How Graham Beck is getting even bigger
11 July 2016
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Thanks for joining me for another episode of Old Mutual Live Wine edition, I’m Jenny Crwys–Williams . Graham Beck Wines seems to have been around forever, but it’s now an all-MCC only company. Good news of course for lovers of fizz and is investing R150 million in the business over the next five years.
Just listen to this: Will be upping its annual production of 110 000 cases to something like 250 000 cases. I caught up with the changing face of the company by chatting to Pieter Ferreira, Cellar Master at Graham Beck Wines. So, Pieter, tell us a little bit about Graham Beck, the new style of Graham Beck and we’re not talking about the wines, we’re talking about the company itself because it has changed, has it not?
Pieter Ferreira: Yes, Jenny, it’s a wonderful thing that’s happened in our lives. I think I’m really there to tell a beautiful story because I joined Graham Beck since day one. So it’s really interesting that the initial vision that Graham Beck had for our company is in fruition now. Where we’ve become a specialist Cap Classique producer.
JCW: Did he always have that in mind?
The vision of Graham Beck coming to fruition
PF: It is just phenomenal, he was a man with incredible vision and he just realised with the limestone, because he had his horses here in the early 70’s already. The amount of calcium that comes from the limestone through the feed of the horses, he realised that there was potential to do something in sparkling. He just put his head down and said listen, we’re going to be the number one producer of Cap Classique in South Africa.
JCW: And over the years that is exactly what has happened, but of course Graham Beck himself has died. He no longer is with you although his vision quite clearly still lingers.
PF: Yes, we’re very fortunate that he’s left such a legacy, we owe it to, not only him, but to the family that is supporting us, to really take this to the next level. It’s just incredible that everything was pre-organised, typical guy that was completely organised and just left this legacy. We’ve got some responsibility coming forward.
JCW: If I’m correct, there are something like seven Methode Cap Classique wines in the Graham Beck range.
PF: Yes, over the years we developed a beautiful portfolio of seven sparkling or Cap Classique, three in the non-vintage range which is pretty much our style. But we developed it in 1991 and then we also introduced the best selections of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for our vintage portfolio. Obviously the cherry on the top or the soft of halo effect that we developed for our Prestige is Cuvee Clive.
JCW: And Cuvee Clive, it’s really interesting, but you might not produce it every single year.
PF: I think we have to be proud enough that we realise the intrinsics that we do have, obviously it all starts in the vineyard. But we do have the vintage variations in South Africa, they are maybe a little bit less than what one would find in Europe. But Cuvee Clive is a wine really with no rules. If we truly feel there’s no wow factor in a vintage, we have to be proud enough to say there is no Cuvee Clive for that year.
JCW: And you feel confident about doing that, quite clearly.
PF: Well, I think it really just emphasizes the efforts that we do put into our sparkling wine. I think the consistency factor and the continuity factor of our style is extremely important. Then, if we do miss a year, then we have to be proud enough to say we’ll wait for next year.
What does non-vintage mean?
JCW: So Pieter, let’s talk a little bit about the non-vintage wines, for people who don’t really know anything much about non-vintage, just explain that.
PF: Non-vintage is a philosophy out of champagne which the houses have introduced because, purely just to give a little bit of background quickly. Champagne, there’s a ruling body which is the CIVC, which determines, due to climatic conditions whether they will declare a vintage in champagne, yes or no.
There are years that in champagne there is no vintage declaration and then it has to come from reserve wines out of champagne houses. As soon as you start blending in older wines you lose the youth of the vintage and that gives you far more consistent wine which keeps the champagne house going until they have a vintage declaration.
In the champagne philosophy we have opted to do the same. We, as I have mentioned, our weather patterns are much easier to handle and the consistency is there. But in terms of the philosophy of the Graham Beck house style is one of a non-vintage. So we will always have a non-vintage as our entry level which is a recipe that never changes. It will contain mostly of the year we produce the grapes but then it will contain up to 10-11% reserve wines for the continuity of the house.
JCW: Pieter, if I look at those wines in the non-vintage grouping, which are the ones that people go for more than the others?
PF: It’s really, right up to about four years ago we were selling three Brut which is the white blend of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to one of the Rosé. But we seem to sell just as much Rosé now as the white blend. We’ve come to a conclusion that pink is the new colour, white or black, depends how you see it.
JCW: It’s definitely the new black!
PF: So you know, Rosé has become highly fashionable, people eat and drink with their eyes. So I think as soon as pink bubbles are poured, everybody has got an eye on the glass. Rosé has become extremely fashionable and the other one in our non-vintage portfolio is a Demi Sec. Demi Sec is related to the amount of sugar that we add and we’re definitely finding we’re attracting a new consumer by having something slightly sweeter than dry.
JCW: That’s a traditional entry level into wine drinking isn’t it? It’s the slightly sweeter wines and then people graduate to slightly drier wines?
PF: Jenny, it’s been like that. I don’t think there’s one person that started with sophisticated dry wine, we all start with something sweet and then your palate becomes more sophisticated. You train your palate and then you move onto a drier style.
Giving our wines extra potential
JCW: The Graham Beck legacy, I was interested, you’re growing vines, you’re growing beautiful wines from Robertson, hot, dry, that area. But also of course, traditionally Franschhoek, also incredibly hot in summer of course, but usually in winter, wet, very cool and just scrumptious for making bubbly.
PF: It’s very true, Graham Beck in the vineyard demographics that we do have, eventually, 80-85% maximum grapes will be coming from the Robertson region. But then we do realise the importance of other geographic areas where we will have long-term relationships with growers if we don’t have it coming from our own vineyards. Where we get some Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to sort of give you an extra potential of consistency. Because we know what flavours we get from the limestone soils in Robertson, but it’s well supported with fruit from other geographical areas.
JCW: All right and I just want to touch on, because it’s part of the philosophy of the new look, Graham Beck and that is a wine that I think is selling in huge numbers. That’s Gorgeous and you’ve decided to keep that when you’ve sold off other things in order to concentrate on your Methode Cap Classique wines. But Gorgeous is not Methode Cap Classique, it’s just a gorgeous drink.
PF: It is truly, it is so. Once we’ve taken the decision, which is now 18 months ago when we finally got to our senses that bubbly is our future. We had to start changing the planting programme, especially in Robertson. Where we had to, obviously take out our existing vineyards that were going to distill wine operation and slowly changing them to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well.
We also realise, and a lot of emphasis goes into the efforts we do in our vineyards, that as soon as a vine is ready to give you its first fruit, which is normally in year three, it’s quite watery. It hasn’t really got the character we’re looking for. Just to use young vineyards into something that we’ve built up over 25 years, it was just going to be a dilution factor.
The birth of Gorgeous was developed out of our young vines, so Gorgeous will remain with our Cap Classique portfolio. For the vineyards three, four and five years old, will always make up Gorgeous and then at the same time in year six, those vineyards are mature enough to support our Cap Classique programme.
JCW: Are we going to get a Gorgeous Cap Classique?
PF: I think you have put your nose right on the ground, we are experimenting with something like that, there’s a big movement towards sparkling wines per se and we will definitely, we are busy with Gorgeous in the sparkling way. If we can wait as long as Valentine’s next year, you might say Gorgeous growing up to be a bubble.
Graham Beck’s influence on Gorgeous
JCW: You’d be mad if you didn’t, to be quite honest with you and also, who thought up Gorgeous, the title itself?
PF: Again, Graham Beck was such a character and he always mentioned that anything he thought was attractive or he liked was gorgeous. Whether it was a beautiful young lady or a fine drink or something like that, he said: Oh God, that’s gorgeous.
JCW: And therefore Gorgeous came along.
PF: And therefore Gorgeous is quite apt for the product itself.
JCW: You’ll be pleased or totally indifferent, I don’t know which, but Gorgeous is going to be one of the Rosé wines I suggest you put into a rock pool during your Christmas holidays.
PF: Wow, that’s amazing, that’s fantastic, you know, I think the beautiful thing about Gorgeous which a lot of people don’t see because all of a sudden there’s a lot of this Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gorgeous type of wines in the market. The beautiful thing about the Graham Beck Gorgeous is that it’s only 11% alcohol, so the more you have for the rock pool, the better.
JCW: Indeed and I like the Arniston rock pools, so that goes quite well.
PF: We’ll make sure there’s enough in Arniston for you.
JCW: I’m sure. Join us again for another episode of Old Mutual Live Wine edition. On mobile, on digital, on demand.