International vineyard visits and wine tastings – which involve winemakers flying halfway around the world – come with a hefty carbon footprint, and more besides, if we look at the restrictions currently being placed on travel in and out of countries affected by Coronavirus. Besides, sometimes vignerons just need to be at the winery or amongst the vines. Which is why Mike Turner decided to conduct a virtual wine tasting with KWV winemaker Izele Van Blerk and viticulturalist Marco Ventrella through Facebook Live. He was in Lincoln, they were in South Africa, and a bunch of wine enthusiasts joined in from all over the globe. Here’s how it went…
Launched 14 years ago the Mentors Range is at the premium end of KWV’s portfolio – using small-batch vinification of top quality fruit and attempting to express the terroir of the region.
A couple of weeks back I tucked myself under a duvet, cracked open a few bottles of wine and enjoyed a glass or two with some ‘wine lover’ mates.
No, I wasn’t under a duvet with a load of people getting drunk before you jump to the wrong conclusions here. I’ve not even got any pampas grass out the front of my house! (Yeah, that’s what you say Mike – Ed.) I was actually sat in my office in front of a Facebook Live session with KWV winemaker extraordinaire Izele Van Blerk and viticulturalist Marco Ventrella. Tuned in were 40 wineos from around the world all chewing the fat over some pre-selected wines from the amazing Mentors Range from KWV.
And the duvet? Bloody cold up here! And our ‘leccy bill’s big enough already! Extra jumper and duvet, job done!
Who are KWV?
Now an impressive 100 years old, KWV is an icon of South African wine. It was created initially to promote South African wine at home and abroad. Throughout the 20thcentury it effectively acted as the main co-operative in town, but made an impressive shift to a forward thinking private company in the mid 1990s, following the massive (and long overdue) governmental and social changes in South Africa.
KWV is now a streamlined market competitor, with ranges of wines and brandies across different price points and across the diverse terroirs of South Africa, both home and abroad.
What is the Mentors Range?
In 2006 KWV launched their Mentors Range of wines, with the aim of showing off a more premium expression of the wines of South Africa to their markets at home and abroad. Of course, KWV makes a lot of wine, but the Mentors Range was about something different. It was about small batch vinification (or at least small for KWV standards), and pairing the best fruit they could get their hands on and showing off South African terroir to the world – often with grapes you wouldn’t always associate with them.
Of course, there are higher end expressions of South Africa’s famous grapes like Chenin Blanc, and the infamous “Marmite” grape, Pinotage (which is an excellent wine in this range!). But also, grapes like Grenache Blanc and Petit Verdot, which are arguably the ones that most wineos are more happily surprised with on the other side of a tasting or two.
Mentors has a dedicated winemaking facility, aside from the rest of KWV’s production, and with its own dedicated team. That team is headed up by Izele Van Blerk in the winery, and by Marco Ventrella in the vineyards.
Who is Izele Van Blerk?
Izele is the head winemaker for the Mentors Range at KWV, having come up through the ranks following a BSc in Viticulture at Stellenbosch and stints at Falesco Winery in Italy. Not only a talented winemaker, but also globe-trotting wine judge, she has really hit her straps at the KWV Mentors Cellar, where she and her team are always pushing for what they can get out of the grapes from the wide array of vineyards of South Africa, and showing off the amazing terroir around the country.
“Working with grapes of this quality and from regions all over the Western Cape, makes it very exciting. These are ultra-premium wines made from unique components that truly represent South African masterpieces… I love an honest challenge and oh boy, we have more than enough of those in the winery!”
She’s also a very funny person indeed. In terms of people in the industry you’d like to share a glass with, she’s up there.
Who is Marco Ventrella?
Talking of people who are up there in terms of people you’d like to share a glass with, the chief viticulturalist for the Mentors Range is a gent called Marco Ventrella. Someone told me he used to moonlight a bit as a stand-up comic. I’m not sure that’s true, but I can well imagine, he’s got some giggles in him.
Marco’s dedicated his professional life to showing off the range of terroir that the Rainbow Nation has to offer, and can be seen all over KWV’s YouTube and Facebook channels with the aid of breathtaking drone shots of the land.
What wines did we try?
We pre-arranged with some wine lovers from the UK to be online to take part in the Facebook Live event, so we all had a sample of each of three wines to ‘have a go at’ together and pile into the comments section with our thoughts.
We started with KWV’s Laborie Blanc De Blancs Brut 2011. OK, so first one wasn’t from the Mentors Range, but ‘me oh my’ it was a hit with the fans! A full-bodied and complex Methode Cap Classique with buckets of acidity and finish and 8 years on the less. It’s something daft like £16 retail. Silly, silly value!!
Next up was the Mentor’s Grenache Blanc. We had the 2017 on the night, and I think that’s now the one available in the UK, although if you’re lucky there might be one or two bottles of 2015 left somewhere in stock. Sharp, smoke, toasty, stone fruit, citrus, massive finish, and very ageeable, I think this is the one Tim Atkin MW popped in his top selection of South African wines. I can see why. This one really spoke to me!
Then came the Mentor’s Orchestra 2016. This is one of the red blends on the label, a Bordeaux blend no less, with a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec,Merlot, and Petit Verdot. Lots of dark fruit in there, and a big old violet kick that I really liked. Slight issue was… well two I guess. First up I was still purring over the Grenache Blanc, so maybe I wasn’t concentrating enough. Secondly, it says on the bottle “would benefit from 6 to 8 years ageing”. You can‘t help but think, as you’re staring at the big “2016” on the label, you might not be drinking it at its best. Still lovely, but would love to find a 2012-2014 if there is any knocking around.
How did it go?
The idea of doing Facebook Live events is nothing new. It’s a pretty useful way to engage with your audience without having to jump on gas-guzzling flights and be away from the vines for too long.
I have to say I’ve seen some really boring ones, but we lucked out here!! Izele and Marco were magnificent in front of the webcam (I’m aware that sounds weird, but just go with it!). I was also stoked that so many of KWV’s Facebook community got online too and joined in, making it a really fun, packed hour with loads of discussion and info-sharing about the wines and KWV themselves.
Look, of course you’d love to sit at a dinner table with them and talk for hours about their wines over some nice food and a couple of bottles. But these guys are busy people, so to grab them for an hour and be able to spread the love across a chunk of their community in the process, that’s not bad at all.
Looking forward to the next one already… I’ve already asked for the Pinotage!!