As told by Charles Back…
After completing my studies at Elsenburg and a brief period at Perdeberg wines, I arrived back home at Fairview in 1978. Four years earlier, in 1974, my father, Cyril, had begun releasing wine under the Fairview label for the very first time. Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz were the first wines made under the Fairview label but, when I arrived back, my father had started experimenting with a different kind of wine.
He’d made a Chenin Blanc, fermented on the skins, with little to no additives, whilst also being unfiltered and unstabilized. He’d always spoken about making a skin fermented white wine and during the ‘78 vintage he followed through. The wine was not to be labeled as Fairview but rather dubbed “Charles Gerard” after myself and my brother, Gerard Back. The next step was to have the wine certified by the Wine and Spirits Board but my father, being unfortunately unsure of his experiment, wanted a second opinion. At the time my uncle, Sydney Back, was the owner of Backsberg Wine Estate and had in his employment a technically gifted winemaker. The winemaker took one taste before announcing that the tannic structure was too aggressive for a white wine and that the tannins would have to be refined or removed. As a result of this assessment, the tannins were refined. Upon being presented to the Wine and Spirits Board, the board rejected the wine and refused to certify it. To them, it tasted like very badly made wine!
The funny thing was that the wine had come to attain a bit of a cult following by Fairview’s patrons, despite having been critically slated. Eventually I was tasked with selling the rest of the tank, which I eventually succeeded in doing. In a way, my career at Fairview started out by selling an alternative style wine!
When Robin told me about his experiences in Georgia, this story of my father and his experimental Chenin Blanc immediately came to mind. I think that he was ahead of his time, or at the very least just making wine for the wrong palates. Most South Africans, including my uncle’s technically gifted winemaker and the Wine and Spirits Board, didn’t understand this style of winemaking. Now though, the tables have turned and people are starting to take notice.
During his trip to Georgia, Robin had met John Wurdeman, an American artist, musician, winemaker and co-owner of Pheasant’s Tears Winery in Kakheti, Georgia. John has also played a major role in bringing Georgia and its wines to the attention of the world, leading to a major boost for Georgian tourism. Having been intrigued by Robin’s experience and hearing about John, I decided to contact him. After a brief period of correspondence, it was decided. I was heading to Georgia!