Sep 14

South Africans agree that Riesling is Riesling

Tag: Ländersigi.hiss @ 09:53

by Cathy van Zyl MW  – The South African Wine & Spirit Board (SAWB) has agreed that Riesling, rather than Crouchen, is Riesling and that it may be bottled for sale in South Africa without the ‘Rhine‘ or ‘Weisser‘ prefix – but only from the 2010 harvest. While this is a major victory for the country’s ‘true‘ Riesling producers who have lobbied for years for the change, they are perturbed by the fact that they have to wait another two years before the change comes into effect.

Writing to the Board’s Director of Regulatory Services, André Matthee, Chairman of the Just Riesling Association, Paul Cluver, said that while his members have no objection to the phased use of Riesling for Crouchen, they did not understand the reasoning behind delaying the correct naming of Riesling until 2010.

The current situation is that the variety internationally called ‘Riesling‘ must in South Africa be prefixed by ‘Rhine‘ or ‘Weisser‘, while Crouchen can bear the name ‘Riesling‘ unprefixed. It is also known in South Africa as ‘Cape Riesling‘ or ‘Paarl Riesling‘. The anomaly has logistical and economic implications for the country’s two dozen-odd Riesling producers who sell their wines locally and abroad; all wine sold internationally cannot be prefixed. Ironically, any Cape Riesling exported to the European Union must be labeled as Crouchen.

The Board, which administers the Wine of Origin Scheme introduced in South Africa in 1973, is recommending to the Minister of Agriculture that from the 2010 harvest, Crouchen may no longer be called Riesling and that Weisser Riesling/Rhine Riesling may be called Riesling on labels.

Crouchen is a neutral French grape mostly abandoned by growers there, as well as in Australia where it was called Clare Riesling, but it still constitutes about 3% of South Africa’s vineyards. There are less than 10 producers of Cape Riesling but the largest of these, industry giant Distell, has opposed the Just Riesling Association every step of the way as its Nederburg Paarl Riesling is a well-established brand among local consumers.

The Association’s request that its members be allowed to drop the prefixes with immediate effect was denied by the SAWB on 9 September 2008. Responding to Cluver’s letter, Matthee cited three major reasons why. In the first instance, bureaucratic processes need to be followed so that legislation could be amended. Further, the SAWB believes the phasing in period will limit confusion in the local market and comply with its duty to limit damages in respect of prior existing rights.

Owner of Klein Constantia, which sells a very good Rhine Riesling in South Africa and the same wine as Riesling abroad, Lowell Jooste, said the current situation „is bad for the industry“.

„Planning, ordering, bottling etc under the status quo is a nightmare because we do not know how much of our wine will be selling where,“ he said. „We waste time and money, the very two things we need to watch extra carefully in the current economic climate. There’s also the chance that Parliament will not promulgate new legislation in time for the 2010, which means we’ll be out of line with the international wine community for another year, or more.“

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