25 January 2010

Coffee Pinotage and Bertus (Starbucks) Fourie

The following article by Nikki Lordan comes courtesy of WINE.CO.ZA

It happens quite often that uniquely handcrafted wines are overlooked in the chase for best value, yet quality wines. While the coffee-styled Pinotage is handcrafted by impressive scientific measures, the question remains - how unique is it?

Bertus Fourie aka Starbucks Fourie (which makes him sound a little bit like a movie star) is the MD of Val de Vie Wines and creator of the infamous coffee-styled Pinotage, particularly invented to "demystify" wine, making it more accessible to the people. Fourie's coffee Pinotage career, of which the 'recipe' lies in a specific type of oak and toasting combined with specific yeast, took off at Diemersfontein and has since left a trail of coffee beans at KWV causing much controversy and tons of cash. Currently employed in a "purely management capacity", Fourie is in charge of the Barista Pinotage while his brother, Martin Fourie, is the official winemaker of Val de Vie Wines. Despite lots of criticism from the industry, the reaction by the public has so far been extremely positive not only in South Africa but also countries such as Singapore, the UK, USA and Canada.

It is generally believed that Fourie "practically invented this style of Pinotage", but apart from using Pinotage, this method isn't so new Down Under. Although not with Pinotage, Australian wine company Wolf Blass already "exhibited some of these characters back in the late 70s," says senior wine judge and KWV consultant, Ian McKenzie. Although the focus has never been on these coffee-like characters, he continues, they "have always been recognized and described as barrel ferment artefact and have been utilized to varying degrees by different winemakers as a complexing agent". McKenzie has been working as a consultant to KWV since 2005. According to Prof Sakkie Pretorius of the Wine Research Institute in Australia, even though one can not "rule out the possibility of another (yet to be discovered) Pinotage-specific compound which is driving those coffee characters" it is more likely that those "characters are not exclusively associated with varietal Pinotage wines" and can in fact be used with any varietal.

"We have found these coffee-like characteristics can be achieved in almost any red wine," McKenzie further explained, "provided the grapes are fully mature with ripe sweet fruit characters and importantly, ripe tannins". Yellowtail and Little Penguin are among a couple of currently available Australian brands that have "similar but not as pronounced characters" in many different varieties including Shiraz. The basis of Fourie's research however, was not done "on the enhanced coffee aromas, but the effect thereof on Pinotage due to the aromatic profile of this variety". Yes it can be done with any varietal, he explains over a cup of (real) coffee, but "not nearly the same result is achieved as with Pinotage".

Although he has caused much controversy (albeit not on purpose), he remains a firm believer in the success of the Pinotage grape and believes that Pinotage handled correctly in the cellar and the vineyard "can produce a world class wine" - even without the added coffee aromas. Though widely criticised, the 2009 Barista does show lots of fruit, soft tannins and a delicate yet very much recognisable hint of coffee and mocha - indeed, a very drinkable wine. Fourie, however, is "slightly disappointed in the 2009", for which he wished even "more coffee intensity" and scores the KWV Café Culture the highest point of the three - a wine described by Tim James as "squishy". Proving there is no such thing as bad publicity, the Diemersfontein 2008, KWV Café Culture 2009 and Barista Coffee Pinotage 2009 were voted top of the polls (in that order) during the Cape Town RMB WineX - popular wine show organised by Michael Fridjhon. The KWV Café Culture, sweet and sticky with overwhelming flavours of coffee and chocolate, seems to be the characteristics most non-lovers of wine prefer when drinking wine. However, Fourie is quick to assure that the Coffee Pinotage was not created in an attempt to camouflage the varietal characteristics but purely a decision of "supply and demand" thereby giving the consumers what they want.

Pinotage Association vice-chairman and acclaimed winemaker De Wet Viljoen believes the key to any successful Pinotage lies in knowing that winemakers "work with a living thing (the vineyard) where there is no fixed recipe and the starting point is never the same". He prefers a Pinotage of which the primary fruit is not completely overwhelmed and feels the most important part of winemaking is to "recognise and stick to the varietal characteristics" of the grape.

Pinotage certainly isn't a crude grape that makes for unbalanced and unsophisticated wines but merely asks for refinement; finding the elegance and the sophistication in the grape as proven by Abrie Beeslaar, Beyers Truter, Neil Ellis, Danie Steytler and Johan Malan. Almost like moving along the edge of a steel-point knife, every winemaker has "to strive for balance" - an important point that relates to any other varietal. McKenzie feels the level of the coffee-like characters found in Bertus's versions and the KWV Café Culture would in Australia "in all probability be regarded as overoaked".

The truth is veteran winemakers have seen many vintages of Pinotage (and other varieties) make their way through the cellar and have by now recognised what they call "concept wines". The danger comes, De Wet explains, when critics and people start to "place Pinotage in a box", associating it with one particular style. "Different styles come and go but some things are timeless and will never change."

Timeless or not, people seem to love a good trend and Bertus Fourie is most certainly enjoying the ride on this wave of success.


  1. Anonymous08:57

    Hi Bertus, just want to congratulate you on the lovely wines - first tasted it at Diemersfontein, then at KWV and when friends of ours opened a few bottles of Barista we just knew that we would never buy anything else!!! Thanks for satisfying our tastebuds! Very well done. Donald and Suki Sweeney.

  2. Anonymous23:57

    Critics and pundits we can do without. Only they listen to themselves and others of the same ilk. The majority of wine drinkers (including the street people and the cheapest sherry possible) buy a certain branded bottle of wine because they like it...Is it all that complicated...no nosing, no spitting, just savour !!
    Imyself was always a fan of Merlot and Malbec because i did not like the tanin in (what was the name of that stuff) oh yeah cabernet something or other. I cannot afford the so called expensive stuff so why should I hoard a bottle of the stuff in a drawer for 40 years. By the way I am now 75 so wont make it anyway.
    KWV CAFE is the tastiest wine that ever I have consumed....ERGO I shall continue to buy it !!!