How a barefoot banker got Dan Nicholl to start a wine show
This is my unemployed friend Michael...
At a quick glance, you’d be forgiven for completely misplacing him. The well-worn shirt, casual sprinkling of stubble (which is not, as you’ll learn over time, quite so casual), the quiet resistance to wearing shoes. It’s the look of a struggling artist, perhaps, or a member of an aging Mumford & Sons cover band, or a novelist still looking for that big literary break. Except my friend Michael is none of the above: he’s a happily retired banker, a serial start-up investor, and the owner of a particularly nice wine estate in a particularly nice corner of Stellenbosch. Oh, and he’s also the man who bullied me into starting Dan Really Likes Wine.
The Michael in question, of course, is Jordaan, and in the time it’s taken you to read this far, he’s probably launched half a dozen new start-up investments to add to a portfolio that includes everything from bespoke chocolate to 5G internet to an online bank. His wine estate, Bartinney, extends to a wine bar of the same name in Stellenbosch, which is this week’s place of choice – but first, the story of how the barefoot banker got me to add a weekly wine show to my filming resume.
One of the highlights of my year is the Absa Cape Epic, my good friend Kevin Vermaak’s staggering success of a mountain bike race that – I like to think – exists solely as a pretext for me to visit some of the country’s coolest (and more remote) wine farms. When my commentary duties are done for the day, and before my evening commitments begin, I have a few hours to visit estates, taste moderately, and buy excessively, ending the race with dozens of cases of wine packed into the back of the X5 that BMW kindly loan me for my oenological adventure. And a month or so later, I host Dan’s Epic Wine Tasting with Kevin and his team, sampling some of the wine I’ve collected, and sharing stories of the people and places I’ve visited.
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In 2016, the tasting took place at the Epic’s offices in Cape Town, and Michael Jordaan happened to be on the guest list, that year’s race having travelled through a corner of his wine farm. Towards the end of the evening Michael cornered me, showed me a clip of an American making home videos of wine for YouTube (with over a million diligent followers), and demanded I start doing something similar in South Africa.
It was flattering, certainly, but I put it down to the enthusiasm of a couple of bottles of lightly wooded Chardonnay, and no more. But the next day Michael ‘phoned me, and the day after that, urging me to consider it – and a month or so later, after researching Michael’s American (Gary Vaynerchuk, if you hadn’t already guessed), the first episode of Dan Really Likes Wine kicked off, filmed in my cellar by Stephanus Rabie, celebrated director and wine anorak, and distributed into the digital ether.
Since then, Michael and I have had regular board meetings, which consist of lunches and dinners centered round assorted vintages; now and then, Michael’s wife Rose joins us, adding elegance and glamour to the occasion, and comfortably doubling the amount of wine consumed. My fellow Dan Really Likes Wine director is a fascinating person to spend time with, and we’ve spent time at some memorable spots – Guardian Peak, where food, wine and view offer equal allure; Tokara, where we caught one of Richard Cartsens’ final meals; The Fat Butcher, home to some of the Boland’s finer steaks; Bartinney itself, and its splendid views of the Banhoek valley.
But it’s Bartinney the wine bar that gets this week’s nod. A sidewalk table with a bottle of the estate’s Chardonnay on a sunny Friday afternoon is an ideal way to end a week, and while it’s not a regular occurrence when you live in Johannesburg, it’s a pilgrimage I do my best to work in to my Winelands visits. Some excellent wine, the buzz of a student town, a nice little tapas menu, and the company of a man quite happy to be mistaken for an artist or an aging rocker – Bartinney’s definitely a place I like to drink wine.
This week I’m drinking: Summer suggests Sauvignon Blanc under blue skies, Rosé with handfuls of ice, the happy fizz of bubbles. But a Johannesburg Summer tends to a moody affair, morning sunshine all too often dispersed by angry clouds and violent thunderstorms, and frequently a comforting bottle of red is required to offer refuge from the evening Armageddon. And so to Ernie Els’s Big Easy red: not the most acclaimed of his wines, and so all the more reason to look out for it. The more celebrated Signature is a magnificent tribute to both winemaker Louis Strydom’s skill, and Ernie’s own fondness for the Bordeaux blend, but you’re probably headed north of R750 for a bottle; the Big Easy is closer to R160, and is as big and easy as the name suggests. Shiraz-led, full of fruit, and borne of some of South Africa’s finest red wine terroir, it’s perfect midweek comfort in the throws of a Highveld tempest.
Keen to try it? You might get it in a case of your Food24 Wine Club delivery!