An amazing Methode Cap Classique wine
27 June 2016
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Jenny Crwys–Williams : So, Matthew, I am absolutely blown over by the number of things that you do. I mean you are, in your own words, a motivated and passionate wine maker, a wine consultant, a wine marketer. You come from a family who for 12 generations have been successful wine makers in South Africa, that is hectic. Now you’ve done this amazing, amazing Methode Cap Classique wine that is called Alexandra after your daughter and that is why I’m phoning you.
Matthew Krone: Thank you very much Jenny, you make me sound quite like a bit of a superhero, which I hope my daughter will one day look at it.
JCW: Obviously she was born and this is your gift to her.
Naming a vintage after my daughter
MK: Well, I was busy with an MCC that we were getting ready to launch. My wife and I, obviously with my families background in the wine industry, MCC is kind of something that we’re very passionate about. So had an MCC that had been lying on the lees for a number of years. That I was getting ready to launch.
I had a totally different label in mind actually, and then my daughter was born. From day one I was absolutely smitten! In fact, I think my wife was still in hospital, our little daughter was three days old. I just suddenly got home the one evening and I just hated the label that I’d designed.
Started tweaking with it and changed the name, changed everything onto it. I sent a rough draft to my wife and said: What do you think? She said she loves it and it kind of went from there. There’s a bit of a joke which is, my daughter has a wine named after her when she was three days old.
My wife and I had been together for eight years and there’s nothing named after her yet. I kind of just pointed out that a winemaker traditionally only names a wine after his wife when he’s in trouble and I haven’t caused enough trouble yet!
JCW: Well, listen, what I loved about the article I was reading. Is that Alexandra is only made once every four years, in other words, a leap year. Just take us down that road.
MK: It was also something, I’m an independent winemaker. We’re no longer affiliated with our old family farm we had been with for generations, so obviously finances are one consideration. But I also thought, if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do something really special and I don’t want to rush it. Most of the MCC’s you get on the market are now minimum 12 months on the lees and they try and get the product out as quickly as possible.
Why only every four years?
MK: For me it was always about, whatever I want to put my name to, anything that I’m involved in, I want to make sure that quality comes first. The idea with this is that it’s a long time in a bottle fermentation. It just so happened that when we were launching this year we were still kind of thinking how are we going to launch it.
With the birth of my daughter and feeling so special, we just came to the conclusion; look, we’re going to launch it on the leap year. So on the 29th of February, we only did 6000 bottles and I’ve bottled another 6000 which I’m only going to launch in the next year in 2020.
So the idea is to keep it very small, very limited, kind of exclusive. It’s something that I don’t feel like I need to rush. I don’t feel like I have to try and punt it or get it sold out as quickly as possible. We do put a bit of a premium on it. But everybody who has tasted it thus far thinks it should be charged even more, so I’m quite chuffed with the reaction so far.
JCW: Was that your first one, for the Alexandra range? That was your very first vintage obviously?
MK: Yes, this was the maiden of the Alexandra. But to be fair, I’m only going to name this MCC after her. I don’t quite know if I’m going to be doing a whole range of Alexandra’s. I suppose it depends if my wife will give me another chance, we’ll have to see how that goes.
A celebration vintage
JCW: Yes, well, take your time, do, just take your time, get used to Alexandra more. I think it’s fantastic. So every four years we’re going to get a wonderful bottle of Alexandra. Just to celebrate your daughter’s birth and for us to drink some wonderful bubbly.
MK: Thank you very much. Another thing, it’s actually the Alexandra de la Marque. De la Marque was my grandmother’s middle name, as well as her mother’s middle name before. So it’s kind of a long family name as well. Alexandra de la Marque, it sounds very, I don’t know, maybe it sounds a bit too pretentious in some ways.
But for me it’s something that’s very close to the heart. When our daughter was born we actually had three different names in mind for her. We knew she was a girl and there were three totally different names we thought. We were thinking Sophia or Amelia or Olivia and when the baby came out I just looked at her, when they were doing those Apgar tests, when they’re checking the babies reactions to all the various things.
When I was taking my daughter to my wife I was like, she’s not one of those, her names Alexandra. I don’t even know where her name came from. It’s just something that suits her and she’s a feisty little number. But she totally has daddy around her little finger already. I’m actually dreading the next 20 odd years, I’ve got to go and buy a few shotguns already.
JCW: Yes, she’ll outsmart you anyway, so whatever you do, she will outsmart you. Look, I think it’s just the most fabulous story. But I was amazed at the number of MCC wines that you’ve actually produced. You actually say somewhere on your website, that you’ve produced millions of them, surely that’s an exaggeration?
Hand in over a million bottles of MCC wines
MK: Not exactly, our family used to be, on our old family farm, which we lost a few years ago. At that point obviously the whole brand that we were involved with, with our family surname, we are no longer involved in it. I’m not affiliated with that brand anymore.
But at the time we were producing close on half a million bottles a year, over many years, so I have produced a number of bottles. I’ve also consulted for a number of other wineries, and other sellers where I’ve helped them with their own MCC production as well. It’s sort of something that I’m passionate about and have a bit of a feeling for it.
So the wine industry is wonderful in that way. I’m making some Cab and some Chardonnay and some Chenin Blanc as well at another cellar. But I’m not really an expert on those. So I can phone all my mates who are the Cab experts and the Shiraz experts and the Chardonnay experts etc.
They’re willing to share all their information and their knowledge with me in the same way. You know, kind of going out and helping guys with their wines. For me, MCC, that’s something that I have a real big love for and I think I inherited from my dad and my grandfather. Who also had a big passion for it’s something that kind of goes in the family as well.
JCW: Do these other wines come under the Foxwood Vineyards label or not?
Involved in plenty of collaborations
MK: Well, Foxwood Vineyards is a small project I started with two friends up in Johannesburg, for those we’re doing a Chenin Blanc and a Shiraz. It’s also very limited release wines, we’re doing 3000 bottles of each that we’re selling up in Johannesburg. Well, basically through Foxwood House in Houghton in Jo’burg. That’s also had wonderful reception.
I’ve got another project which we’re only launching next year, nobody actually really knows he details about it. So I can’t say too much, but I have a British partner who is very, very well connected worldwide. He’s got a couple of wineries in Bordeaux as well.
He loved what I was doing this side, so he’s kind of my financier. We’re going to launch another project that I’ve been working on for the last two years. We’re only going to launch it in 2017, but that’s going to be a Chardonnay, a Cabernet and also an MCC.
JCW: Maybe I should rephrase the question, what aren’t you doing?
MK: Staying out of trouble with my wife some days. You know, the big thing for me, when we lost the family farm and when we kind of moved away from that. I went through a very dark space in my life there. I almost swore to myself that I wasn’t going to make wine.
We’ve got this whole long time that our family has been in the wine industry and try as I might, I try to avoid wine entirely, I didn’t even drink wine for a few months. Friends of mine were phoning me and saying, look, don’t you want to come into consulting, don’t you want to come and help us make some wine. I just said: Look guys, I’m out of it.
In fact, one of my best mates, old Bulla from Constantia phoned me and he said look, he’s got these two friends up in Johannesburg. They’re keen to start a brand, don’t you want to meet with them. I initially swore at him, I was very upset.
I said look, if you’re really my friend, you wouldn’t make such a suggestion. He just persisted said look, it’s in your blood, just go and meet with them at least. I met with these two guys, kind of hit it off. It also turned out that the one guy, old Pieter De Vos, these are the partners in Foxwood.
Pieter’s grandfather and my great grandfather were actually business partners in 1923 in a totally different business. They were doing fruit in those days, so it was like a bit of a full circle coming around with this. Then we started the Foxwood Vineyard’s brand and that just kind of precipitated.
Before I knew it, I’ve got contracts for producing for wines going into Africa, various ranges of wines, I’m kind of suddenly making more wine than I’ve done in the last decade. So it’s fun and scary at the same time, but I’m doing what I’m passionate about, which is fantastic.
Buying grapes in saves on overheads
JCW: You’re buying in your grapes?
MK: I’m buying in my grapes. So the nice thing is, the wine industry, it’s very small, it’s very intimate. I’m renting cellar space at various cellars actually. I literally go out, I go and select the vineyards I want from the various producers. In fact, we take it one step further.
I go and select the rows within the blocks within the vineyards. Like I want those rows, row one through ten. This is how you’re going to prune it, this is how you’re going to spray it, this is how you’re going to look after it. So you can literally go and pick the absolute best quality from all over the country and bring it in.
What’s almost special for this is that you’re not bound by a single area or a single block or a single varietal. I’ve got the freedom to go and express what I want to go and do in terms of quality. In terms of what’s available out there and it’s been incredibly liberating in many ways. I’m suddenly finding that I’m getting so much more enjoyment out of making certain wines.
Where in the past you just did the same thing over and over because that’s what’s always been done. Now I can chop and change, I kind of feel a bit like an artist. You can change the colours of your palette as you go along. I really am having a lot of fun with it, which is kind of scary. I feel like I should be doing work, but I’m enjoying myself.
JCW: Don’t you think that this is a trend in South Africa. I was speaking to Leon Coetzee from the Wedge. That’s exactly what he and Margot are doing, is exactly the same as you.
MK: In terms of the way agriculture is going, there are a number of rumours in the industry that says only 5% of the wine producers are actually making money, everybody else is lucky if they’re breaking even. While it is a rumour, I think there’s a fair element of truth to it.
If you’re a primary producer, you’ve got a hell of a high input cost. You’ve got lots of fixed costs that you’ve got to cover the whole way through. Whether it’s a seller, whether it’s vineyards, staff, tractors, just everything that goes with it.
As a contract producer or as an independent producer, you’re not limited to that. You can go out, you don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of millions of rands planting vineyards and building cellars. You rent cellar space at a fixed amount. You can buy the grapes from the various vineyards that you’ve sourced there and you produce it and you sell it.
You’re not limited to something and you’re also, you’re able to actually do a lot in terms of the trends in terms of local trends. When you want to sell your wine, you’re not bound for the next 30 years to that block of vines that you planted back in 1995.
There’s a whole bunch of winemakers, in fact, I wouldn’t say a generation of winemakers. But the way of thinking of wine making has changed dramatically. I was privileged to grow up on a wine farm under the tutelage of my father and my grandfather. They were two of the big legends in the South African industry.
I’ve always had wine in my blood, always had the passion for wine. A lot of other winemakers, the guys that have come in, they haven’t been indoctrinated that you have to have a little block of vineyards. You have to have your own little cellar.
These guys are free thinkers and because they’re not limited by it, they can do so much more which is fantastic. You need to build on what the previous generations have done. I think there’s a lot to be said for that, but there’s also something to be said for innovation and for changing as the world changes really.
What to pair with the wine
JCW: Let’s just go back to the bubbly that we’re speaking about, the Alexandra. All the family names that come after it, which I think is wonderful. You know what it reminds me of? It reminds me of the Russian court, it’s probably the name Alexandra. But you know what I’m mean?
I’m thinking of Faberge eggs and things, as soon as I saw the label. Because you sent me that bottle, which I have not opened yet. I just looked at it and I thought, oh my goodness, it’s not 1917, it’s a whole lot earlier than that. It just does remind me of Faberge and that particular court. Let’s just go back to the wine and it is special. Is there something that you think in terms of eating, would go spectacularly with it?
MK: That’s a question that everybody keeps on asking. It’s a difficult one to tie it down. I think everybody has their own style of food. The beauty of this, because it’s had five years’ bottle fermentation. It is a lot more evolved, it’s got a beautiful evolution on the tongue and on the nose and on the palette there.
It literally goes with almost anything, but for me, my wife is an absolute foie gras and truffle fanatic, which I don’t know if they necessarily always go with bubbles. But it does seem to work beautifully there. It’s something that, it’s so rich, you can have it with anything from a starter through to a dessert.
JCW: Do you have any left, are there any left in South Africa?
MK: Yes, I’ve got some left, I’m currently selling through Wade Bales Wine Society. So you can actually just go onto their website, I think it’s www.wadebaleswinesociety.co.za. Wade does the distribution for the rest of South Africa and then Society Bistro in Cape Town. It’s kind of the home away from home.
The owner there, Peter Weetman is a good friend, he’s listed it there. He bought, I think about 25% of my stock on the day that we launched it. He just said look, this is his favourite bubbles and for the next four years he doesn’t want to run out of stock. So he just went and bought a big bang of that. You can go and have a nice meal and taste it from there as well.