On Saturday it’s Barrels and Beards, a Bot Riveria ritual that all started with Niels’s pragmatic approach to personal grooming during harvest. Usually Niels shaves his head – to avoid having to fuss with hair or haircuts – and grows his bread for the same reason, one less thing to do in the morning (ie. no shaving) before getting to the grapes.
Inspired by Niels, other winemakers began adopting the same approach and so there developed a Bot River subculture of bearded winemakers around harvest time. As was bound to happen, the testosterone kicked in, and at one of the town meetings Niels suggested the men have a beard-growing competition.
The first vote for the best beard happened over a couple of beers at The Shuntin Shed. Then last year it got organised with ticket proceeds going to the Botrivier Education Foundation. Now it’s even more official; the contestants must prove they were clean-shaven on 1 February with a photograph of their smooth chins alongside the front page of a Daily bearing that date.
The addition of the ‘Barrels’ fits into the first part of the evening, when each winemaker will be offer tastings of their new vintage straight from the barrel. This year it’s not only the longest growth that will be recognised but also the most imaginative trimming. Niels has been mulling over some designs and all will be revealed on Saturday night!
A very hairy Niels
Harvest 2009: Niels briefs his volunteers on the stoep before issuing crates and clippers
Friends of Luddite each assigned a row of Shiraz grapes for picking
It’s that time of year again and Niels says it looks like he could be picking next week. He signals the start of harvest by shaving his head and it can’t come soon enough for Penny: ‘Niels looks like a caveman with all that hair!’
Niels loses his hair and puts on his festive spirit; he sees harvest as a celebration of the last 12 months of hard work. So when the grapes allow he invites friends and family to join in plucking berries from vines, offering a breakfast of bubbly and bacon butties (made with Penny’s bacon) and keeping up morale with icy lagers and lines like, ‘It takes a lot of beer to make good wine!’
‘I’m always surprised when I hear winemakers talk about harvest being so tough and hard and that they got home so late,’ explains Niels, ‘If you’re not having fun doing harvest then you’re in the wrong game!’ Of course once the grapes come in, Niels is in the zone nurturing them into bottle with as little interference as possible.
’2013 has the potential to be a humdinger,’ says Niels, ‘The grapes benefited from having a proper Cape Winter in 2012 and the vines are looking very healthy, the best they have ever looked. It’s about making it count in a year when you’ve been given great quality fruit – it adds to the pressure but also to the excitement.’
Mark holds high the NoBull trophy - a copper-plated spittoon
The Luddites started the year with their annual Bring-and-Braai Boules day on 2 January. The winners – each the lucky recipient of a bottle of Luddite Shiraz - were Sue Stuart, Mark Howell and Karyn Formby, who as a team also scooped the trophy for the NoBull Prize. It was a great day that concluded in the traditional manner (on the foofy slide) but now it’s back to the grindstone as the Luddites gear up for harvest 2013!
Niels outsourced his braai duties and instead chose to relax with a glass of his Shiraz
Thank you to all the friends of Luddite for your loyal support this year. We wish you all a super festive season and a happy New Year and look forward to seeing you on the flip side! Love Penny and Niels
(Picture courtesy of Platter’s 2013)
There’s still a way to go before the Luddites break for the holidays – the team is working furiously to bottle and label all the Luddite Shiraz 2008 for release early next year. Niels is also working on a little surprise he has up his sleeve for January but more about that in 2013…
Penny’s happy pigs got a mention in the launch issue of House & Garden Gourmet – see No. 10 below!
Luddite's spit-roast suckling pig
Yesterday was the official launch of Cellarmasters in the Kitchen and when Wendy Toerien visited Luddite gathering recipes for this CWG cookbook, Penny and Niels decided to honour the occasion by roasting a suckling pig. ‘What Niels hadn’t considered,’ explained Penny, ‘is that we didn’t quite think through the size of the spit versus the size of the pig, so it became pig on a spit with a semi-detached nose!’ For the full recipe (with nose intact) see Cellarmasters in the Kitchen, available at leading bookstores.
While Niels was hanging out with the Germans, Penny represented Team Luddite at Bot River’s annual Barrel Race. The concept works as follows: Every year a different cooper donates some wine barrels – this year it was Marius van Tonder of Vinea SA – which are painted by the local primary school and rolled down hay-bale-lined lanes to see who can roll theirs the fastest. On the day of the race, each team of four gets one barrel to roll in the relay and the two fastest teams then fight it out in the final.
‘It was a great day,’ said Penny, ‘There was a real community spirit.’ The 2012 Barrel Race was won by the Paardenkloof Estate team – Thembani, William, Daniel and Adrian – with a time just under 40 seconds. The real excitement came as soon as their win was announced when the owner of the farm immediately divied up the cost of the barrel between the four winning competitors so they each landed R2000 as prize money. A real incentive for next year!
In the last round of wining, dining and sharing his love for Luddite Shiraz with the Germans, Niels arrived in Bremen. He wrote:
‘Arrived at the gorgeous Park Hotel for a Wine and Dine, had a brisk cycle around the park with Daisy to get the blood flowing and then a great evening at La Terrasse with Luddite ‘06 served with a rib rack and ’07 and ’08 both out of Magnums and paired with deer. Both dishes were stunning – this restaurant deserves to get its Michelin star back.
A lazy morning followed by a rollercoaster ride at nearby fair and then off to Müden via Bergen-Belsen concentration camp for some perspective. Dinner in the form of a Big Bottle Party held at Niemeyer’s Romantik Posthotel where a Jeroboam of Luddite had to hold its own against wine from Germany and Austria. The ’08 was served with beef cheeks and a very good reduction. Drove to Celle at midnight. Minus three degrees. Time to come home.’
As the Barrel Race got underway in Bot River, Niels sent a message from Warsaw:
‘Arrived in Warsaw for a tasting at the Sowa restaurant – yippy, Luddite available in Poland! Stayed in the old city, very beautiful and historic. The next day spent visiting top restaurants and tasting the ’07 with sommeliers, followed by a tasting in a boutique wine shop called Alle Wine (with what seemed like Warsaw’s subculture of wine connoisseurs) and a very late night in a traditional vodka bar eating jellied pork knuckle, herring, steak tartare, goulash and drinking copious amounts of Bison Polish vodka.
An early start and off to Berlin for customer visits and a chance meeting and tasting with chef Paco Pérez, who immediately ordered Luddite for his restaurant in Barcelona! A very full tasting in the evening at wine shop Planet Wein where we showed ’06, ’07, ’08 – the ’08 out of Jeroboam. After a life threatening taxi trip we arrived at a wine bar where we experienced Berlin’s underground wine scene and drank boutique Riesling ’til the early hours. Then off to Essen via Frankfurt for a wine dinner at restaurant Schote with celebrity chef Nelson Müller – a great evening with top food and wine pairings.’