How do you make an icon win in an unfashionable area? Get a wine making legend on board.
| The 4G white wines are amongst the most costly to come out of South Africa.
South Africa makes great deals of red wine, however few are considered fine. Still less would be thought about iconic.
Philipp G Axt and his wife Vanessa are aiming to change that with a job that started when they made the transfer to South Africa and chose to develop their own fine wine. Snappily titled 4G, their wines are a few of South Africa’s most exceptional offerings.
On board is renowned specialist Dr Valérie Lavigne who brings with her the spirit of the late teacher and wine maker Denis Dubourdieu, of Château Doisy-Daëne popularity. 4G has also harnessed the knowledge of Giorgio Dalla Cia, the winemaker behind Meerlust Estate’s Rubicon, among South Africa’s most popular blends.
How did 4G Wines happen?
Philipp: I do not come from the white wine world. I was a company expert by trade, however always white wine enthusiast from university times. The idea came together with 4 good friends, that’s why 4G– all of us had a G in their name– which made us create this brand name and also the name of the wine.
South Africa, at the time, was still pretty much a blank area on the map of fine wines in the world. And we understood there was not a practical reason for it, however just history and how it developed, which it absolutely was worthy of to be there. At that point, we stated: “Yes, let’s do it prior to somebody else comes and does it!”
What’s the vision for 4G White wines?
Philipp: So the vision is to produce a very first growth from the Cape — red wine that stands along with the big names in Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Australia, Tuscany, you name them. If you have a vision, it’s not only on your own but also for the nation and the market surrounding. The capacity is substantial here, and the people are so lovely, on the other hand, there’s still so much hardship and so much to develop and raise.
So our vision is elevating the whole red wine market on a global scale– putting South Africa on the map for fine red wine.
How was 4G initially gotten?
Philipp: In the beginning, it was really difficult and varied. There were individuals who were super fired up, and other individuals who were not delighted at all. But that altered rapidly. Outside of the nation, it starts being recognized, and then it spills back into the nation. So yeah, it’s good.
Vanessa: It’s good. In the start, there was quite a bit of controversy around the reality that someone who’s not South African has come into the country bringing understanding and possibly taking away a piece of the cake. Which is not what we’re doing, since what we’re doing nobody else had actually done. We’re not copying anything or anyone, we’re doing entirely our own thing.
[There was] fear that what our task and what we’re doing will press other individuals aside, but in fact quite a lot of other wineries have actually begun producing more high-end items. We have actually seen a nice development in the last few years– more wineries are pressing more prominent white wines from smaller sized batch production and beginning to pull with the trend, which is truly great to see.
Why is South African wine so badly judged?
Vanessa: It’s regrettable. The majority of the work that we’re doing overseas is really attempting to raise how people see South Africa and South African red wines. The States– they’re one of the worst perpetrators– in the States, the idea of fine red wine coming from South Africa is non-existent.
People believe South African white wine is bulk, cheap plonk, and actually undrinkable. We truly have this missionary concept since as soon as people try the wine, they go: “This is incredible! I would have never understood that this red wine is from South Africa, I would have thought it originates from Napa, or France!”
So this is something that we’re working on, getting more recognition for the country in and of itself, for the incredible terroir it has, and the fantastic white wines that it can produce.
Has the reputation of grapes like Pinotage made it difficult?
Vanessa: I believe it’s a mix of a lot of things, Pinotage unfortunately is one of them.
Philipp: Pinotage does not have a terrific track record but Pinotage certainly has a standing by itself and the right to exist. You have that in other nations as well, take a look at Napa Valley with their Zinfandel– which is also sort of a weird thing but it has it’s own story. Pinotage, it’s simply a small part of production here in South Africa if you look at the ranges.
I believe the origin for that credibility was when the wine market in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s established, improving procedures with huge actions in the entire world– other than South Africa due to the fact that the country was closed due to apartheid.
When South Africa opened in the ’80s and ’90s there was a time lag because advancement. So the very first thing they put out in the global markets was the low-cost and cheerful, simple drinking, well-priced red wines– constantly good quality for the cost but absolutely nothing high level.
| The 4G labels are influenced by regional South African nature and produced by German artist Sebastian Blinde.
Has South African wine become better?
Philipp: Absolutely. If you take a look at price, cost is undoubtedly an indicator for quality– not always– but it’s a beginning point.
So when I started in 2010, our wine was by far the most costly from South Africa, the next one was a third of the cost, and I think there were just 3 wines above 1000 Rand, which is roughly $50. Now, if you go into duty totally free in Johannesburg which has a broad white wine choice from all over South Africa, you have at least 20 or 30 white wines at that level, above $50, $100, even $150.
So there is advancement and it’s not like somebody just increased their rates. It’s all new little batches, primarily from understood producers, some from brand-new manufacturers.
Vanessa: I think Philipp said the best example– the responsibility free stores here in Cape Town and Johannesburg have great deals of medium-priced red wines and the great white wine section of great white wines that you can buy has actually grown from like 2 bottles to now 15 to 20 bottles. You can see from year to year, the portfolio increases.
What’s also actually terrific is the variety within wine making is really beginning to spread and get more diverse. You’re getting more individuals from several ethnic backgrounds in wine making, a lot more female winemakers here in South Africa, which is actually fantastic to see.
What brought you to South Africa?
Philipp: I have been to South Africa the first time in 2001, had buddies there, opted for a red wine tourist. So I understood about it, I knew about capacity.
Then, when we started the 4Gs, among whom was Giorgio Dalla Cia, who was like the white wine expert in South Africa. He had been working for Meerlust for 35 years and was basically retired, he was still searching for a big task to do whatever was difficult in a formal setting which’s what brought us together.
Vanessa: I believe it is very important to point out that we do not originate from 200 years of household winemaking, we don’t have a château that’s already remained in the family for a truly long time. So a job like this, with the little money that we had at the very beginning, would have remained in a place like France not even possible– and it would not have actually been required because there’s numerous unbelievable wineries and white wines because nation already.
The capacity for South Africa was just so terrific, and all the other places basically were currently taken with a big portfolio of great white wines– other than here. So that was one of the factors this was an ideal location to start.
Denis Dubourdieu was hugely crucial to 4G Red wines both as a mentor and a winemaker. Was it hard to carry on with 4G Red wines after he died?
Philipp: It was most likely the most significant best of luck that I had in my whole life, that Denis joined that job, which I actually would never have actually envisioned but somehow I got him …
Vanessa: In a weak moment …
Philipp: A weak and excellent moment, and had the opportunity to really satisfy him in Bordeaux and talk to him and present the task to him, which sparked his interest.
It remained in 2011, so really early for our 2nd vintage. He flew down to South Africa and [it was a] very intense week, checking everything out. In the end he resembled “There’s just one thing I are sorry for– not having actually come here earlier, I’m on board.”
It was like being knighted. If this male thinks in that task and joins it– because he obviously had proposals like that twice a week with his experience of 30-odd years, making wines for some of the big names like Cheval Blanc, Yquem and Margaux. This offered us an instant action up in the quality that we had from second official vintage.
So when he died, clearly it was very awful personal loss since he was not only a dazzling winemaker and scientist however likewise extremely, extremely good, humble, gorgeous person. He has, from the beginning, collaborated with his partner, Dr Valérie Lavigne, they constantly have actually been working together. Valérie, she is dazzling, she is very nice. So, she continued and continues with us flawlessly. She actually did her PhD with him 25 years back and then immediately joined his service and they have actually been working together because. So it was like one brain in two bodies. We also have a remarkable regional team, winemaker and viticulturist, who put their heart and soul into the white wine.
Inform us a bit about the white wines: the G and the Echo of G
Philipp: The difference between the two wines is a barrel de-selection. That implies everything goes through the same procedure throughout the viticulture, the vinification, maturation in the cellar. And then after 15-17 months, when we do the blending, we choose which barrel goes into the G and which barrel goes into the Echo.
Basically, 3 stars [is] G, 2 stars is Echo, one star gets the next-door neighbor– he’s really pleased because he gets the red wine. But that’s the principal.
So from the composition, the design, they are both very similar due to the fact that we are working with Bordeaux plus Syrah as varietals, experimenting with that.
Undoubtedly, the G is more powerful, more complex, more intense red wine, with a higher durability. The more intellectual white wine that can stand on its own, that is for taking pleasure in throughout a whole evening, and clearly for aging. I mean these red wines with experience of Denis– they’re made to last decades.
Echo is the worth for money, or the entry-level product– we often say “this is what we drink for pizza!”
| The Western Cape offers a range of soil types and micro-climates for wine makers to pick from.
Are the red wines more Vintage in design or New World?
Philipp: We are on that very great line between Old and New World. You have very various micro-terroir, microclimates, which are incredibly near to each other. You drive to one spot, it feels like you remain in Australia in the middle of the desert, it’s 35 degrees, baking hot, extreme aromas, the vines are really pushing and going all out. Then you drive half an hour and all of a sudden you seem like you’re in Saint-Émilion. Sea, ice cold sea, you can feel the ocean breezes. Really various soil.
So this intricacy is what we’re playing with and we have about 20-25 various vineyard plots in various locations all over the Western Cape.
So from the stylistic approach, we integrate a Bordeaux-like structure– beauty, foundation of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc with the extreme sun-kissed fruit taste of Syrah in a hot climate.
We do not have a formula, in some cases we have in one vintage, a bit more Cabernet and the next vintage more Syrah– five percent, up and down. Sometimes it feels more like we remain in Napa Valley, and often more Bordeaux– strolling on this great line is really interesting.
It resembles yin and yang, and that works very well together and offers the profile of South Africa as a worldwide fine wine region.
Vanessa: We’re actually rather fortunate here because the environment in South Africa is rather stable in comparison to locations like Napa Valley or France. So we don’t have insane frost overnight, or rains in the summertime. Something can constantly occur like a fire– in dry areas, that’s always a risk– but generally, the climate here is extremely stable.
Where are your markets?
Vanessa: Our core markets, based on our personal connections and where we come from, are Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In South Africa, we’re in a few of the very best restaurants here in Cape Town and we’re beginning to spread our wings. However we can just spread our wings up until now because our production’s actually small.
Our first red wine, we just produce about 5-6000 bottles a year and the second wine, about 10,000 bottles. Our production is tiny, we can’t be everywhere.
Philipp: I believe the United States is still the greatest and crucial market for fine white wine. So that’s our strategically next target. So we’re looking at West Coast. We’re looking at East Coast. Basically, where you find Michelin-star dining establishments is most likely the ideal place for our red wines to be.
Medium-term? Asia. Not the huge Chinese market, however cities like Tokyo, Singapore, Taipei, Seoul. I understand Japan a bit, and I have actually been working there for a year. I think that is likewise very intriguing, I think that can be a very good fan base.
How did Covid affect you?
Vanessa: It was really tough for a while. We had truly stringent lockdowns here in South Africa, which also came with four different alcohol bans. We weren’t permitted to offer any alcohol, anywhere you could get alcohol was closed down. There was a quick ban on the export of liquors in 2015.
Harvest 2020, we didn’t understand if we would be able to finish it due to the fact that, at one point, the government said white wine is not agriculture and everyone needs to stop gathering because we’re having this pandemic, overall shutdown of everything.
A great deal of tasks were lost, a lot of households struggling due to the fact that their companies went out of business. For a lot of people, it meant a great deal of hardship. Individuals needed to resort to taking grapes or white wines that only last for a year and make sanitizer out of it– crazy things like that.
There was definitely no tourism here, and tourism is such a vital part for South Africa. Regrettably, the media is among the culprits that constantly painted South Africa in a really bad light during the pandemic which didn’t assist.
We’re just slowly returning from that, lastly now airplanes are full again. People are coming however the marks of Covid have been made and it’s going to spend some time to come out of that for the white wine market, or any type of market here in South Africa.
A lot of South Africans leave, and yet you did the reverse. How do you feel about South Africa’s future?
Philipp: The turf is constantly greener on the other side. I understand this nation twenty years now and political scenario– all in all– has actually enhanced, everything is entering the right instructions. Clearly, you will constantly have issues. You have violence, you have poverty, you have corruptions, you have choices from government that you do not like– but that’s all over.
I’m really bullish for Africa, Africa as a whole and South Africa. For the next 20– thirty years, people will in the end be amazed what is establishing here.
Vanessa: We really think in South Africa. It’s an incredible country, it’s a country of chance, it’s gorgeous, the people are absolutely fantastic. We stand 100 percent behind South Africa since we know the big capacity that this country has. It can make numerous terrific things occur in the future– however it simply requires time.
To join the conversation, discuss our social networks channels.