26 years of Wine Show innovation
15 July 2016
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Jenny Crwys–Williams : I am sitting with Juliet Cullinan whom I’ve known for years and years and years, because she has been so immersed in the world of wine and other things as well. Juliet, tell us a little bit about this festival.
It used to be, did it not, the Juliet Cullinan Wine Experience. Then your sponsors came in and they’ve been fantastic. Tell us a little bit, what makes this wine festival different to all the other wine festivals that are around?
Juliet Cullinan: I started 26 years ago and in those days there was Gyles Webb, Norma Ratcliffe and a few other people that unfortunately aren’t even alive anymore, which is sad. But we got together and we realised that I’ve got a market in Johannesburg. I knew the people here, they were trying to get their wines out of the Cape, out anywhere.
So I invited them to come up here and we did a festival. It was at the Club, 26 years ago, it was the first of many. We never, ever understood that it would be such a great success. We had Ross Gower and Gyles Webb swapping tables, talking about everybody else’s wines. Ross was doing flick-flacks down the middle of the room, at the end they asked for a beer. It was just those days where people lived life and there was no great stress about wine.
The competition is enormous now and it still remains the oldest festival in the country and the most premium. What we try and do is curtail the number of exhibitors. We want really the best, people that will come along and in a quiet and understate way, teach us about wine as well as allow us to taste. If you don’t know anything about wine, it’s a great place to interact. Find out how to taste what you’ve got in your cellar. How long you should mature it for and how good it could be.
What we are doing differently this year
Then, this year we’re doing different regions. You can go to the Constantia region and taste a variety of Chardonnay’s. Then go over to Walker Bay and taste things from Walker Bay. You can compare the two regions and the soil is different, the climate differs.
There’s a French word called that describes the slopes, where the sun hits the altitude on the mountain, all the technical things, but really, all of those details give you the special tastes that are different in one region or another. You can look at different vintages and the winemakers all come up and talk about it.
It’s really lovely to meet the man behind the label. In the early days when you and I were tasting wine, we were dealing with the fathers or maybe the grandfathers. Now these young, gorgeous looking people come along and we realise, they weren’t even alive with the first festival. So it’s the second generation of it and that’s fun.
16 years ago I teamed up with Standard Bank and that brought a whole new dimension to the festival. Because we were able to do different things or they were able to have an evening dedicated to their clients. We have the last evening which is only for their clients.
They make it a little bit more special, they have a huge marques, which we use. But they really elaborate upon and it’s just a lovely way for them to interact with their clients. Who can come, taste the wine, breaks the ice, they can network, they can meet each other and they can really have fun over a glass of wine.
JCW: You showed me a short while ago some Google glasses. You have to tell us what this is about. Because in amongst the wine, and I expect the wine and I expect to taste it. I expect someone to say “Try doing this if you’ve not experienced it before so that you get a little bit of knowledge”. But tell me a little bit about the Google glasses.
What Google glasses are all about
JC: It’s a fun way. I’m creative, so when I taste wine, I’m immediately, I smell it. I can immediately, in my mind, see a line saying “This is melons, then it’s vanilla, then it’s oak” and those flavours come back to me in a flash. I see colours and I see smells. I’m working on that principle.
In 2005 I designed the first pictures in the world depicting different grape varieties and what ingredients you would imagine with that grape. A Cabernet would come with the oak, the cigar, the cedar wood, juniper berries, raspberry, something like that.
So working on that, I then worked with Google in 2011 and we did the first winery street view in the world. That was great for South Africa because we gave them exposure. People could plan their tours and trips, they could buy online. It was really a great promotion for these fabulous wines we have.
JCW: Did I literally go to, for instance, Klein Constantia and pass the little mosque and go up the hill and turn left into the winery, is that what you’re talking about?
JC: That’s what we talked about. Just like if you’re going to want to go and find something in Paris, you would Google it. Then you’d have the 360 view. They were doing that in the vineyards. At the festival this year we’re using the first footage I used in 2011.
We’ve got these Google 3D or 4D actually, glasses. You put them on and you’re able to look up at the sky, you’re looking around you. I got the idea because I was in a shopping centre in London and they were doing ski slopes. You could go down the slope, losing your stomach en route. It was so exciting for me to see this.
I thought, I really want to do this and I’ve not seen it in any wine show in the world. Certainly not the vineyard scenes. Google have given me all these glasses, we’ve downloaded the imagery. People come along, put on the glasses and be able to imagine, as you said, go past the mosque and go up the hill.
Wine and the Arts
JCW: I think you’ll have queues there. Then I was also contacted by a South African living abroad and it’s to do with art. Now, wine and art, wine and books, wine and cars, they all are part of this wonderful mix. But tell me a little bit about that, is that a feature of the show?
JC: It is. The theme this year, Standard Bank have chosen the arts and the creation of art. So the point of this is to try and imagine that art is one of the fine arts and wine is one of the fine arts. We’ve got these beautiful displays, you might have seen them up and down the posters down the street. With birds and bees and fauna. That’s been designed specially to look at which regions have specific fauna and flora.
On the theme of the art, we’ve got this young, gorgeous girl called Nomasa. She has a company in France called Undiscovered Canvas. She is selecting a selection of South African artists here which she’s exhibiting here. But she’s also exhibited in the past in France and in Europe.
She started the company because she realised there was such interest in South African art overseas. She really wanted people to come and see and buy. She’s been running this exhibition in France for many years. I teamed up with her and I said “Come to the show, we’ll get the South African artists and we’ll be able to promote it.”
We’ve got Jenna Clifford, who needs no introduction. So she’ll be brining mainly her home décor and she’ll be able to show us what they’ve designed along the silver range. The theme of the arts is coming through quite strongly.
How to tackle a wine show
JCW: Let’s go back to wine. I always think that if you don’t know anything about wine, except maybe you’ve tried it a couple of times and you like it, you go to a festival, I think they can be very bewildered. Because they don’t know where to go. They don’t know where to taste. They don’t know how to taste. You’ve also taken care of that this year?
JC: We have. We’ve got a project called Illumination. Which is trying to explain to people how your palette works and how your taste buds work. When you’re tasting, you use three of your five senses. The one is the eye, you look at the colour. The second is the smell, you smell it, which of course the winery people and the wine fraternity are so fussy.
You have to say you sniff it and it’s all about the aroma and the bouquet. Then it’s the taste, so it’s the flavour on your taste. Of the three senses, the smell is actually the most important. You’re really justifying what you’re smelling on your palette. But the eye, we’ve got the Google glasses.
Smells, Cape Wine Academy are coming with a variety of wine folds. So if you smell a wine that is corked and they’ve shown it to you. You recognise it, you know that you can go to a restaurant. When you see that, or smell that smell and often it comes with a darker colour of the wine as well. You’ll say “I have a problem here, it could be…” it’s just a great way for people to learn what you should or shouldn’t be smelling.
Then we’re doing a food pairing. I went to one of the best in this market in South Africa and that’s Creation Carolyn Martin. She’s just amazing with all the ideas she’s got. She teams up with sommeliers. What she’s doing is she’s going to bring passionate fruit, so granadilla with Chenin Blanc. The same passionate fruit with Merlot.
One of them, the Chenin is a white grape and it’s soft and fruity, it’s got passionate fruit flavours in it. Then the Merlot, you’re going to have the tannin of the Merlot, you’re going to have a bit of wood and that just fights with the passionate fruit.
You’re going to put the passionate fruit on your palette and taste the Chenin and it’s going to be warm and voluptuous and smooth and lovely. Then you’re going to try it with a Merlot and it’s going to fight, it’s going to be disgusting. You know you get, argh, that’s awful. But the aim of it really is to say to you, can you see, you can blend things quite easily or you can’t.
It’s just an added step on how to taste better. Then we’re using the sense of sounds. We’ve got three different pieces of music. The same wine tasted with each piece and if the composition is instrumental and it has got high notes, like flute or violin. You’re tasting a wine with quite high acidity, your mind and your taste buds accentuate the acidity. You hear the flutes and the violins and it’s almost like screechingly high.
Whereas if you have a piece of music with cello and deep notes, you’re going to have flavours on your palette which bring out the earthiness, the mushrooms, the truffles, the floor undergrowth in a forest etc. All of that changes your palette and it’s really a fun way. You know, I think people will see it and love it and experience it. If they don’t want to try it, it doesn’t really matter, it’s just one of the things we’re offering this year.
JCW: Finally, the people who are participating in terms of wine, I know you can’t mention all of the estates, but tell us some of the highlights.
Some of the highlight wines this year
JC: I think the fun thing is that some of them have been with me literally since the very first one. Bischoffen, De Wetshof, they’re names that people know from years and years and years. They’re well known, within their range they may have not only one Chardonnay, but two or three.
Even if you go to one winery and you know nothing about wine, ask them what they’ve got and taste all the kinds and make it easier. We’ve got a ‘Must Taste wine’ so if you know nothing about wine, you can go to the winery and say “What is your Must Taste Wine” because that winemaker had selected it.
It’s not necessarily the best, it’s not necessarily the most expensive, but it’s the one that they really feel quite excited by. So it’s something that they’ve made or else they’ve, it’s like a chef will come to you and say “My special for today is…” and it’s their special for the night.
JCW: All right, so it sounds fantastic, it sounds very different, give us the details again, where is it?
JC: It’s going to be at Summer Place on 12th and 13th of July from 5:00 until 9:00. Then during that time we’re going to have Master Tutored Tastings by the Cape Wine Masters. Those are going to be at specific times and there will also be the food and wine pairing, which will be specific times.
JCW: All right, and it’s at Wanderers?
JC: Summer Place.
JCW: Juliet, thank you very much indeed for this, the Juliet Cullinan Standard Bank Wine Festival, taking place…
JC: Next Tuesday and Wednesday.
JCW: Thank you very much indeed.
JC: Thank you, always.