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Sep 17, 2014

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Surf’s Up in South Africa
by Kim Maxwell
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 5.2

"Man, it's hard to make great wine and be a great surfer. The magnitude of waves around South Africa explains why we struggle in the wineries. Everyone's at the beach all the time!" -- Eben Sadie. (His surf turf is Lambert's Bay)

A whole new generation of Xers (70s and 80s babies) and Millennials (post 80s kids) are taking the South African wine world by storm. And get this: many are dudes and dudettes in the biggest sense of the word. They're cool. They speak the right lingo. They wear hip clothes. And they make award-winning wines. They work crushes overseas, and travel and taste as much as their wallets allow. And in their spare time they get stoked about surf!

"Man, some of the great wine regions of the world also offer great surf. Look at California, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, even Bordeaux..." -- Anton Smal

Winner Gunter Schultz, carving a barrel.

When these guys and dolls get together, their talk of barrels, cutbacks and styling ain't necessarily referring to the cellar. They ooze enthusiasm to ride out the next wave. But they'll drink a good bottle and even stop to analyze it philosophically while they're waiting for a set to come in.

The lingo may differ from typical winespeak, but this group's commitment at South Africa's first Vintners Surf Classic was unfaltering. The appointed venue was Onrust Beach, an unspoiled stretch of white sand framed by rocks and surf, hugging South Africa's southeast coastline. An easy hour's scenic drive from Cape Town, Onrust is a popular seaside vacation destination. Although vine-free, it forms part of the largely coastal Walker Bay wine ward, where some shit-hot pinot noir, chardonnay and dense, aromatic pinotage is produced.

"I've worked three harvests overseas -- Delegat's in New Zealand, Miranda in South Australia, Sonoma Cutrer in California -- and I made sure there was a good surf break for when I had a day off!" -- Gunter Schultz

Eben Sadie, the 28-year-old winemaker of innovative Spice Route Wine Company, in the Swartland district, announced the event. "There's a group of people out there living in a world of liquid passion," he began. "This year will see the first of what will be known as the Vintners Surf Classic, involving people that gain their livelihood from the vine and also practice the art of surfing. Sorry, no bodyboarders allowed."

The first Vintners CDS Surf Classic 2000 was open to any surfers in the industry. Participants' "entry fees" were six bottles of red, which Sadie and Anthony de Jager, winemaker for Fairview, blended and bottled under the 'Big Red' label. Although some veteran longboarders, like Jeremy Walker of Grangehurst, were invited, the oldest entrant on the day was 36-year-old Villiera winemaker Anton Smal. Two hours after the scheduled 7 a.m. start, surfing began in earnest, with 12 participants in three separate heats.

"Normally we look for style and a few good moves," says Rudi Schultz. Johan Reyneke explains, "Getting into the barrel is the most critical part -- at least a 20 pointer." Bevan Newton-Johnson adds, "Like good wine, you look for that powerful initial burst, a solid mid-palate and a long finish."

THE FIRST HEAT: Bevan Newton-Johnson, wine marketer of Cape Bay and Newton-Johnson Anthony de Jager, winemaker for Fairview Gunter Schultz, assistant winemaker at Morgenhof Estate James Farquharson, consultant winemaker for Lievland and winemaker/joint shareholder with surf bud Johan Reyneke at Reyneke Wines.

THE SECOND HEAT: Ben Radford, winemaker for Longridge Eben Sadie, winemaker for Spice Route Wine Company Sebastian Beaumont, viticulturist at Beaumont Wines Rudi Schultz, winemaker for Jordan Vineyards

THE THIRD HEAT: David Finlayson, winemaker for Glen Carlou Gordon Newton-Johnson, winemaker for Cape Bay and Newton-Johnson Anton Smal, winemaker for Villiera Johan Reyneke, vineyard manager at Reyneke Wines

After the surf settled, Gunter Schultz walked away with first prize; Anton Smal took second; Johan Reyneke, third; and kneeboarding Sebastian Beaumont fourth. While the competition was over, the party wasn't. At a local pub in Betty's Bay, the obligatory surfing videos were screened and bottles of Big Red dished out. Waves of wine flowed well into the night.

A surfboard makes a handy table for score sheets -- Bevan Newton-Johnson and James Farquharson (Lievland) back row, Anthony de Jager (Fairview) in the middle, and winner Gunter Schultz in the front.
Magnums of Big Red were produced collectively from reds submitted by each participating winery.
Getting ready for a heat: From left: Ben Radford (Longridge), Eben Sadie (Spice Route Wine Company) and Rudi Schultz (Jordan).
(From left) Bevan Newton-Johnson (Newton-Johnson and Cape Bay) paddles out in the first heat with Anthony de Jager (Fairview) and Gunter Schultz (Morgenhof).
Competition is hotting up in final heats as kneeboarder Sebastian Beaumont (Beaumont Wines) cuts into Gunter Schultz's wave.
The group of 12, including winemakers, marketers and viticulturists, who participated in South Africa's first vintners surf classic.

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