Friday, June 19, 2009

Message from Margaux: blu(e) ladies by Neil Pendock

“The only thing wrong with this wine” laughed Warwick MD Mike Ratcliffe “is we misspelled the name.” But then I can never remember whether its Ratcliff or Ratcliffe. The wine in question was La Femme Bleu, a 1984 vintage 100% Cabernet made by mom Norma whose
25 years making wine at Warwick we were celebrating last Thursday at The Vineyard Hotel in Clairemont. The Vineyard is some way down the road to becoming the wine destination of choice for urban Cape Town. In fact so keen is GM Roy Davies, he expressed an earnest desire to host the Mother City launch of our People’s Guide, out in September. With Lady Anne Barnard’s 18th century vineyard at the bottom of the garden, this is an offer that is hard to refuse.
As an aside, I was surprised to note that LAB was a pioneer of interior design. An Aesthete Laments: “Lady Anne Barnard … and her sister [Lady Margaret Fordyce, later Lady Lamb] broke all the rules when they actually started their own ‘business’ [out of their shared Adam-style house at 21 Berkeley Square, London]. Short of money and with a natural talent for interior decoration, they took to buying or renting houses, doing them up, and letting them furnished for a considerable profit. One or two people had the bravery to see that this was an excellent idea, but others took the view of the lady who complained that ’she wished to God those two very agreeable women would leave off being upholsterers and begin to be women of fashion [again].’”
Norma has always been in the vanguard of wine fashion and the spelling mistake, like printing errors on stamps, makes her wine and its label all the more collectable. Of course if they’d called it La Femme en Bleu, the bleu wouldn’t have needed a trailing “e” as Picasso noted when he painted La Femme en Bleu au Beret a century ago. His great rival Matisse did a Femme Bleue although there’s much more than an “e” difference between the two paintings.
Norma’s first vintage was actually a decade earlier. “In 1974 we copied Rustenberg and made a Cinsault/Cabernet blend. The wine was stunning but we decided to go the Bordeaux route and the 1984 Femme Bleu was aged in 100% new French oak at the exorbitant price of R184 a barrel.” When I asked my neighbour Adi Badenhorst, former winemaker at Rustenberg, what I should re-plant on Lemoenfontein, (my Paardeberg conflict of interest - not!), quick as a flash he answered “Cinsault” - but then the Paardeberg is no Simonsberg. Heck I’ve even been asked to again judge the potjie cook-off between the two bergs alongside my personal hero Annatjie Melck in July.
Colour coded ladies came to mind this morning sitting under a tree in Margaux reading Maiden Voyage (Reader’s Union, 1945) by Denton Welch. Recalling the Shanghai nightclubs of his youth a century ago, he remembered “a middle-aged woman dressed all in green. On the table in front of her stood a glass of crème de menthe and she held a green cigarette between her lips.” He commented on her to his beefy dancing partner, who replied “Isn’t she killing! I’ve seen her here in red velvet, sipping cherry brandy and smoking a rose-coloured cigarette. Tonight she’s all in green. She always has everything to match.” “What does she drink when she wants to go blue?” “I don’t know, unless it’s methylated spirits!”

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