To mark the sad passing of rugby legend Doddie Weir OBE yesterday we repost the inspirational story of Doddie’5 Red Blend 2019, a unique South African red blend which has many parts to it but one purpose – to raise money for Weir’s Motor Neurone Disease foundation. Weir wore the No.5 shirt for Scotland while Schalk Burger, who made the wine with his son Tiaan, wore the No.5 for the Springboks. In another homage to the wine’s sporting provenance the blend is made of five grape varieties with £5 from every bottle sale donated to Weir’s MND charity and Burger constructing the wine as if it were a team of legends. Wine and sports writer Geoffrey Dean got the story and the wine is still available to buy – details at the end of the article.
“I salute you in the name of friendship, knowing that the game we played and love creates a special kind of human spirit, just like wine transcends all the bad,” Schalk Burger says to Doddie Weir.
Rugby players, like so many sportsmen, have long formed lasting friendships with former adversaries, particularly opposite numbers. It is no surprise, therefore, that Schalk Burger senior, who played six Tests for the Springboks in the 1980s, has teamed up with his younger son, Tiaan at their winery Welbedacht, to make a wine on behalf of Doddie Weir, the former Scotland international legend, who suffers from Motor Neurone Disease. And an excellent wine it is too, being given a very high score by Greg Sherwood MW and being fairly priced at £19.95, with a fiver from every sale going to the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation. This raises funds to aid research into the causes of Motor Neurone Disease and investigate potential cures.
There is symbolism in the £5 donated, the name of the wine and the way it is made because both players wore the no 5 jersey for their countries, being lock forwards. Doddie’5 Red Blend 2019 adorns the Tartan-looking label, which was designed by the talented artist Henry Fraser, a tetraplegic who paints with a brush held in his mouth. When a member of the Saracens Academy, Fraser was paralysed from the neck down aged just 17 after a tragic diving accident in 2009, but has since composed some remarkable artwork.
In a moving Ode to Doddie, to be published soon through former England international Simon Halliday’s Sporting Wine Club, Burger writes: “So my dear friend Doddie, I have decided to tell you a little more about our project, to create a wine for you, and why I have had great pleasure in doing so. In the discussions with Simon Halliday and Kenny Logan [Weir’s former Scotland team-mate] developing this wine and brand with the help of Henry Fraser – what an inspiration himself – it was mentioned this project has got so many parts to it, we must somehow keep them all together and let it be known.”
Not coincidentally, there are five grapes that make up Doddie’5 Red Blend: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Mourvedre and Petit Verdot. Almost a Bordeaux blend therefore. Burger, a hugely engaging and warm-hearted man, casts an amusing rugby slant on his selection.
“Cabernet Franc is the lock forward of all vines,” he writes. “They grow with vigour and are the most straight and upright of all vines, and they stay like that through their lifespan. Very adaptable, they exhibit the terroirs they grow in, with flavours of tobacco, raspberry, bell pepper and cassis,” Burger says.
“Merlot is the most adaptable of the five cultivars, and has got a soft fleshiness which makes it ideal for blending with a great mid-palate feel. Just like the flankers are the link between the forwards and backs – deft enough for passes to create an overlap but solid enough to keep at bay those sneaky scrum half snipes – Merlot helps blend the wine together.”
“Cabernet Sauvignon to me will be the props who, like the grapes, like a special type of soil to scrummage on. Producing those deep dark flavours to create high tannins and acids to age just like prop forwards do. Mourvedre is the number eight, the one that roams the field looking for work and many times not finding any, other than being on hand late in the game to collect an inside pass from a back to score the winning try and take all the front page glory the following morning. Obviously used in much smaller quantities in the blend, but can exhibit flavours that are earthy, wild game and farmyard.”
“Petit Verdot is the hooker, and for no other reason than that is probably the least understood cultivar of them all, just like hookers are. It needs more heat and sun than Cabernet Sauvignon, and that is why we put it into the middle of the scrum.”
“We all know that the forwards are the most diverse group of players with each one having to do a specific job to be successful as a pack. The sum totals of the individuals, coupled with the passion they exhibit, determine the winning or losing of a match. Such is a wine, and a forward’s wine especially should be no less than that.”
“So Doddie, my friend, this wine was made with the passion of a lock combining all the support we need as a unit to perform, and may this piece be a small thank you for the way you are treating adversity, helping others, and now through wine allowing more people to help your cause. I salute you in the name of friendship, knowing that the game we played and love creates a special kind of human spirit, just like wine transcends all the bad. Only a fellow lock could end by saying, ‘I love you.’ ”
Fittingly, the 8,500 bottles produced are due to arrive on UK soil this Friday, the day before the first Test between South Africa and the Lions (for whom Weir was selected in 1997). Halliday, who revealed that half of the production has already been sold, is hoping that the rest will be taken up by not just the on and off-trade but also private individuals through Sporting Wine Club.
“It has been a struggle to get this across the line,” he told me last week when we tasted an advance bottle at Handford in South Kensington, who will have an allocation for in-store sales.
“A fire on the farm, pandemic-related delays crippling the South African wine industry, bottling and labelling businesses being closed, certification taking an age – and a new wine always needing more scrutiny. In terms of adversity though, pretty much nothing compared to the reasons behind the whole project. The story is truly inspirational and a credit to the Burger family for their commitment to Doddie and his fight against MND. Importantly, the wine has been scored 94 points by eminent MW Greg Sherwood and been marked as a beautiful blend of impeccable quality.”
“Sporting Wine Club is incredibly proud to be associated with such a project, having been approached initially by the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation. The first Lions v South Africa Test match is being designated ‘Doddie’s Lions Super Saturday,’ so join with us to help the fight against MND by raising awareness and funds. We would love people to support us on this and buy a case or two.”
Make no mistake, this wine is an outstanding one from the Burger vineyards in the Groenberg ward of Wellington where soils are predominantly decomposed granite. Medium-bodied with lovely, elegant red fruit, it is already a delight to drink with its soft, plush, juicy mid-palate now but has the structure and acidity to age (pH 3.6, TA 5.6 g/l).
Fine-grained dusty tannins have been beautifully integrated, with maturation in third fill 225-litre barriques. An abv of 14.2% is in balance, with the wine having notable freshness and very good length.
To order Doddie’5 Red Blend 2019, please visit Sporting Wine Club