A fantasy . . .
When I took over Dorsfontein I didn’t know much about wine, and even less about farming. But I knew a bit about people and economics . . .
Dorsfontein produced some highly rated wines, but like many South African wine farms it barely made a profit. I decided to do some research and thinking before making any changes. This involved reading widely and touring a lot of wine farms posing as a tourist, tasting wines, and listening to the detailed descriptions of wines given by tasting staff.
After careful consideration, and some impressive hangovers, I began to suspect that the whole industry was based on bullshit. Could wine really be toasty, oaky, round, supple, minty, flinty, minerally, and fruit-forward (as opposed to fruit backward)? Are there really “flavour notes that capture the soul of the soil” or flavours that “start out gently and proceed to embrace with a stronger grip?”
Were there really people who believed they could detect rich blackberry and mocha flavours framed by generously rounded tannins and spiciness? Or dense, rich black-fruited flavours, white pepper and spice laced with dark chocolate and fynbos? (What the hell does fynbos taste like? Who goes around nibbling on the 9000 different species of the stuff?)
But a lot of wealthy people were clearly impressed by this crap. And were prepared to pay big bucks for bottles of stuff with ridiculously flowery descriptions.
One hung-over morning I had a revolutionary thought: If people were prepared to pay for crap I’d give them crap. (This is our little secret – if word gets out I’m sunk!)
So I made some changes in the way we did things at Dorsfontein. I took our cheapest red and white wine, and got top copyrighters and graphic designers to come up with fancy upmarket names and label designs and charged R2000 per bottle. But I continued to sell these wines under their old “easy-drinking” labels, giving me two bites at the same mocha-flavoured cherry.
Poets were hired to come up with suitable descriptions and tasting notes for the overpriced plonk. (You’d be surprised how much bullshit a poet can write if you dangle enough money in front of him.)
And because I do not shirk tough assignments, I took it upon myself to recruit sexy Russian girls to act as wine tasting hostesses for the wealthy East-European clientele that I intended luring to our luxurious wine-tasting centre. I did this by going to venues such as Mavericks and Teazers and sitting drinking quietly with a handsome friend while a succession of beauties came up to us and did their best to talk us into paying for private table dances and lap dances. This was much cheaper and more fun than paying for recruitment ads in the media. It enabled us to suss out the ones who looked good, spoke well, and were good sales people.
It wasn’t too difficult to recruit a good crew. Let’s face it, hanging upside down and sliding down a pole with your tits swinging free isn’t as much fun as it sounds. Not when you have to do it several times a night, six days a week, and only get paid when pissed punters pay for private dances.
I got the Russians to come rolling in by inviting Russian-speaking tour guides to a meeting and asking their advice on such things as a suitable commission structure. It wasn’t long after we’d come to a mutually lucrative arrangement that groups of coarse-featured men wearing gold jewellery started arriving at the farm.
I felt no pain about them paying over the top for crap wine. They were only going to take it home, brag about how much they’d paid for it, then drink it mixed with Coca-Cola.
I also let it be known that I wasn’t a fan of the polite sniff, sip and spit method of wine tasting. I told my staff that this approach was okay for expert wine tasters who had to taste a hundred or more wines a day. But for the ordinary Joe, the full flavour of wine could not be appreciated unless some of it slid down his throat.
Needless to say, our wine tasting room was the site of many a merry unplanned party.
Sales boomed. Let’s face it, when you have abundant wine, pretty girls and men with money, as sure as hell several times a day somebody is going to show that he is not shy to spend a wad of that money.