As the year draws to a close, I find myself reminiscing about the highlights of 2019.
Furthering my wine knowledge has been a fantastic adventure. Dipping into investing in more international wines has been fun...and pricey. But head and shoulders above any other experience, was the opportunity to visit my favourite winemaker’s cellar.
BlankBottle has become one of my greatest sources of wine inspiration. I stumbled across the BlankBottle blog whilst on an obsessive mission to find out everything I could about garagiste winemaking. And, subsequently, devoured every word on the BlankBottle blog over that one weekend. Quite the eye numbing feat seeing as the blog is white writing on a black background. But I couldn’t stop. I was fascinated, inspired, and captivated.
I finally made my first purchase, and it’s been love at first sight (and taste!).
Pieter Walser is a phenomenon in that, he doesn’t own any of his own vineyards, but finds little known vines on his everyday travels through the backroads of the winelands. One of my favourite stories is about him driving past a residential cottage and spotting some untamed, long neglected vines in the garden. He stops, knocks on the door, when the lady of the house answers he enquires about the vines. And this is just one of the ways that he sources his grapes.
What’s astounding is the sheer volume of wines he produces, purchasing 28 grape varietals from 58 different vineyards. His harvest last over 100 days! From these, he produces 30 different wines...most are once offs, never to be repeated as he often changes the recipes.
Pieter hand crafts his own labels using a combination of paintings, etchings, linocuts and woodblocks. This really spoke to me because, as a designer, I was drawn to their unique, distinctive and gritty style. What I didn’t know was why he designs these labels by hand. Here’s where spending an evening with the Walsers and their wonderful team helped me understand.
We’d been invited to an intimate wine tasting and viewing of a movie about BlankBottle. After a long and adventurous peak hour commute (thanks again for driving and navigating, G) we finally arrived.
We were the first to arrive, and after a warm greeting from his wife Aneen, we chatted outside while soaking in the perfect Autumn sunset.
But as the sun finally set, and the temperatures dropped, we moved inside and fully appreciated the effort of transforming a working winery into a cosy environment.
Once people started to arrive, we all grabbed our glasses and Pieter jumped up onto a barrel to talk us through the stories behind 21 of his wines. 13 whites and 8 reds. It was a long night! I’m impressed that I made rough tasting notes to all but 2 of the wines.
We oohed, we ahhed, we giggled, we laughed. There’s no doubt that Pieter is a storyteller.
We took a short break. And I got to chat briefly to one of my favourite artists, Lionel Smit. Are you starting to understand why this was my favourite evening of 2019! He's so nice! So so nice!
And then we filled our glasses and sat down in a cosy corner of the winery, a little space cleared of winemaking equipment, with barrels towering on either side of the screen and seating area. A projector balanced precariously on a barrel in front of the only clear wall in front of us, oriental rugs covered the cement floors of the winery, crates and cushions provided seating. It was my dream theatre experience - replete with the scent of oak barrels and fermenting grapes. The lights dimmed and the movie started. All I knew about the documentary was that it had been awarded a special category award at the 2019 Marseilles Film Festival - the Coup de Coeur Trophy. Coup de Coeur directly translates to “blow to the heart” but can be interpreted as “love at first sight” or “falling for something”.
And boy was it a blow to my heart. It told the tale of a man who studied winemaking at Elsenburg College, travelled the world working odd jobs, came back to Cape Town and decided to start making wine. It told the tale of the pitfalls of not obeying the law when it comes to producing and selling alcohol...but listening and starting again, the right way. It told the story of taking a huge risk and giving your all to a passion that you believe in. It told the tale of how being diagnosed with epilepsy in the midst of forging your own unique, trying, road less travelled path could have been seen as an insurmountable wall to some...but not to Pieter and Aneen.
Epileptic Inspiration tells the story of Pieter, his amazingly supportive wife Aneen, their beautiful children and the hardships that life has placed in their way. Epileptic Inspiration tells the story of BlankBottle.
There was some sniffing, moments where I had to raise my head to the ceiling so that the tears wouldn’t roll down my face. My staccatoed blinking confirmed my feelings towards BlankBottle...I wasn’t crying over the wine...I was crying over the story behind the wine. I finally understood that those beautifully crafted, exciting, energising, award winning labels, were a result of not being able to look at a computer screen for fear of an epilepsy attack. I now understood that the warm and friendly Aneen - who I emailed each time I had enough budget to purchase a few of their wines - was also an incredible rock who encouraged and supported her husband, and cared for her children through some very trying times. I understood that BlankBottle is more than just a winery. I understood that my connection is to the spirit of BlankBottle, a philosophy that will continue to give me pause each time I take a sip.