Doddie’5 Red Blend – The Story
I was driving back in my trusty, big but cumbersome Ford F250 that suits my big frame that was used to bumping people around. Mind you ask Chris Butcher the ex England player about that, and it also cocoons me against the lunacy of some of todays’ drivers.
I was in a good mood having played a game of golf on the Swartland course Malmesbury with dear family friends and thinking of you Doddie, and your wine, the Doddie Weir 2019 red blend we had launched the week before.
Then I tuned into ‘The Living Years’ written and composed by a dear friend, Mike Rutherford, who forwarded me his outstanding biography, written as an ode to his Dad’s never released biography, which he chronologically tied to his own. I received it in a black velvet bag with it having been duly signed by him, and it being one of my prized personalised possessions, I was in no specific rush to get home to my farm lying 30 miles in the distant horizon.
The late afternoon sun from behind my back, was pulling that deep purple colour out of the 500 million years of decomposed granite mountain, lying straight in front of me, just like our last grapes were being fermented in our cement fermenters and were drawing the last flavours, tannins and colours out of the husks.
I closed in on the Limiet Berg (The Limit Mountain range), and with every kilometre that it drew closer it dwarfed my little outcrop, created 250 million years later, during the Malmesbury intrusion, called Groenberg, which is where my farm Welbedacht’s terroir is found. Nearby you find the majestic Kasteel berg with it’s runner of hills called Porseleinberg, or Porcelain Mountain, aligning it to the South East, Paardeberg and the Paarl Mountain which between these 4 smallish mountain outcrops create the Boland Basin.
With its multitude of diverse pieces of terroir the Basin produces grapes and wines of great renown, as well as wheat and in so doing can also be called the proverbial bread basket of the Western Cape of which the exotic destination called Cape Town is our capital. In the summer months when the crops have been harvested, the farmland turns to a dark colour which gave birth to the name Swartland, meaning Black Land.
I was winding myself through this amazing piece of agricultural wonderland to later cross the Bergriver, whose flow had changed during that momentous occasion when the Basin was born and birth was given to the soils that now harbour the roots of our precious vines that produce the fruit of our wines.
The vineyards that line the sides of the road and red fruit that had not been harvested yet gave me a feeling that they too were growing more purple and deep red in colour like the mountain range in front of me as they awaited their turn to be harvested, this year being a late harvest.
As many wine farmers tend to brag a bit, late but great, we know quite a few rugby players who were great talkers before the match started, but in our days they were never tight forwards, as they knew there could be anything lying in wait in a tight match.
It was as if I was in tune with the wafts of the tunes on my radio while casting my eye to 40 years and older vineyards who cannot escape the sweltering summer heat. Thankfully 2021 has been a mild summer. The wet and cold winters that sweep our Basin allow the vines to go into their much needed winter rest and sleep, to awake in the spring with new vigour to produce another vintage of fruit, and as such they are a product of their environment.
Just like a rugby player is the hero for the short time that he dons his beloved jersey of the team which is home to his environment and runs out onto the field of play, I am just the custodian of my vineyards for short period of time, to listen to them and try and be bio-sensitive as to receive the best fruit from them that they can produce. Generations that undertake this same journey are the ones that are in feeling and touch with these wonderful creations who over time have mutated and changed to what they are now and are still in the same process of evolution.
I sometimes wonder what they will be like when my grandchildren take to the lands to tend to them and would their names have changed away from Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot?
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, but as to not lose the essence of a wildly misunderstood art and profession, such as winemaking and the absolutely gladiatorial game of rugby.
Just as the game of rugby to every tight forward begins and ends between the forwards the same is true with regards to the important process of growing the grapes as this is where it all begins with making good wine
Mike Rutherford’s song is like a good team talk. It has given me the inspiration to link our game that we played, rugby, and how it filters through the philosophy of life and the fine art of growing grapes and playing rugby to be able to bring people and adversaries together and become friends. It uses that great missing ingredient these days where everything is becoming more grey, ie passion !
Blames the one before
And all their frustrations
Come beating on your door
I know that I’m a prisoner
To all my father held so dear
I know that I’m a hostage
To all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told
Him in the living years
In the discussions with Simon Halliday and Kenny Logan developing this wine and brand with the help of Henry Fraser, what an inspiration himself, it was mentioned that this project has got so many parts to it that we must somehow keep them all together and let it be known
A dear friend of mine CP Terblanche had just passed on and here I was thinking to myself how do we survive on planet earth without passion and reason?
In David Beresford’s seminal piece of work, Brothers in Arms where he tries to uncover the spirit of mankind through the use of the game of rugby and finds that human spirit, kindness and the passion for living it out is the fuel to allowing certain of us to express ourselves better in the realms of creativity but still upholding the basics of life, also given the adversary of being thrust into a pressure cooker situation such a rugby test match or when life turns it back on you
Turning back to his book how David investigates the various regions of France and discovers just like with the role that terroir plays in creating unique wines the terroir of the players have the same impact on the players. Here he uses the regions such as the Basque, Mountains, South West, Paris, Mediterranean and Provence to get to the core of people.
Dr Craven, well versed and academically decorated in psychology and a student of the game until he died had a great saying – you play the game of rugby the same way you live your life
Similarly the Welsh, Irish, Scots English and in South Africa especially the Afrikaners way of life is finely webbed into the way they play the game, the expression they bring to arts such as tackling, jinking, kicking, scrumming and what it means to them culturally and as such becomes a lasting tradition
Oh, crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got
You say you just don’t see it
He says it’s perfect sense
You just can’t get agreement
In the present tense
We all talk different language talking in defence
The words of Mike reminded me of the wonderful evening we had together playing in the same band in St Andrew’s up in Scotland. I a rugby player standing next to a revered slow hand of the guitar but he brought the mountain I was driving at into focus, the origin of the soil that I am at this small moment still the custodian of while I can still walk over it, tend to it. In return I receive fruit that allows me and my son Tiaan to convert into wine and to allow somebody to open this wonderful piece of life and enter into our environment so that they can also have a memory of what is then all around us all, to smell the fruit, taste the tannins, feel the soil, live the passion, wherever in the world they may be.
The heart and dark room of a rugby match is the scrum followed by the maul and then today’s very mild ruck with no raking allowed and the lineout without shoving, shouting, bumping and threatening allowed, it takes special people to do their work in these places unknown to most where secrets of moves and calls and signs mean so much for your own as well as the teams survival. But in this special place of battle friendships are born between teammates and above all, the adversaries, the foe.
I believe it is created by respect for one another as we all know what it takes to be successful and playing at the highest level you are competing against the best of the other country as well. These are the people that do not say too much but at an after match function just a small word, ‘cheers’, after delivering your opponent of the day a drink will say more than many history books have ever taught a young man who has not travelled on his own through the world and faced some tough times.
So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts
So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different day
And if you don’t give up, and don’t give in
You may just be okay
Then my mind turns back to you Doddie, a fellow lock and master of the dark arts of tight forward play, somebody you respect as a brother that has walked just as a fellow trooper in a terrorist infested valley covering one another’s backs. Having come through it all, you stand in front of a wine that you actually would like to be sitting next to you in the cloakroom, just before you run out to attack the enemy on the field of play, so who do you choose for your team?
There had to be 5 cultivars in the blend Doddie, that magical number 5 that you made your own back in the heyday of your rugby career.
Cabernet Franc is the lock forward of all vines. They grow with a vigour and are the most straight and upright of all vines, just like Jack and the beanstalk, and they stay like that through their lifespan. They are very adaptable to a variety of soil types and exhibit the terroir they grow in with flavours of tobacco, raspberry, bell pepper and cassis.
Merlot is the most adaptable of the 5 cultivars and has got a soft fleshness to it which makes it great for blending with a great mid palette feel. Just like the flankers are the link between the forwards and the backs with deft hand to hand passes to thus try and create that overlap, but solid enough to keep at bay those sneaky scrumhalf snipes around the fringes of our tight forwards territory, the scrum, rucks and mauls.
Cabernet Sauvignon to me will be the props who like a special type of soil to scrum on. They love gravel to produce those deep dark flavours being low yielding to create high tannins and acids that allow the wine to age just as like prop forwards do. To think that Cabernet Sauvignon developed in the late 17th century as cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, a white variety, susceptible to diseases such as downy mildew but we all know that a good prop during every winter of rugby goes down at least once with a good bout of flu and then blames it on the guy he scrummed against. It is however important to keep them healthy as good props such as Cabernet Sauvignon are few and far to be found.
Mouvedre is the No 8, the one that roams the field looking for work and many times not finding any at all. But he will be there on hand at a crucial moment late in the game to collect an inside pass from a back to score the match winning try and be awarded the man of the match award and all the front page glory the following morning. Obviously it is used in much smaller quantities in the blend but can exhibit flavours with time that are earthy, tasting of wild game and farmyard.
Petit Verdot, also known as the little green one, because of its late ripening, is the hooker and for no other that reason that it takes time to ripen and is used very sparingly in a blend and most of the time to stiffen the mid-palate of Cabernet Sauvignon. As we know you need a good strong hooker to straighten out and stiffen the props, the Cabernet Sauvignon on our team. It also takes time to become a good hooker and then they also tend to fall out of favour very quickly, as it so happened with Petit Verdot in certain French areas. When young it tends to add flavours of banana and pencil shavings and later violet and leather together with tannin and as with all hookers it adds some colour to all proceedings. As such very underrated.
I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new born tears
I just wish I could have told
Him in the living years
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 and the sum total of the individuals coupled with the passion that they exhibit determine many times the winning or losing of a match, such is a wine and especially a forwards wine should be no less that that
So Doddie, my friend, this wine was made with the passion of a lock combining the subtlety our craft sometimes requires coupled to all the other support we need as a unit to perform and may this piece I have written to you be a small thank you for the way that 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, such as wine, that then also transcends all the bad
Only a fellow lock could end by saying, I love you!