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'Hearing' Wines with the Queen of Pinot

Cathy Marston goes to a tasting with Cathy Marshall wines.

by: Cathy Marston | 08 Sep 2011

‘Synaesthesia’ is the ability to interchange senses, to ‘see’ sounds and ‘hear’ pictures. Several famous people have been diagnosed with this talent – artist David Hockney and musician Billy Joel to name but two – and having attended an amazing wine tasting last week, I think I would add Cathy Marshall to this number as well.

Cathy was the original ‘garagiste’ in South Africa – somebody who makes wine in their garage, for whom winemaking isn’t their day-job. As it happens, Cathy is a winemaker by trade, but 14 years ago, she and some friends got together on Muizenberg beach and stomped some grapes, whilst drinking copious amounts of wine and having a lot of fun. Fourteen years and an acclaimed Five Stars from John Platter behind her, she took several lucky journalists and restaurateurs on her Pinot Journey at The Test Kitchen last week.

Cathy is one of the most passionate people in wine – an industry which overuses the word ‘passion’ at the slightest opportunity. But until you meet her, you don’t really know what the word means. Cathy has no axes to grind with anyone, she is completely independent and simply makes the wines she likes. If you like them too, that’s wonderful, if you don’t, then she respects your opinion and is simply interested in learning more about it and you. I’ve known her for the best part of ten years – the similarity of our names has confused many a winetaster and journalist over that time! – and I have yet to hear anything less than positive and enthusiastic come from her lips.

So what’s this about synaesthesia then? Well, Cathy sees wine in terms of music and this is how she constructs her wines. For her, the combination of Elgin (which is where she now sources her grapes), Pinot Noir clone 133 and sandy soils makes for Mozart in her mind – ‘light and ethereal with delicate nuances’ whereas clay soils with clones 777 or 667 makes for Beethoven – ‘muscular, masculine wines of weight and gravitas’. She ‘hears’ the blend of barrels as she makes up the final version and chooses the wines according to the ideas and memories they evoke when she tastes them.

If this seems a bit kooky, the wines most definitely are not – bear in mind she already has one Five Star under her belt and I’m betting it won’t be her last. Her 2004 Pinot Noir is absolutely everything a Pinot should be – truffley, red fruit with structure, elegance and layer upon layer of velvety pleasure – and her later vintages are looking even better (my faves were the 2008 and the 2009 11 Barrels, current release R170 from the cellar). A humble, honest, decent winemaker with music in her head and magic at her fingertips; add in a touch of girl power (she was the first female winemaker in SA to have their own-name label) and you have an exciting combination. They always describe Pinot Noir as a ‘feminine wine’ – I think ‘they’ are right, and believe me, this is the female to make it!

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