Inside Bruce Fordyce’s wine cellar
08 January 2016
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Jenny Crwys–Williams : I’m in Bruce Fordyce’s cellar and once upon a time I know that you had gazilliions and gazillions of bottles, specifically of red wine, wasn’t it?
Bruce Fordyce: You’re right Jenny, I’m afraid I squirreled them away, just like a squirrel. There were too many of them, dozens and dozens of them.
JCW: Well, there’s one bottle here that you showed me a short while ago that Hannes Myburgh of Meerlust gave you and it’s somewhere down here. In fact, it doesn’t even have a label because it’s one of his early Chardonnay’s.
BF: It’s a Chardonnay that he gave me and it’s got –
JCW: It’s here, it’s right here.
BF: And it just says, let’s have a look, it just says it’s a Meerlust Chardonnay and it just says ‘Enjoy Bruce.’
JCW: But we’ve just noticed –
BF: We can notice that at the top, that it’s leaking, so that’ll also be gone, but that’ll I’ll keep just because of the label. Hannes is a mate of mine, so got to have a bottle of his somewhere. I’ve got a couple of Meerlust, but boy, they’re expensive now.
JCW: They are, because they’re collector’s pieces. What was your thinking when you collected that wine? Because you became mates, didn’t you, with a lot of the estate owners, the winemakers?
Developing a relationship with the winemakers
BF: I started in about the mid 80’s because a friend of mine who I ran with, Tony Drury, he worked at a bottle store. He was the wine expert. So he used to organise trips for us. When we went down, a group of us to run the Peninsula Marathon or the Two Oceans Marathon.
We would stay a few more – I don’t know where it is, but I’ll find it here somewhere – there’s a picture of me having an Indian arm wrestle with Jan Boland. For anyone who knows, I weighed 55kg then and with his no shoes. So for instance that one we landed up going to, Vriesenhof was his estate in those days. Then he had a braai and he’s the only man that I’ve known who can turn the steak and the boerewors on the braai with his bare fingers.
JCW: Over the years, Chardonnay, he didn’t start making Chardonnay for years and years. But he would do a barrel for himself wouldn’t he?
BF: That’s exactly it, so he obviously gave me one of those bottles and actually he was very generous in another way. Because I come from the era of road running when there was no prize money, so prize money is quite a bitter subject for those of us now. The winners this year will walk away with close to a million rand – so I’m not bitter!
BF: If you break the record you get another one and a half million. I had a benefit years and I had wonderful support from people. We did it at Sun City and we ran indoor mile races between the tables and somebody bid for it, but it was wonderful.
JCW: He’s still making absolutely outstanding wines. I’ve also fallen in love with all of those estates on Helshoogte, for instance.
BF: Yes, there’s Warrick Normarack, I’ve stayed at her place –
JCW: Warrick isn’t on Helshoogte –
BF: Sorry –
JCW: It’s Takara.
BF: Takara and also Thelema.
JCW: There’s Neil Ellis at the bottom. Then there’s Thelema and opposite Thelema there used to be the Platter’s.
BF: Delair wasn’t it?
JCW: Yes, it was.
BF: So also Thelema, the Webb’s, every single Two Oceans weekend, Easter weekend. So we’d run the race and sometimes their son runs. Sometimes a few of us, we all gather at the Webb’s, beautiful place underneath the mountain there on the Sunday. We’d have an Italian lunch, if you know what I mean. There’s chaos, a long table with food tumbling off and every single wine you could possibly imagine.
Normally the Brown’s who own Hartenberg arrive. So we’ll have them there as well and later on people start playing bulls. Because we’ve had cricket there. Then much, much later on David Chamberlain and I start singing opera, we start doing the Mercado or something like that when we’re in the mood.
JCW: I can do, what is it, Three Little Girls from School are we –
BF: Three Little Maids.
JCW: Three Little Maids from School are we –
BF: That’s from the Mercado.
JCW: What can you do?
BF: I can do I Am a Very Model of a Modern Major General. There are quite a few of them. He is an English man, you see. Now I haven’t got any wine in me, so I’ll be wooden, but apparently I’m stunning!
JCW: That’s an evening date, maybe at Jazz’s.
BF: That’s always the Sunday after Two Oceans and that starts as a lunch and ends long after the sun has set.
A 1984 Blaauwklippen Cabernet Sauvignon
JCW: It sounds seriously good to me. Some of the other wines that you’ve collected. Because some of them do look very old, there was a Blaauwklippen –
BF: There’s a Blaauwklippen here, wow, it’s still got the dust on, sorry –
JCW: Just look at that Blaauwklippen, Cabernet Sauvignon, 1984.
BF: It’ll be horrible, I mean Blaauwklippen wines are fabulous. But I’m pretty sure, maybe I’d surprise myself. Then I’ve also got some of those independent winemakers Guild. You’re teasing me here, taunting me, because they’re all leaking. But then luckily we do have, that’s Jill my wife, she’s more of the wine collector now. But she collects or buys enough that we can drink.
That’s the whole thing, you’re supposed to walk into the cellar with your son and heir and say “One day son, none of this will be yours’ because there’ll be nothing left. There’s some famous wine expert, one of the top, top guys who when he died they rushed off to his cellar because they said he’s got everything. He’s got all the French, everything, the best. When they got there, there were three bottles and he had timed it perfectly.
JCW: It’s a little bit like the red wines that used to be in the cellar of the Rand Club. I mean apparently there were wines there that people would weep for. I think the Star drank all of them.
BF: I wish I could remember the name of the estate, but my old school mate, I was at school in England. My school mate, Jonathan Malters is a legend in France. The wine expert Parker, Parker is the person who rates the French wines. If he gives anything more than a 90%, it’s instantaneously, the entire stock is bought for the American restaurant business.
He just rates it, he rated my mates and I will try and find out and let you know the name of the estate. He rated my mates wine 100%. I think Jonathan made 600 000 pounds instantly as that came out because he sold his entire, every single bottle.
JCW: Are you telling me you’ve drunk all his wine?
BF: I’ve never had any and we were at the same school together and we’ve stayed in touch. I left and my family came out to South Africa, but we’ve always stayed in touch. So I mean to nail him for a couple of bottles –
A wine cellar ‘room’ with character
JCW: Do it before you die. Some of these wines, I can see they’re venerable, others are much more contemporary. But it’s also a fraction of what you used to have because on the shelves where you’ve got CD’s and things now there used to be wines.
BF: Yes, this is a funny, little poky room we’re standing in. I have no idea what it was, maybe an office or something like that. But I cannot think of anything gloomier than to sit in here and work. So we just instantly turned it into our wine room when we first came here.
In fact, I can see something here Jenny, if I can reach…that’s the top of a box of wine with Hannes. Me and John Burgess, my great mate and I’ve stuck that picture on there. It’s actually, Hannes sent it to me for my birthday, you can see, December 3rd, 1995. That’s the three guys drinking Hannes’s chilled Pinot Noir on a houseboat in Kariba.
JCW: That does not sound bad to me at all.
BF: Yes, that was fabulous and unfortunately we had too much because I still remember, we jumped off the back of that boat, which is not a great idea with the crocs there.
JCW: I was going to say.
BF: But we were right in the middle, but still.
JCW: You do have some very big bottles, what is that? It’s bigger than a Jeroboam?
Bringing out the big guns
BF: I never know, it goes Magnum, Jeroboam, there’s a Methuselah. I’m not too sure, but those are probably Jeroboam’s, I think, I’ve got a few of those and I remember running cause you’re not worried about the price, you just want the stuff, so you pay, down in the Cape they’ll niggle about R5 here –
JCW: I think it was the mouse on the steering wheel, I want it –
BF: A talk at a running club, training advice. I’m now going into a really bad time of the year for me because there’s no training advice I can give for the second half of the year. But from January I do a lot of talks and they’re generally, they can’t pay me a fee because it’s a little running club or whatever. So when I hand them over to Jill and she negotiates. I’ve got a couple of these; this is an Ernie Els and this is a Rupert and Rothschild.
JCW: There’s Wildekrans, now that’s also one of your mates isn’t it?
BF: That’s my mate Gary Harlow who’s recently, well, when I say recently I mean it’s about five years I think. He’s turned that estate around and they’re getting wonderful awards. Wildekrans is doing really well, just near Bot Rivier down there. I’ve stayed there and we had quite a lot of his wine and apparently I had a stunning time.
JCW: And you sang.
BF: And I say, yes.
JCW: If you had to choose a wine here, I can already see this is almost an impossible thing to ask you –
JCW: Because some of them have got cobwebs on them, others are weeping and others are just begging to be drunk.
Bruce likes it Old School
BF: And then there’s the problem that I had more than enough yesterday, so my whole body is rebelling against the thought of having any wine today. But I would always go, I’m old school, I would always go for an old style Cabernet, that’s me, I just love a Cabernet. Maybe a Cabernet Merlot blend, but I’m old school Cabernet.
JCW: So not the Cabernet Franc that are beginning to come in?
BF: No, old Cabernet, even though I failed at the task, cause I left them too long, that you’ve had to leave for five to ten years, one of those.
JCW: You almost have to sift it through your teeth.
BF: That’s me and then with a nice steak or something like that, that’s me.
JCW: Bruce, lovely memories and I’m sure some of the wines, of course, you would have taken to the bush because I know that bird watching is one of your things –
BF: Huge, so we had a group. We haven’t had a trip for quite a while now, but we had a group that we would get. Ian Sinclair, who’s the Sasol Book of Birds to be our guide and our leader. That’s trouble immediately and then we would go, we went to East Africa, to Namibia, to Ethiopia. But with the Brown’s, the Webb’s, the Platter’s, they’re all wine people.
I could just cling to my one little bit of fame, was that in 1991 I wrote the Forward to John Platter’s wine guide, his wonderful book on South African wines. I wrote the Forward and I compared him to a coach that you have, as an athlete. You’ve got a coach who is a sounding board.
But I wrote there that same way that sometimes you know your coach is wrong. Sometimes you know that Platter was wrong because he gives a wine five stars. I can quite happily tell him that it’s piqued and it’s off and it’s no longer for us. But anyway, we got on this whole group and we travelled around and so to sum up one little story which I’ll never forget.
We had a perfect day of birding in Swartkopmund doing all the sea birds and the water birds in Swartkopmund, including a Fallow Rope. So that was really good to get a Fallow Rope and we sort of American Golden Plover, I remember that. So some great birds and then we finished the day with Swartkopmund oysters and Giles Webb’s Thelema Sauvignon Blanc. That was essentially about my high point in my life, after that it’s been downhill, I’ve been on the long, slow –
JCW: Doesn’t it sound wonderful though?
BF: It was kill me now God, basically after that because it’s not going to get any better than this.
JCW: Bruce, thank you very much indeed.
BF: Okay, thank you so much Jenny.