Not only is South Africa tops in the Tri Nations rugby ranking, it’s also the reigning champion in the lesser known, yet no less prestigious, Tri Nations wine challenge.
The annual Tri Nations rugby tournament, contested by South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, draws millions of sports-mad fans each year. The same three nations vie for the Tri Nations wine challenge, which this year took place in Sydney, Australia, in September.
In 2009 the Springboks outshone all opposition on the field, while a Shiraz from Haskell Vineyards in Stellenbosch snatched the sought-after Four Seasons Hotel Trophy for the best wine of the show – right from under the noses of 321 of its southern hemisphere rivals.
Haskell Pillars Syrah 2007 also took the award for the best Shiraz on show, as well as the best red, which is not surprising given South Africa's long-standing reputation as a producer of world-quality wines.
Haskell GM and winemaker Rianie Strydom was ecstatic. Invitation to the competition is by invitation only, and she was honoured just to have been able to participate.
"I am proud that our wine performed so well internationally. This is not only an award for Haskell Vineyards, but for South Africa,” she enthused. “It shows that our wines have come of age.”
Strydom, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture, with viticulture and oenology as majors, added that she was thrilled to have beaten Australia's top winemakers on their own turf. She joined Haskell in 2004 after a 10-year tenure as winemaker with the award-winning Morgenhof estate.
Other South African wine estates that shone on the night include Kleine Zalze, which took the trophy for best Cabernet, and Doolhof, which was the runner-up. All in all, local wines brought home an impressive 19 gold medals – South Africa's best result at the competition so far.
Among the medallists were Pongracz, Cape Chamonix, Nederburg, Constantia Glen, Neethlingshof, Rustenberg, Fleur du Cap, Lomond, Kaapzicht, Beaumont, Kanu, Springfontein, Laibach, Neil Ellis, Boekenhoutskloof, and Anthonij Rupert.
Setting the standard
This is not the first time that a South African wine has walked off with the big prize. Warwick Wine Estate claimed the same honour when it won the Tri Nations challenge in 1999 for its 1998 Warwick Chardonnay.
But Haskell Pillars Syrah 2007 has set a new standard by becoming the first local wine to be named best red as well.
The Haskell range of wines will hit the stores in November 2009, giving the young Haskell Vineyards the best start they could have wished for.
The Tri Nations wine competition was established in 1995. This year's edition, the 14th, saw only the best wines from the three countries – each wine therefore a potential winner – facing off.
Wines compete in 13 classes, with between 20 and 30 wines in each class, and are blind-tasted by the judging panel, which comprises one judge from each participating country.
Once all the entrants have been tasted the 13 category winners are judged again for best red, best white, and best wine on show. The top 13 wines each receive a trophy, and the three best wines overall receive a perpetual trophy.
South Africa's 2009 representative was the experienced wine consultant and international judge Michael Fridjhon, who has been a Tri Nations judge from the start and this year chaired the panel. Australia was represented by professional wine writer Huon Hooke, while wine master Bob Campbell represented New Zealand.
Haskell Vineyards is situated on the slopes of the Helderberg mountains in the premium wine-growing region of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape province.
The 23ha farm, which sits next to the famous Rust en Vrede winery, was known as Dombeya (Latin, meaning “wild pear” in reference to a tree that grows freely in the region) until American entrepreneur Preston Haskell bought it in 2002. Haskell, who lives in Moscow, is one of Russia's top property developers.
The American soon brought Australian Grant Dodd on board as his business partner and the two wasted no time in making a number of improvements, among them a brand new state-of-the-art cellar that can process 150 tons of grapes.
According to Haskell, his goal is to produce 10 000 cases in total of Haskell and Dombeya wines over the next few years.
With 15ha of vines, the estate still produces Dombeya wines and has garnered a number of awards for them, but will soon launch its own brand. Haskell Pillars Shiraz 2007 is the first product of that label and already seems destined for greatness.