I think we need to look at our own definition of regionalism in a new world context rather than that of a European, specifically French, perspective. The New World, particularly South Africa, does not have specific wine growing regions in so far as recognised cultivars – namely, everybody grows a bit of everything. With this in mind, we do not have the same regionalism in our food. I believe it is paramount for there to be more interaction between the winemaker and the chef.
Too often the people marketing the wines, are the ones communicating with the various establishments to organise food and wine occasions. So in my mind, the person who is making the wine should be talking to the person who is making the food. Terrior, climactic conditions, sugars, acids and fermentation are all part of the alchemy that both the chef and the winemaker use in changing their nurtured ingredients into forms that far surpass the natural origins. Thus, the process is a far more passionate and in-depth one, creating a wining and dining experience that lifts both mediums to another plain.
The process of blending has parallels in both fields: deciding what ingredients to add and when to add them, tweaking finishes, and turning the mundane into the exceptional. Simply using the generic combinations of old needs a little more investigation. For example, when combining food with Sauvignon Blanc, are you using wine from the blistering hot Franschhoek valley or from the cooler Constantia regions – or even, from the chalky wet climes of Walker Bay?
The winemakers carry an understanding of this knowledge, as do the chefs who will tell you at great length the difference between lamb that feeds on the bush shrubs of the Karoo and lamb that grazes in the lush green highlands of Kwa-Zulu Natal. So we probably need more involvement than our European counterparts whose job is made easier by their own form of regionalism.
I think our agricultural base is larger than that of Europe and we have less obvious regional ingredients. Asparagus, for example, the best asparagus in South Africa, comes from the Free State, about 900km from the nearest block of Sauvignon Blanc. In Franschhoek, for example, there is not a great deal farmed outside of grapes, citrus and deciduous fruit, but because of the expanse of farming throughout the Boland, we do not have much regional defining produce, as with our wine making – we grow a little of everything.
From a tourism perspective, the winemaker’s relationship with the chef is of utmost importance in promoting our New World brand of regionalism. Tourists come to areas like Franschhoek to drink Franschhoek wines; in the valley, there are also a number of top restaurants in the country. So the opportunity to spread the word as it were, is enormous. The value of gastronomy tourism can therefore not be underestimated in its capacity to sell and promote a region if you will, and its food and wine.