Health warning - RELIABLE notes.
It is an increasingly rare thing in current times to find people who genuinely care about their customers and who always go the extra mile. This week's blog celebrates two people, one of whom I have never met and one, perhaps the hero of this tale, who I met for about 60 seconds. I salute Aneen and Pieter Walser.
Writers I admire (perhaps they know each other)
Before I get started on my ode to this irreverent winemaker, and the woman who oils the wheels of the operation, I want to briefly touch on the latest endeavour of another couple I have never met but with whom there is a tangible synergy. I did promise that this "column" was about tasting notes, after all, and winemaking, and the people who make it have a great affection in my heart.
Julienne du Toit and Chris Marais literally literally inspired my first adventure into the Karoo Desert in Southern Africa. They publish these colourful books about their exploits in the region. They come in print and in online versions and are beautifully illustrated. I have quite a few now and every one makes me want to explore further. Now there's a tantalising new tome on the horizon: Karoo Roads which captures what true #Roaminations are all about. Yes there are destinations in between but it's the journey that is special to some of us. I didn't really get the Karoo until I went there. Chris brings a hint of Herman Charles Bosman to the storytelling and I hope my account of my first trip there reflects that.
And now for some Walser wine
In august company from left to right above, Pieter's wines occupy spots 3, 4, 5, and 7. More about this pic later in this article. Richard Kershaw and Craig Hawkins are also favourites and will appear in later stories in Unreliable Tasting Notes
I suspect Pieter may have crossed paths with Julie and Chris (even if unwittingly) during their treks of discovery around the Western Cape and beyond. Like Chris, Pieter has a great eye for a story and knows how to tell them. But as far as I know these stories only get told in his blog and occasionally on his beloved wine labels. There is insufficient space on a wine label to describe his ongoing quest for the perfect clay pots in which to mature his wines. These anecdotes tend to be reserved for his occasional letters to his subscribers and for intrepid visitors to his blog site. When one of his letters arrives, I put everything else to one side so I can enjoy some new revelation or the latest episode in a running saga. I'll draw on this source as I relate my own anecdote of meeting one of life's originals.
But first there is Aneen, mother of his children and, from where I stand, his greatest champion.
A little more than a year ago I was chatting to an old mate and wine connoisseur, Daryl (Bikey) Balfour, who mentioned some intriguing wine he'd just tried. He told a convincing story. "Get hold of Aneen," he said, giving me the email address.
Pieter and Aneen are people after my own heart. They grab life's adventures with all hands and their enthusiasm was immediately evident from the warm emails that went back and forth. It wasn't long before I felt like a welcome friend. I had committed to buy the wine for my Mum-in-law's 90th Family Gathering in Hermanus last June. A Kershaw case was already in my back pocket but I wanted something a little more outré for some of the guests I knew would appreciate such a thing. BLANKbottle Familiemoord (in the lineup above) seemed just the ticket. The story is inscribed on the label in all its glory.
During my initial contact with them, Pieter and Aneen were on a trade tasting expedition to London and Bruges. Ninety-nine percent of people would've used that as an excuse for taking a week or so to reply.
"Fantastic news that Daryl’s enjoying the wine! We’re in London at the moment ... would you like to do a tasting?" Aneen came back almost instantaneously. And then, as soon as they got back: "Arrived back in SA yesterday ... we were only there for 5 nights and it was madness as usual. Pieter is normally booked back to back for trade tastings from morning to late eve/early mornings. Not that we are complaining - it is wonderful! Our agent there is SWIG."
I need to go off on a spontaneous tangent at this stage. One on which I feel sure the Walsers would approve. We like to follow our noses and a healthy relationship with SWIG has ensued for me not only to procure BLANKbottle but also to make a frenzied order for stuff like a cheeky limited release of 2016 Barolo gold dust and rescuing a case of Craig Hawkins' wine that seemed to have "fallen off the back of a lorry" from one of SWIG's rivals. And the best wine-tasting ever in Soho ... the only F2F meeting I have had with a Walser and a whole bunch of others, including Adi Badenhorst. Pieter was doing everything on his own ... I wish I had his stamina.
Back to Aneen: "Pieter said you two were in contact," she continued after I rudely interrupted with my tangent, "and you’re going to let him know when you are coming back through Somerset West after your trip, for you to do a tasting with him at the cellar?" Sadly Pieter was out of town on my return trip, too, but Aneen's hospitality knew no bounds: "... unless you are anywhere near [our family holiday house] which is where we will be : ))." From our written correspondence I had no doubt the invitation was genuine and I was close by but these guys deserve a break with their family once in a blue moon.
After all family plays a big part in the naming and production of BLANKbottle wines as you can see below:
These are a couple of labels that demonstrate this better than I can. I've already introduced Familiemoord earlier in the story and will describe a brief adventure with that bottle to end off this chapter. Manon des Sources draws on Pieter's adventures in Marseilles and is inspired by a drawing done by his daughter. I would not presume to attempt a precis of the beautiful story that Pieter tells. Do yourself a favour and read it on Pieter's blog. Better still, listen to the audio. It moved this old git to tears.
My personal travels with BLANKbottle
I'm going to conclude this story with my own personal experiences with a case of wine in the back of my hire car. There are a few anecdotes along the way celebrating more than a few BLANKbottles.
It all started with Judy's 90th. Despite her protestations, a huge bash was planned in the garden of her little cottage in Hermanus. Actually her protestations were drowned out by those of the extended family (and friends) at the idea that the occasion should slip by without an appropriate selebrasie. Kate (my daughter and Judy's granddaughter, who had decided to surprise Granny with her attendance) and I flew out together from London to Cape Town and made two pitstops, in Somerset West and Grabouw, to collect the wine.
90th birthday celebration pics anticlockwise from top right: Packing the Kortpad Kaaptoe at Somerset West and I'm hoping my smile will be this big the next day; Kate smiling on the morning of the lunch; Judy with her first great-grandchild, Luna; Luna's Dad, Chris helped with serving and drinking the BLANKbottle ... this was the only white BB left.
We were excited for our friends and family to try the wine we had brought. We hadn't altogether reckoned with the challenge presented by many lunch parties that cross four generations i.e. that many guests bring their own booze and ask the waitron (in this case, moi) to keep their precious bottle(s) cool for them. Often this wine will be a generic Chardonnay or white blend, which is absolutely fair enough until the bar person offers:
"Would you like to try a glass of this superb white?" showing a specially selected bottle.
"Actually, could I just get some of the wine I brought?"
"Oh shit," the erstwhile waitron exclaims under his breath, wondering WTF this particular punter has asked him to put in the vast galvanised bath filled with ice, Windhoek and Castle.
"Was it this?"
"No, she only likes that ... we brought."
How naïve can one person be. I had had visions of guests coming back for more of what we had provided, possibly with a constructive comment here or there.
Thank heavens for Chris and the occasional brother-in-law/cousin in the younger contingent. Chris was super enthusiastic and mingled amongst the drinkers sussing out the likely customers. We both had "a bit" and time went so quickly that we couldn't remember which ones were which but were unanimous about the BLANKbottle whites ... I think there was only about half a bottle of white left by the end of the party. The reds were untouched
L to R: Kate with Luna's enthusiastic parents, Lane and Chris; the appropriately named Oppie Koppie being enjoyed two weeks later in the shadow of a rocky outcrop in the far eastern Karoo.
Cheese and wine (and maybe a jumper to warm a cold Karoo night)
And so it came to pass that I departed Hermanus on a second Karoo Road Trip with substantial padkos! First stop Riebeek Kasteel for almost a week, where I spent an inordinate amount of time in the Wine Kollective sharing some of my bottles with the backroom guys. Most of them knew Pieter but so much had been, and was being, consumed that I didn't really get a sensible opinion from them.
On the last leg of my journey I had been hoping to acquire some fresh pecorino to take to Mario in Joburg to show off a Milanese dessert with honey drizzled over the newly-cut fresh cheese, washed down, of course, by the remaining BLANKbottles.
Another friend, Andy, a cheesemaker from Hopefield, and the kind of bloke who reads Larousse for fun, had told me that I needed to go to Smithfield if I wanted proper pecorino. He confirmed this with a nod of great portent while treating me to a splendid lunch on a fellow cheesemaker's Padstal stoep, overlooking Tietiesbaai.
"Yes Banj, they have grass for their sheep there," he nodded, gesturing expansively in the general direction 1000 km of semi-desert to the North East.
"Yussus Meneer, this is blerrie lekker! Uitstekend!" my fellow diner enthused, passing his glass over for a refill. This was two days later in Buckley's Restaurant and Bar in Kerk Straat, Smithfield. I was enjoying a bottle of Oppie Koppie with a stonkingly good steak and needed to share my wine to save me from falling over.
The next day I got my cheese, and before heading off to Clarens for my last stop before Johannesburg, I had an hour or so to kill in the morning and thought I'd try to find some runny honey for the drizzling bit. No luck in Smithfield:
"You'll be sure to find it in Clarens, Meneer," I was reassured.
I had also been on a mission to get myself a woollen pullover while in SA. The real deal with not too much intervention between sheep and the knitted article. After all, Karoo lamb is a big thing but evidently not Karoo wool. Then, in Smithfield, I found this French bloke who hand knits these things. Problem was, he still had to start knitting and I had to head on up the road. So I bought a natural wool beanie from him as a consolation prize. Ironically, I found the beanie's complement in London, knitted from Scottish sheep's wool ... a missed opportunity, perhaps?
L to R: Lunchtime "pukka" tasting to decide; Proper wino accoutrements; a welcome partner; paired with Calamari
Next on to Clarens in time for a sundowner on the terrace of my gorgeous accommodation for two nights. It was still warm enough in the winter sun to sit outside and I pulled out a bottle of My Koffer and poured a glass while luxuriating in the mountain setting. Next thing a Durban couple, en route to visit relatives in Bloemfontein, joined me on the terrace. It would've been churlish not to have offered them a glass. They absolutely loved it and we shared a few anecdotes until it became too cold to remain outside and we had finished the bottle. They were effusive in their gratitude.
The next morning the gentleman approached me and asked if they could buy my last bottle as a gift for their relatives in "Bloem". They would be blown away my new friend assured me.
I would have loved to have fulfilled his request but had to explain that the last of my My Koffer was a designated gift for Mario and I had specially selected it because of its associations with the Tassies of yore. Pieter would understand.
I had a little formal wine-tasting at lunch-time all by myself. Decided to take the "Familie" on a walkabout. We preserved modesty with a brown paper bag during the stroll into town and while enjoying a late afternoon craft beer at the Clarens Brewery I did get some funny looks but I generally get those anyway so nothing to be too perturbed about. What a wonderful day, topped off with a fine Portuguese meal with a view over the Malutis.
No runny honey anywhere in Clarens, though. Tried everywhere.
Anyway, enough about the wine and back to the lovely Walsers to conclude my sojourn.
I feel I could compile a book from Pieter's stories. I just love his spontaneity and derring do. He even turned his own epilepsy into an opportunity. I would never attempt to precis or paraphrase his anecdotes. You really need to read them in the original for yourselves. I've provided some links in . I can't believe that anyone who ventures down that route won't follow other forks in the road, just as I did. I do so hope I eventually get to meet the Walser family.
Maybe somewhere in the Klein Karoo sharing a glass with Julie and Chris. Who knows, maybe Shelley-ann too? Stranger things have happened to all of us.
Coming up: Honeymoon with wine attached.
 More info about South Africa's legendary short story writer here.
 More legible label supplied or else read the full text
 Reading list: Epileptic Inspiration ; Little William ; Manon des Sources ; Familiemoord ; A personal favourite about finding the perfect amphora
 To be the subject of an upcoming blog of its own ... I'm keeping this one for wine related anecdotes (and maybe a little cheese - after all they go so well together)
 Gosh sir, this is bloody marvellous! Outstanding!
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