“If you plant the label and a purple cauliflower pops up, I’ll personally hand you the title deeds to Fairview.” - Charles Back
At a recent event at the eponymously named Back’s (a BEAUTIFUL restaurant that sits ‘hoog-en-droog’ on the Paarl Main Road), Charles Back spoke eloquently and passionately about his Bloemcool range of wines. Now we’re not sure what the parameters are to that statement, but we’d be pretty meticulous about documenting the process as Fairview today encapsulates 600 hectares of land in 4 appellations, with around 7 winemakers (half of which Back assured us are female). Listening to him speak, it occurred to me that the title deeds to Fairview would come with backbreaking (pun not intended, but welcome) responsibility (though no BACKs were broken, mind you). Mr Back has to be a passionate man given his sprawling concerns which not only entail winemaking but cheesemaking, pig-rearing, cattle-rearing, restaurateur-ing and above-all, entrepreneur-ing. And elegantly so. It was, as luck would have it, my happy fortune to be invited to the five-course Bloemcool Food and Wine Pairing evening on the first of September, Spring Day, I invited my mother. It was risky. Mothers tend to ask embarrassing questions and draw unwanted attention. MY mother, however, took to the occasion like a fish to water, taking out her pen and starting to scribble down notes … I wanted to put my hand over her ‘work’ and mouth “I’VE GOT THIS…” Though whether I do or don’t remains to be seen, I’ll be waiting to receive her ‘notes’. The evening itself was an absolute feast with Back introducing his 6 Bloemcool wines, made from the very best barrels from his very many blocks of notable vines. These were then paired with deliciously on-point dishes made almost entirely (from what I gather) Fairview produce - what the industry would call ‘A-Farm-to-Table’ experience. The waitrons were not shy in keeping our glasses topped up and I congratulated myself on having booked our Drive Home service with Santam (had I ANY foresight I would have parlayed this into a lucrative advertisement plug… sigh).
The Bloemcool range is made on historic principles which Mr Back has taken from one of the very first owners of Bloemkoolfontein (as it was originally known), Frans Hugo. It would be relevant to note that the first wine to be made on Fairview was in 1699, just a few years after Jan van Riebeeck wrote those fateful words: “Today, praise be to God, wine was made for the first time from Cape grapes.” (Excited much Jan?) In Tim Atkin’s most recent adulatory report on South Africa, one of his first insights on the South African wine industry reads: “South Africa’s present and future are more important than its past.” And while it IS and possibly more targeted at our current political and socio-economic upheaval, I would entreat you, like an old Rafiki entreats a young Simba as to his true aristocratic roots, to: “Look HARDER.” Mr Back DID and found Mr Hugo who, back when there were only two types of grapes in South Africa, table-grapes and wine-grapes, he was making and selling wine (which given his early success one might argue that whomever owns Fairview land are fated to be entrepreneurs in wine). There were two things in Mr Hugo’s practice that appealed to Mr Back, and which he has subsequently employed in his own activities: 1. He sold directly to his clients. 2. He recycled. The Bloemcool range echoes these principles in various ways. The labels are made from recycled paper embedded with cauliflower seeds, to be planted and thereby give back to the environment (and possibly attain the title deeds to the kingdom). The bottles are reused to avoid unnecessary wastage, and the wine is only available to the direct public, in the form of Fairview’s Wine Club and of course, right here, to you. Fairview very much echoes the Port2Port ethos of selling directly to the consumer, believing, as we do that there lies an untapped power in selling wine directly from the farm, ensuring that provenance, brand identity, quality and personal relationships with the end user are maintained. Mr Back takes recycling even further with his pigs, which he claims are the happiest pigs in all the land, fed as they are on tons of expired cheese from his cheesery, spent grain from the brewery on the farm, kitchen slops from their various restaurants and cocoa husks from De Villiers chocolate, also on the estate. The food of Kings…though Mr Back says the pigs are OVER the huge amounts of cheese and these days only get excited about the kitchen slops… recycling making for snobbish pigs it would seem.
Even further back than Mr Hugo, 8000 years to be precise, Mr Back identifies Georgia as yet another source of inspiration. No, not the Georgia Peach State of America, but the Eastern European country credited to be the very first wine producers (8000 years back), to which South Africans, curiously, do not require a visa to enter. This, to a seasoned South African traveller might make you recheck the government sites a few times before accepting such relative travel ease…we’re used to having to WORK for it you know. Why Georgia? “Because it’s where it all began.” said Mr Back, as if it was the most logical thing in the world. You see, back in the DAY, the Georgians would harvest their grapes, squash them a bit and put them in a barrel in the ground. Come summertime, they’d walk up to the barrel and start passing out the wine. True non-interventionist tactics, which highlight the fact that grapes have all the necessary attributes to make wine themselves. The pips and stalks, which we so meticulously remove have all the required antioxidants to replace the sulphur dioxide we tend to add back in later on. From this ancient perspective, Mr Back has drawn considerable inspiration and is actively moving away from the scientific, meticulous winemaking of the 60’s, with an eye toward minimum intervention wines. As a show of his commitment, he has gone to great lengths to acquire a container full of authentic Georgian qvevri. A ‘kvevri’ or ‘qvervi’ is a traditional Georgian vessel with a conical shaped bottom that is buried in the ground for the fermentation and storage of wine, the naturally stable temperatures being advantageous to both. Similar to the Greek amphorae, the difference here is that they are stored underground, and the conical shaped bottom allows for the seeds to sink first - resulting in rich tannic wines with very good ageing potential. For now, as these qvervis were expected to arrive only a week AFTER the event, we wait to sample the wine.
Besides, we’re pretty blown away by the Bloemcool range, the eclectic grapes and methods used to make wine from only their very finest grapes and blocks have resulted in singular wines we’d (my mother and I) very much recommend, though if you won’t take OUR word for it, you might just take a Mr Tim Atkin’s. Having awarded the Groendruif 2017 a stellar 95 points, I have a sneaking suspicion it may just have something to do with Mr. Back still using his late father’s number 4 club iron to stir THAT particular barrel. Or the ‘Hou Moed’ Cabernet Sauvignon, made from 40 hectares of struggling vines in Stellenbosch, which, in a bid for greatness has been new barrel-aged TWICE, an unprecedented 200% new barrel maturation and an example of what you can only call decadent winemaking - the result? DECADENT and a call to action to just: HOU MOED. (Afrikaans for ‘Keep Faith’, something we’re quite good at.)