I was lucky enough to sit down with the pre-eminent authority on boutique South African wineries, Cezanne Kouta, at his relaxed store “1813” in Fourways, Johannesburg.
Cezanne splits his time between the U.S. and his country of birth, South Africa. After completing an MBA in Los Angeles, Cezanne decided he wanted to work with his passion for hunting down the finest Cape wines you’ve never heard of and bringing them to the attention of wine lovers. Cezanne was tired of seeing major brand names exploiting their choke-hold on wine enthusiasts. He knows firsthand that the most incredible South African wines are hidden jewels made on a small scale by winemakers who aren’t concerned with profits and marketing. They live to create wines that require personal attention, love, and passion.
“Wine is art,” says Cezanne with unshakeable confidence. “Put 10 people down with a good wine and you will get 10 different reactions. Put 10 people in front of a Picasso and you’ll have the same reaction. It’s personal; what works for one person may be a big ‘no’ for another.”
Cezanne isn’t impressed with the stuffy and pretentious approach the traditional wine authorities take. “They’re telling us there are ‘hints of loganberry’ in a wine. In South Africa, we’ve never tasted a loganberry! People need to be free to find what they love about a wine, not to be told what to look for!”
Cezanne’s shop has a relaxed feel, and he encourages visitors to focus on what they enjoy rather than price and prestige.
Cezanne has stories about all the wines he markets. Hands up if anyone has heard of Marianne. This wine, which is the secret lovechild of a prestigious French winemaker, was served by Queen Elizabeth II to the father of the South African nation, Nelson Mandela, during a state banquet at Buckingham Palace.
He has an infectious energy and a knowledge which can only be acquired through hands-on experience. He is dismayed that a lot of South African wine dumped on the American market is less than amazing while the truly great wines remain out of sight and out of reach. If Cezanne has his way, that sad situation is about to change.