What would Cape vineyards do without foreign cash?

Lifestyle

What would Cape vineyards do without foreign cash?

Without the hard currency and dedication of foreign owners, SA would be in the vinous dark ages

Michael Fridjhon

In the mid 1980s, as the late Hans Schreiber was buying up high-profile viticultural property in Stellenbosch, a serious concern was expressed — in newspaper columns and not just at jukskei competitions — about the sale of heritage sites to foreigners. It was in a time of enforced isolation. PW Botha ruled with an iron fist in a chain-mail glove. Presumably those who were editorialising believed he would simply wave his tungsten-plated arm and foreign investors would be sent on their way with their deutschmarks in their pockets and their tails between their legs.

Their sentiments were hardly original or uniquely South African. When the British Pearson Group acquired Bordeaux First Growth Chateau Latour in 1963, the French establishment tried to persuade the president to block the sale. Charles de Gaulle is said to have responded: “They can’t very well take the soil with them.”

Fast forward a few decades and many of our top wine properties are in foreign hands — and better for it. When Laurence Graff bought Delaire the farm was run down, its few remaining vineyards virus infected, its prospects more fantasy than reality. At much the same time May de Lencquesaing acquired Glenelly in Ida’s Valley. The only reason its vineyards were not virused was because they did not exist. Like Graff she had to look past the decaying infrastructure and swamp (“wetland” is how an estate agent might have described it) at the entrance to the property. Both are now world-class establishments producing impressive arrays of wines...

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