LYDIA, our guide at Cheetah Outreach, was quite clear that the sleek, beautiful big cat we were about to meet required our very best behaviour. “Please walk in a single line behind me, do not cross in front of the animal and you may not take photographs.”
I was visiting the Cheetah Outreach in Somerset West, just outside Cape Town, with Fiendish Wine Quiz winner Liz Swarc and her partner Trevor. Not only did our prize trip include visits to vineyards and wineries, but we took in some sights and visited some of Accolade’s environmental and social programmes, and saving cheetahs is one of them.
These spectacular animals used to roam across Africa, but their numbers have dwindled to the point where their survival is in danger. Cheetahs are often shot by farmers because they hunt livestock, but this Outreach programme doesn’t attempt to breed and reintroduce new animals to the wild. Instead they breed Anatolian Shepherd dogs and place them on farms in cheetah areas. These dogs are fierce enough to scare off the cheetahs and so they don’t get shot. The 10p donated from every bottle of Cheetah Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay (£8.99, Morrisons) has raised a massive amount to help sponsor the programme. And these are fabulous animals – Chobe purred like a large cat as we stroked him.
From the sanctuary it was a short drive to another project that depends on funding from wine. We drove through the Kayamandi township, where clearly life is a struggle. Tiny houses are made from rusty sheets of corrugated iron, there are few facilities and poverty is rife, but at the top of a hill there is a brand new school. Brick-built, with big windows, and furnished with desks and chairs, it caters for 120 pre-primary children in four classrooms. “We built this in just three months so that it could be in use for the start of the new school year in January,” said Brent Wepener, from Accolade. Just down the road it was breaktime at Ykali primary school where there was a discreet sign showing that Accolade had helped to provide funds for this school too. “Investing in pre-primary children gives them a head start when they get to proper school,” said Brent.
But all this good work depends on selling wine, primarily to the UK, so it was time for us to get back to work and taste through the range.
Flagstone and Fish Hoek are two key brands from Accolade in South Africa. Flagstone is the individual, hand-made, slightly quirky brand that carries the signature of winemaker Bruce Jack while Fish Hoek provides straightforward varietal fruit at a great value price.
• Fish Hoek Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (£7.99, Waitrose): A terrific aperitif wine with aromas of fresh cut grass and green figs with gooseberry zest on the palate.
• Fish Hoek Pinotage Rosé 2014 (£7.99, Waitrose): Fish Hoek is a fishing village, and this is a wine that would go with anything hauled out of the sea. Bright with clear, rounded raspberry fruit and just an edge of sweetness, balanced by fresh acidity. Try it with a spiced fish soup.
• Fish Hoek Malbec 2014 (£8.99/£5.99, Majestic): Deep with bramble and plum fruit, layered with smoky spice, this is a wine that can see you through a summer of barbecues. Buy two bottles and the price comes down to £5.99 until April 27.
• Flagstone Noon Gun 2014, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier (£10, Tesco by the Case): There are several places around the world where a gun is fired at noon. In the days before accurate watches it kept everyone on the same time. These days I regard it as a signal to open a bottle. A blend of old Chenin, Sauvignon Blanc and a lift of Viognier, it is minerally fresh with a touch of honeysuckle and lovely finish of apricot fruit.
• Flagstone Word of Mouth Viognier 2012, (£12.97, Asda): Flagstone was the first winery in South Africa to introduce a Viognier into its range. Working with Michael Hill Smith of Yalumba in Australia, Bruce created a fresh-tasting, lively, apricot infused wine. Try it with Chinese-spiced scallops.
• Dark Horse Shiraz 2011 (£13.65, Corking Wines, York): This wine has layers of dark, brooding, blackcurrant and mulberry fruit, laced with cinnamon and chocolate. Pour it with a rich beef casserole.
• Flagstone Writer’s Block 2012 Pinotage (£13.99 Drinks Direct, Bradford, 0845 519 5400): Long before the legislation allowed it, Bruce Jack came up with this name to indicate that the grapes came from a single block of vines in the Breedekloof valley. This wine has rich, concentrated aromas of wild blueberry and dark cherries backed by smoky, spicy, dark chocolate notes and it goes perfectly with venison.
• Flagstone Music Room Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Corking Wines, £15.55): The name comes from Bruce’s grandmother who hailed from Manchester and who made a living teaching music after she arrived in South Africa. Apparently you can actually play the music on the label. The flavours are in perfect harmony with dark cassis, silky tannins and just a hint of freshness on the finish.
This was a surprising visit to Accolade wines. Known for being a big company worldwide, I was astonished to find out that they have just 40 employees in South Africa, including the winemaking team. They are a tight-knit group, sourcing the best grapes for their wines and ensuring that the community where they are based gets a share of the benefits of their business. They make good, sometimes exceptional wines, and they actually make a difference, not only to your dinner table but to the future of some of South Africa’s children too.
My thanks go to the whole team at Accolade in the UK and in South Africa.