Last night I was invited to a wine tasting at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum in New Orleans that the International Society of Africans in Wine (ISAW) graciously hosted. ISAW is an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization with the mission of building sustainable communities through wine (best idea ever!). They seek to reduce poverty in Africa through viticulture-based training. The South African wine industry is over 350 years old and helped put Cape Town on the map as a trading hub. The industry grew much like the cotton industry did in the United States: on the working backs of slave labor. Today, there are over 3,000 South African wineries in what amounts to a $3.5 billion industry. However, only two South African wineries are black owned. ISAW has been able to partner with the black owned wineries, as well as some white owned wineries that support their cause, to develop a Viticultural Training Center. The center will function as a winery the enables workers to learn and participate in the entire process of managing and operating a winery, from farming to global export. Workers will experience a vertically integrated education that will provide them with specialized skills to increase their earning potential and add value to prospective employers. For some, it may even be a stimulus for entrepreneurship or cooperative ventures.
So what does this have to do with my blog? Well, as I said, last night I got to taste wines from the Western Cape of South Africa. The tasting was set up by invitation-only for media and press to taste wines and get the word out about the upcoming ISAW 2010 Drink Well Do Good Tour. The tour is a 14-city, month-and-a-half trek that starts in New Orleans on April 3rd and 4th. It circles around the United States and into Canada before heading to South Africa right before the World Cup (I know, that must be rough!). The festive tour will include African wines, cuisine, music, and art at each of their stops along the way. So while “drinking well” and enjoying the food and culture, you’ll also be “doing good” by supporting the ISAW Foundation and contributing to the vision of the Viticultural Training Center. It is a win/win situation for sure!
At the tasting, Stephen Satterfield, founder of ISAW, poured my guests and I wine from both of the black owned South African wineries. I brought along Eric, Brandon, and Katie to experience the event, taste the wines, and help get the word out around Baton Rouge and New Orleans. We tried four wines from the Seven Sisters and M’hudi vineyards.
The first wine that we sampled was the M’hudi Sauvignon Blanc from 2008. The wine tasted light and slightly acidic with hints of summertime fruits like honeydew and possibly pineapple. The wine refreshed the palate but also left a little herbaceous tingle on the back of the tongue.
Next came the 2007 Seven Sisters Sauvignon Blanc, also named “Vivian”. The winery’s origins come from a family that actually has seven biological sisters, and each of them has a different varietal named after them. This wine had many of the same characteristics of the M’hudi Sauvignon Blanc but without quite as bold of flavors or the bite on the finish, in my opinion.
The third wine came from the Bukettraube grape. The 2009 Seven Sisters “Odelia” is a sweet wine that tastes off-dry and fruity. Canteloupe came to my mind, though it certainly wasn’t the only flavor as I heard other people say things like peach or pear. The Bukettraube is a grape that originally came from Germany but is now grown almost exclusively in South Africa. From what I hear, they have a relatively short shelf life and are best consumed quickly, rather than aging them in the bottle. So I guess drinking the 2009 is a good thing!
Finally, we finished the evening with the only red wine. I’m a huge fan of red wines, so this is the varietal that really had me excited. “Dawn,” a 2008 Seven Sisters Pinotage/Shiraz, packed a medium-bodied but delicious punch. Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault grapes, and is one of the classic grapes in South Africa. “Dawn” presented a fragrant nose and a easy, yet complex taste that began with fruity flavors like plum or dark cherry and then finished with a smoky bite. Stephen, the ISAW founder, swore he could taste bacon on the finish. I caught it more with my nose than my tongue, but everyone’s tastes are different.
We all thought every wine tasted great, so consumption continued until Liz Williams, the President of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, offered us to-go cups and politely suggested that the time had come to leave. Only in New Orleans will a museum president give you a to-go cup for your unfinished wine at closing time!
I’d like to give a special thank you to ISAW, Stephen, Liz, and everyone else that helped put the wine tasting together. I thoroughly enjoyed each wine, and especially love trying two previously never-before-tasted varietals. If you are in New Orleans or anywhere in the vicinity, make sure to check out the ISAW 2010 Drink Well Do Good Tour. The whole event kicks off in Nola on Easter weekend, and you should most certainly not miss it!
Thanks to Eric Ducote of the BR Beer Scene for the pictures!