chardonnay and three reds: a 2014 pinotage, a 2013 shiraz and a 2012 Gouverneurs Reserve merlot/cabernet. They were all gorgeous but if I had to shell out hard-earned cash I’d be taking home that sauvignon blanc.

I noticed that all the bottles were corked and asked Boela about the move to screwtops. His view is that there are problems with corks, but there are also problems with screwtops and that until it is clear which is the better method, he will stick with the one he knows – and it suits the estate’s historic image to stay with the traditional method.

The talk ranged far and wide, and touched of course on journalism, which I told him, was also not rocket science.

What’s needed is a fundamental scepticism about the world, attention to detail and time. Trust in a journalist comes from his or her track record, and that used to be easier to establish than it is now. When there was one or two newspapers in a town or city, journalists built a reputation over time by being embedded in a community: too many mistakes and people stopped talking to you. And you were backed by the structures and institutional knowledge of the publication you worked for.

In a world where anyone can set up a blog or a website, do these older ways of establishing trust still matter?

We ran out of time to solve the problems of the world but I hurried off to real life and the school run reflecting that there are more similarities between journalism and wine-making than meet the eye.