celebrating 350 years of fine winemaking in the cape of good hope or filling the world with their faux, methode cap classique.

Posted: May 19, 2010 in Uncategorized

This piece was written on the anniversary of the Wine Industry in Cape Town, while the nonsense about 350 years of fine winemaking was plastered all over our TV screens. I republish it here, because strangely enough, even though it is not on the front page, and languishing in archives, it is suddenly the fourth most read piece of the day, and has been now for a few days.

For Frank.

Cape Town is not just a city in Africa, dear reader; it is so very much more. The fairest Cape in all the world is now one of the biggest theme park attractions in the galaxy. A giant, global ethnic theme park, perched on the southern tip of Africa, under the shade of a famous mountain, Cape Town is to Africa, what Disney World is to America, complete with imaginary rides of all kinds, it is a fantasy of faux to tickle you tastes and tantalize your mind with spectacular delusion after delusion.

At the top of the list of attractions, and currently advertised on rags around the globe, is Cape Town’s premier fun fair ride, and what a ride it is, now dressed up as 350 years of fine wine making.

That’s correct, 350 years, no less.

The Cape would have you believe that its been making wines of great international acclaim since January 1650, and for a small sum you can wind your way along the rollercoaster known as the Cape Wine route, and celebrate this magnificent achievement in true European style.

Now, those of you who paid attention at school may remember that wine was brought to Cape Town, by a certain Dutchman who landed here, no doubt with casks of the stuff exactly 350 years ago. Presumably this band of entrepreneurs managed to plant vineyards, mature wine, bottle it and start the wine industry in a couple months, a feat well worth celebrating.

But why split hairs?

This is how, you see, a pig, farm founded in the sixteen hundreds, gets to market its bottles with the byline, since 1678, despite the fact that grapes only began to grow there in the early 1970’s.The great inheritance of years of viticulture, stolen by public relations fraud, and regurgitated with darn right bloody cheek by the Cape wine industry.

Consequently, a pig farm vintage from Paarl, can sell for just a shade more than a burgundy, and a short stroll down the wine isle at Sainsbury’s, will reveal bottle after bottle of Cape Chateau de Doos, boxing in the same price brackets as real wines from both the old and the new world, and why, a bottle of Moet, costs less than Hamilton Russell’s Pinot Noir at my local Spar.

True to form, the history of winemaking in the Cape is shrouded in mystery, with wine farms being the sole custodians of the information, which they manipulate with the skill of David Copperfield.

According to their website, the oldest wine farm is, Groot Constantia, whose claim to fame is over 320 years of history, which applies also to the location of the Quick spar in Gardens.

The actual wine industry is harder to pin point, but it certainly was not before the late 1700’s that they even sold grape juice to the locals. As for a fine wine industry of international repute, it was only in 1885 that, in the words of the official mouthpiece of the farm, that “. . theproject was expected to become commercially viable….{with the appointment of } …Baron Carl von Babo.”

By this time, what passed for Cape Vintage was nothing more than gape juice with added brandy. Fortified wine, like Cinzano Bianco, or Port but not quite as subtle and certainly not on the tables of the various royal households of Europe, as the Cape bullshit machine would have you believe.

According to the Groot Constantia website, it was a man calle Baron Carl von Babo, from the then famous viticultural school at Klosterneuberg in Austria, who started the wine industry, not Jan van Riebeek, and at their very farm. (www.grootconstantia.co.za)

By all accounts Baron Babo, despite his luminary credentials, was a mediocre wine maker, no doubt he blamed the soil and the climate though. Even the savvy viticulturists from Constantia admit that , “…the quality of wines produced at Groot Constantia during the years of Van Babo and Mayer left much to be desired.”

Curiously enough though, the famous Klosterneuberg was only founded in 1860, and its director from that time on was one Baron August William von Babo. Not Carl.

Just who Carl Babo is , is unclear. There is no reference to this man from Klosterneuberg. Did they invent him at Constantia ? Perhaps August was his daddy. If in fact he was August, then it’s curious that no mention is made of a trip to SA to start the wine industry.

Could he have been the first viticultural con man at the Cape?

Now, to be fair, these sorts of oversights do happen, but what is most curious is that the only biography I can find of any Baron von Babo from Klosterneuberg at http://www.economy-point.org/a/august-william-of-babo.html , has him running Klosterneuberg until 1893, and not a mention, outside of the Cape of what Constania’s spin doctors credit him with, “…propagating the first natural table wine in the Cape.”

Wow!

Let me cut and paste the passage:

“Groot Constantia, the mother of wine estates in South Africa, was sold to the Cape Government for £5 275 at a public auction in 1885. The purpose was that the estate should become a model for viticulture purposes, and the project was expected to become commercially viable.

The first person appointed to manage this task was Baron Carl von Babo, who came from the famous viticultural school at Klosterneuberg in Austria. Although Von Babo was only marginally successful, he must be honored for producing and propagating the first natural table wine in the Cape at Groot Constantia (until now fortified wines had mostly been produced). Von Babo was succeeded in 1889 by Herr C Mayer from the German viticultural school at Geisenheim. ”

Shock, Horror, Gasp !?!

So by their own pen, fine wine dates only to 1885, and produced by a man unrecorded in history, but for the books of Groot Constantia.

The long and short of Constantia’s history by their own pen, is that real wine, never mind fine, was not being produced until well into the 1880’s…. a far cry from the 320 years of prestige they claim from their website atwww.grootconstantia.co.za/11/overview.

So even if the elusive Baron Carl was real, the wine industry is at very best having its 125th birthday this year, a desperate far cry from the 350 years of fine winemaking tradition that they would have us believe.

Sies man !

No matter to the Cape, for you see, there in that new French Riviera, the elite who fled from the New (very black) South Africa never notice such details dhal-ing, much like their feted mayor, our Tin Pot Lady of Shame, Mrs. Zille, delusion is on every menu, with not the slightest hint of shame.

Other fantastic rides the shameless charlatans of epicure in the Cape have for you include, Fine olive oil from farms that have been growing olives for less time than the average pregnancy, at three times the price of real Italian and Spanish brands, with real heritage.

Gourmet shops with shelves of local copycat cheeses masquerading under cutesy names like cape-o-zola, Parmigianino tablemountaino, raclete du fanchoek, and wildebeest mozzarella.

Yes, there is no end to euro imitating in the cape, Durbanville Foi Gras, Paarl Parma Ham, Paddafontein Caviar, and my personal favorite The Kalahari Truffle. Each and every one passed off, passed on, reviewed and celebrated in this our Gourmet Kingdom of the counterfeit.

No wonder the French stopped them from calling bubbly Cape wine, Champagne.

The Cape accepted that one, I suppose you can’t win them all.

So, no more Methode Champanoise!

Yes, it’s now Methode Cap Classique!

Which is French for: Classic Bullshit, Cape Style.

Postscript

www.grootconstantia.co.za/11/overview.

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