A revolutionary Rooibos wooded wine
01 January 1970
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Welcome to Old Mutual Live Wine edition, on mobile, on digital, on demand and thanks for listening, I’m Jenny Crwys-Williams. A Stellenbosch boutique winery is making a name for itself as the world’s very first rooibos wooded, no sulphites or preservative added wine range. As well as a revolutionary low kilojoule alcohol wine made with patented technology that involves the use of indigenous honey bush, lightly toasted wood chips to enhance the flavour. The estate is Audacia and I chatted to the Managing Director Trevor Strydom. It really is a fascinating story.
Trevor, I’m really pleased to be chatting to you because I was reading an article in a magazine the other day and it was talking about the Audacia Boutique Winery and it was talking about rooibos. Take us through this incredible journey that you’ve gone through because you are unique in South Africa in terms of making wine. not oaking it, but rooibosing it, just take us through this journey.
How we went the Rooibos route
Trevor Strydom: Actually we need about two days for me to tell you the whole story. But I’ll try and put it in a nutshell. In 2010 we started experimenting with alternative woods. If you look at what happens in the world, you get wood like oak, acacia, chestnut, Rowley, mulberry, ash. Different woods are used in wine.
Because in today’s world we don’t put the wine in the wood, in days gone by we used to put the wine into barrels. We still put wine in barrels, but when we make wine today we tend to put the wood in the wines. We put oak staves into the wine, oak chips, oak powders and oak tannin extracts.
We were experimenting, chipping different types of woods, toasting them, to see if we could get a different flavour. Through an accident with my daughter one day making me a cup of rooibos tea I thought, I wonder if I could experiment using rooibos chipped wood?
We started experimenting using the wood. It’s very important that people understand, we are not using leaves. When people make wine with oak, they don’t use the oak leaves, they use the wood. So we take rooibos wood and honey bush wood and we chip it and toast it and we use it in the wine.
What we discovered was that there is so many unique anti-oxidants in the chipped wood, that we were able to preserve the wine by simply using the wood. So the big discovery was around the fact that rooibos and honey bush wood would preserve wine and there was then no need to add sulphur. That has been the big breakthrough, the fact that we can use our own indigenous chip toasted wood to preserve wine naturally.
It’s almost like a “secret” ingredient
JCW: So that people really understand. You make wine in the normal way, you crush the grapes and you’ve got a farm just outside of Stellenbosch and this was your dream. But you weren’t able to sell the wine because of the big producers of wine. So you started looking around and you came up with this almost as a fluke and here you are. There isn’t a flavour of rooibos, myself personally, I don’t like rooibos at all. But it just gives it, what sort of taste does it give if it’s not oak or ash or something like that?
TS: If you look at the wine, we did extensive research with Stellenbosch University and we’ve done extensive taste trials. If people are not aware that we’ve used rooibos wood, 99% of people don’t pick it up at all. In fact, this year we entered some wine in the Old Mutual Wine Trophy Show and the panel of judges gave us a Bronze. Where we had no sulphur added wines competing with other Shiraz’s.
The goal is to create a wine that will be able to judged with the best of the best. Because all we’re doing is we’re using alternative wood. We’re not trying to make a coffee flavoured wine or a chocolate flavoured wine, we’re actually making a wine that will be judged as a normal wine against other wines.
We’ve done a lot of work with the Wine and Spirit Board to ensure that the wine will be of the highest standards and anything that is sub-standard will be rejected. We’ve been working with Bailey and the technical committee on this because we’ve been working on this process since 2010, so quite a few years now.
JCW: Listen, it’s very exciting because there are all sorts of implications in terms of an all-South African product really aren’t there?
JCW: You’ve applied have you not, for licensing in that sense, like champagne, you’re applying for that license aren’t you?
A proudly South African patented formula
TS: What we’ve done, we’re registered a patent and it’s the first patent. We’ve been making wine since 6000BC and it’s the first wine that has been patented since 6000BC. We’ve registered patents in 83 jurisdictions throughout the world. Those patents are going to grant now. What we’ve decided to do is share the patent with all South African wine producer, and only South African wine producers.
Once the patents go to grant and people use our own indigenous wood, then South Africans will have no competition throughout the world for the next 20 years, but we are sharing. The whole purpose is to use the intellectual property to uplift the lives of South Africans, that’s our goal.
JCW: This will become, hopefully, a geographic indicator?
TS: Correct. Rooibos is a geographical indicator but when we create the new category of wine, which will be a healthier option category of wine, it’ll be specifically for South Africans.
JCW: It’s a game changer.
TS: It’s a game changer. I don’t think any of us, even me, comprehend how big it is. We’ve done extensive research and our next goal is to create a colourless, flavourless tannin extract which will be added to wines to replace sulphur. That means that we will be able to extend the shelf life dramatically of wines without adding any other preservatives or sulphur.
JCW: Let me get this straight, I know that Woolworths is involved in this, they’ve just accepted a wine that has got virtually no sulphur at all, but that shortens the shelf life?
TS: Traditionally wine without sulphur had a very short shelf life, it couldn’t be preserved for long because the wine would oxidise. The wine that we’ve currently made, we started making wine in 2012, we’ve done advanced oxidation testing. We’ve got wine that is perfect from 2012/13, there’s no colour change, the wine hasn’t oxidised. So I just think, as you said, it’s going to be a huge game changer.
A Banting friendly wine
JCW: One of the reasons why you’re hoping consumers will go and buy one of the wines, one of the Audacia wines. I’m looking at three of them and thank you for all the material you sent me. I’m looking at a Banting friendly one, the low-carb Banting wine, the Feel Bright. No added sulphur, alcohol of 14%, but also very low alcohol as well in the See the Lite, that is pre 100ml, low alcohol and that’s 7.5%. You could almost brush your teeth with it!
TS: You can. Jenny, the ability to use honey bush and rooibos wood allows us to take normal wine and convert it into low alcohol wine. The wine that you’re speaking about there is the first wine in the world with a full nutritional table on the back label. You’ll see the alcohol on that nutritional table is 7.5%, that’s low alcohol red wine.
If you have a look you’ll see the sugar is 0.2g per hundred ml and that is very important, especially for people with sugar diabetes. Because they need to see what they’re putting into their body. They also need to be able to see the, what is the word I’m looking for… they’re able to see the protein content. The low kilojoule wine is the first wine in the world with a nutritional table. We will put it on all our low kilojoule wines.
JCW: Have you taken it to the large wine cellars in SA, just to see what their response is to this. Because if this is successful, this could easily become something that you’re going to have to put on the back of your wine bottles.
TS: I think it’s inevitable that alcoholic beverages will eventually have nutritional tables on it. If you go into any retailer and pick up a bottle of water, water has got a nutritional table. Everything has got a nutritional table. So I think it will eventually come. In Ireland they’ve already passed legislation which says that all alcoholic beverages have to have nutritional tables. So it will come in the future.
There will eventually be a ban on smoking and when I say smoking, advertising on smoking. So a lot of those things are inevitable, but right now we’re only going to put it on the low kilojoules. Because a lot of people sell low kilojoule wine, but people still don’t know what’s in it. We think it’s ethically correct that on low kilojoule wine you should have a nutritional table or else how can you claim it as being low kilojoule.
Should a real organic wine contain sulphur?
JCW: It’s a little bit like the organic dispute because you’re told something is organic, but you can’t actually prove it. It’s an area that needs a great deal of looking at doesn’t it?
TS: I think on the organic side there’s a huge opportunity because a lot of organic wines still have sulphur added towards the end of the winemaking process or during the winemaking process, to preserve the wines. I think if organic farmers, they grow their grapes organically, start using rooibos and honey bush extract powders or tannins. It’ll give them the opportunity to really complete the circle of having both an organic wine and a wine that is preserved by nature, if I could call it that.
JCW: What is the shelf life of one of the bottles of your wine? I don’t want to drink everything immediately, maybe I want to leave it for a year or so, does it stand up to that kind of shelf life?
TS: I’m comfortable at this point in time that the shelf life will be anything between 4-5 years. But I wouldn’t recommend you buy it for your son’s 21st party if he’s just born now. Most non-sulphur wines consumed within 12 months.
It’s quite interesting, there’s a stated fact that most wine bought from retailers is consumed within 24 hours of being purchased, so that’s quite an interesting stat. No sulphur added wines, it’s not a wine that you will put away for 20 years. I don’t know, it might last 20 years, but right now I don’t have that answer.
JCW: Of course, you’re going to have to wait another 20 years to find out. Looking at your notes, the critical main thing at the core of your business is DNA, strategic intent. What is this strategic intent?
TS: The strategic intent, we’ve created a company called Red Dawn IP Holdings and that company sole purpose is to use intellectual property to uplift the lives of South Africans. Although Audacia is using the intellectual property under license to Red Dawn, other companies will do it.
My partner in the patent is actually KWV and they have made a wine called Earth Essence which has just won an international award for both packaging and the wine itself. They’ve just bottled a Sauvignon Blanc which has no sulphur added this year and also a Shiraz, which has already been, the entire quantity has already been sold to a UK based company. KWV have been very supportive in the process and they’ve also agreed that we have to share the intellectual property with other South Africans. Our strategic intent is to uplift lives and to share with South Africans.
It’s about the antioxidants in Rooibos and honey bush
JCW: But it’s also to do something that is absolutely fabulous, in other words, to create an all-South African wine that people buy, drink and really enjoy drinking and is it flavoured? It’s just got a woody flavour.
TS: The wine, when you say it’s got a woody flavour, there’s no difference. As I mentioned to you, other woods that are used in wine, people have used red wood, pine, ash, mulberry, chestnut. So the wood is added to give different tannin structures to the wine, to give different flavours. We use toasted oak, untoasted oak and eventually we will have that whole range of South African indigenous woods. There are 19 different species of the honey bush and honey bush has got the same amount of antioxidants in it as rooibos.
In fact, rooibos and honey bush are the only plants in the world, I think, other than the plant in Australia, the name has skipped me now, that have got so much antioxidants. It’s really the miracle of these plants and the wood, but the wine really doesn’t taste any different from normal wine. If I gave you the wine blind folded, you’re not going to taste the difference. The idea is not to create a wine that tastes like tea, that is not the purpose whatsoever.
JCW: In a way, that’s one of your biggest marketing difficulties, because rooibos is so associate. The antioxidant is so associated, the antioxidant side is so associated but with that particular taste. I also know that rooibos only grows in a very specific area and presumably honey bush does as well. Talk to us about the conservation value of where you’re going to get your stock.
TS: Rooibos grows in a specific area in Clanwilliam, but it can grow in other parts of the Western Cape. What’s interesting, if you look at honey bush, honey bush is grown right throughout the Western Cape. Some of the biggest plantations and when I say plantations, some of the plants grow 3.5 to 4m, they’re grown in the Mossel Bay area. Honey bush grows throughout the Western Cape and I think honey bush in this whole exercise is the dark horse. Because of the amount of antioxidants in the honey bush plant.
Both plants are legumes, so they extract carbon dioxide out of the air and put nitrogen into the soil. Where we’re going to get the plants? If the demand is big enough, we believe and we’re doing some work with Stellenbosch University to do inter-cropping. If the root systems are compatible with the honey bush and rooibos plants, we’re hoping to actually plant the honey bush and rooibos in amongst the vines, so in the middle of the vine row, so we give farmers a second crop.
The leaves will be used for the production of beer and cider because the patent also covers beer and cider. Then the wood component would be used for wine. I know I’m really rambling, but in speaking to Alan Winde, the big opportunity is to marry the rooibos and honey bush industries with the wine industry and really create jobs in the rural areas. Because it’s an easy crop for rural farmers to grow. It would have a massive impact on the Western Cape agricultural sector if we could get that right.
We only make red wine on Audacia itself
JCW: As I look at these wines, they are all red, or have I got that wrong?
TS: Audacia is specifically a red wine farm. We had a friend of us, Neil Patterson and a lady that helped us to produce two wines, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chenin, which we made. We’ve bottled and I actually sell the Chenin under the Audacia label at this point in time.
KWV have made a fantastic Sauvignon Blanc which they’re bottling now, which we’ll be selling soon. So we are able to make both red and white wines using the technology. Once we have the colourless, odourless extract, then it will be very easy to make the white wines.
JCW: It’s really interesting and Malcolm Gladwell talks about outliers and this is definitely a project which would give you the label of being an outlier. Have you done 10 000 hours do you think?
TS: 10 000 hours, I’ll tell you what I’ve done. Since 2010 I’ve put my life’s savings into this project and right now I need someone to buy the wine to get me out of the big black hole I sit in. But I see a huge future for the South African wine industry. If we can all work together and we can create a unique category of healthy option wines. I’ve been doing this day and night since 2010, but the future is really looking bright.
JCW: Where can people go and buy the wine, is it easily accessible?
TS: It’s been very difficult to get wine into retail outlets because being a small farmer, our biggest problem is distribution. Just the fact, if you look at the small farms, only 15% of farms in South Africa make a profit at this point in time. So it’s really a struggle because our input costs are so high. I have got a national distributor that is helping me, that is Liquid in Motion.
They can supply all restaurants and off-sales, all consumption. People can get their wines from Liquid in Motion and our wine is listed in some Pick ‘n Pay stores and some top stores. But it’s been tough and a gradual process. We also sell it at the farm and that is at the Route 44 market between Stellenbosch and Somerset West.
JCW: Trevor, I just want to say congratulations, I think it’s a brave new world that you’ve almost created. I’m sure if you get this classification and the healthier wines, people are going to respond to it. I do think it’s very important to have ease of access though.
TS: I agree with you, that’s been one of the biggest problems, is getting it to the market. Just on that point Jenny, we’ve had a good response from overseas. So we’re selling quite a lot of wine to China, to Germany, Taiwan, so I’m slowly growing the export market.
Again, because it’s a game changer, we’ve had to take it step by step and we have had to work with the Wine and Spirit Board. Because we have to make sure that we don’t in any way, do anything that’s negative to the South African wine industry. Because we’ve got a great industry, very well organised, well controlled, the South African wine industry works, it really does.
JCW: I just want to say thank you very much indeed and I’ve enjoyed talking to you and I’m going to enjoy drinking some of the wine.
TS: Thank you very much Jenny.
JCW: Trevor, thank you. Download the Old Mutual app from your app store to get your favourite podcasts and it’s also the best place to listen to our exclusive pop-up event stations.