The Westport circle of South African expats promote their country’s wines

While many states granted essential business status to liquor stores at the start of the Covid pandemic, South Africa took the opposite approach and banned alcohol sales entirely, believing that this would eliminate social gatherings and prevent people from taking hospital beds with alcohol-related injuries. While it is difficult to determine how much of a role this policy played in increasing the effectiveness of South Africa’s response to the virus, it had an immediate and major negative impact on producers. of alcohol in the country, including its wineries.

Meanwhile, in and around Westport, a group of South African expats were socializing on Zoom. Eugene Havemann, a clothing company executive who had recently moved to the area on business, recalled how idle conversation eventually gave rise to VCLUB, a unique approach to wine distribution.

“We decided at this point to do something for the industry, and it all evolved from there,” Havemann said at a recent tasting held at a member’s private arboretum in Fairfield. “Initially, we were just going to buy a container of wine for ourselves to drink. Then it became “Let’s make a business out of it because we’re all business people in this and doing something more sustainable.”

With backgrounds in a diverse set of industries, they were able to launch feelers that eventually reached Vergelegen, a historic South African vineyard whose Dutch name means “the furthest place”. Originally created in 1700 to supply the merchant ships that criss-crossed the southern tip of Africa, the vineyard is today renowned for its unique terroir. It is also the site of the historic estate that hosted Nelson Mandela’s negotiations to end apartheid.

Vergelegen is now owned by Anglo American plc, an international mining company which also owns the De Beers group of the diamond industry.

“They really like luxury brands,” Havemann explained, “so we pitched our business model to them and they said ‘great’ but unfortunately the current representation of South African wines in America just wasn’t up to par. to what Anglo American wanted to take on the brand. So from that perspective, we then launched VCLUB.”

To give Anglo American an air of exclusivity, the South African community based in Westport designed the VCLUB. Along with a selection of area restaurants and country clubs that offer fine dining options, only VCLUB members can purchase a limited-edition wine selection, including a Brut-style sparkling white that until now has only been offered. only to those who visited the Vergelegen estate in person. .

The VCLUB offers more than the possibility of ordering bottles and cases of wine, it is also a social circle filled with lovers of good wine and company. On April 19, a group of potential new members gathered in a greenhouse belonging to one of the founders, which was dubbed the Arboretum Vergelegen. In the brightly lit space, surrounded by plants, light and empty wine crates, an eclectic assortment of people sampled the wines currently on offer.

Among the guests were a chef, a restaurateur, a famous wine influencer and a TV weatherman among several others. The space was furnished with seating, a selection of light fare that paired well with the wines decanted that evening. Guests received welcome letters and were guided through the tasting of four different wines.

Dylan Germishuys, managing director of UBS during the day, spoke to guests about tasting five wines ranging from $39.90 to $125 a bottle. While he’s good at answering questions about each blend’s flavor profiles and varietal influences, Germishuys said he’s not primarily responsible for convincing anyone to buy a case.

“Once the bottle is opened, it does all the work,” Germishuys said as he prepared for guests to arrive by pouring the reds so they could breathe properly. “You just have to present it in front of someone. In the right situation, in the right setting, who wouldn’t benefit? It sells when you taste it.

The night’s samples included the MMV Brut with a sweet, citrusy, baked apple flavor, a reserve Chardonnay that was noted for its relative dryness and appeal to people who don’t typically appreciate Chardonnay, and the GVB White with flavor notes highlighting tropical fruits like Lychee and passion fruit. The GVB Rouge, on the other hand, reflects the geology of the region with notes of graphite and spices accompanied by berries and cassis.

To highlight how well their limited-run Cabernet Sauvignon, known only as “V”, pairs well with meat due to a complex aroma, Gemishuys prepared a South African-style steak and presented with the proprietary blend.

The VCLUB currently only grants access to purchase Vergelegen wines, but Havemann said everyone involved in the project is very interested in creating a social atmosphere where lovers of good wine can meet and enjoy the wine together.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Havemann said of plans for future gatherings. “Having people around, having a braai [barbecue]and open a bottle of wine.

In the future, he said there are plans to provide members with access to full-size bottles, including magnums of their favorite vintages, and to track their restaurant purchases to reward loyalty. VCLUB members can also expect invitations to golf tournaments and even opportunities to visit the Vergelegen estate with its famous gardens, vineyards and wildlife sanctuaries.

Shirley M. Pinder