The 2010 Diners Club Winemaker of the Year is Bartho Eksteen from the Hermanuspietersfontein winery near Hermanus. Taking home the trophy for the 2010 Diners Club Young Winemaker of the Year is RJ Botha from Nitida Cellars in Durbanville. The main competition was restricted to Sauvignon Blancs whilst the Young Winemakers competed with single dry unfortified red wines.
This was the 30th year of the Winemaker of the Year competition and the tenth for young winemaker award. Giving an excellently amusing speech at the awards dinner on Saturday night, Diners Club managing director Ebrahim Matthews said over the years these awards had become a benchmark for the industry and were regarded as one of South Africa’s most prestigious wine competitions. Considering the potential ‘conflict of interest’ (Matthews doesn’t drink alcohol!) his speech was witty and accomplished and acknowledged the undoubted commercial benefits of this competition both for the sponsors and the winners.
For Pieter Ferreira, the 2004 winner, it is the award winemakers covet. “It changes your life,” he said. According to Carl Schultz of Hartenberg who won in 2005, “Turnover at Hartenberg increased significantly after I won.”
Judging panel chairman Dave Hughes said the Sauvignon Blanc wines submitted for this year’s competition were of excellent quality. “There was not a single wine amongst them that was not deserving of praise. Where they differed was in style. We tasted the typical cool-area grassy nose and sweet gooseberry fruit; lemons and limes on the nose with a ripe tropical fruit palate and a citrus zing; dusty hedges and zippy acidity; exotically oaked with opulent sweet fruit; a tropical fruit salad; and West Coast green peppers, grass and green figs.”
Eksteen’s wooded Sauvignon Blanc, the 2009 Hermanuspietersfontein No. 5, was aged in an equal mix of new, second- and third-fill French oak barrels. The 2009 vintage was the first in which Hermanuspietersfontein Vineyards produced all the grapes for its Sauvignon blanc.
Hughes said the red wines submitted for the Young Winemaker’s trophy were also of an exceptionally high standard. “Selecting a winner was no easy task, but RJ Botha’s 2009 Nitida Calligraphy stood out for its multi-faceted qualities. This vibrant, Bordeaux-style blend, comprising 47% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Franc and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, was sourced from grapes from the winery’s own vineyards in the cool Durbanville area of the Western Cape
Apart from the prestige associated with winning the competition, Eksteen received a South African Airways economy class return ticket to any wine-producing country in the world plus expenses. Botha walked away with a cash prize and a head start in the wine industry.
The judging panel was chaired by Dave Hughes; assisted by international wine consultant and principal of the Institute of Masters of Wine, Lynne Sheriff MW; wine judge and commentator Neil Pendock; Carrie Adams, wine judge and specialist liquor retailer; Nomonde Kubheka, KWV winemaker; Margaret Fry, Cape Wine Master; and technical wine consultant Margaret Fundira. Glenroy du Plessis, who was recently voted best wine steward at the 2010 Diners Club Winelist Awards, was this year’s apprentice judge.
To mark three decades of the competition, Diners Club has compiled a special “heritage pack” consisting of 12 wines made by previous winners still active in the industry. It contains wines of Rust en Vrede, Graham Beck, Allesverloren, Thelema and Bouchard Finlayson amongst others, and is available to members through the Diners Club Wine Society.