Memoirs of Cape Wine Import

Written by: Mia Westby and Isabella Hedemark

17.12.2020

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Photo by: Philip Isrenn

Insight Magazine follows Mia Westby and Carina Elise Godou starting a wine import from scratch during one of the most challenging times in modern history.

Here is part one of their story, with a special wine lesson by the sommelier Isabella Hedemark from Urban Substance.

Most people have a relationship with wine, but some are more complex than others; some consume it mindlessly and some mindfully.

We are no experts when it comes to wine, but we do appreciate the craftsmanship and magic that goes into every bottle and we both live by the mantra that “life is too short to drink bad wine”. 

Carina with the second shipment of Le Lude.

When we discovered the beautiful quality of the South African Cap Classique, we were first a bit puzzled that this wasn’t a well-known fact.

The feeling of Le Lude Brut’s tiny bubbles, the round taste and perfectly balanced sparkling wine, was something we thought was reserved for The Connaught breakfast special and for people with pockets so deep they hit the floor. A sparkling wine so good it could only be surpassed by its sister; Le Lude Brut Rosé.  

After some research, we discovered that Le Lude was indeed the best MCC (Methodé Cap Classique) in South Africa and the only winery that had achieved platinum score at the prestigious Decanter Awards in London. We also discovered that some had already imported it to Norway some time ago. We wondered why we had never seen or tasted it before?  

This was how we learned that establishing an exclusive relationship with the winery and importing it to Norway was just the first of many hoops we had to jump through before our product would be in the actual wine monopoly store, if it ever got there.  

The winery couldn’t even remember having a Norwegian importer and they were eager to see what we could do. How hard could it be? It was just something we had never done before and the previous importer had failed at it! What could go wrong? We knew the product was solid, it was just a matter of getting it out to the people.  

Lesson Number One to Aspiring Wine Importers: It Is Not Easy 

Being just two young women, without big investors or great family wealth to support us, we had to be extra creative. We knew we needed to focus on the best products with great value, take advantage of the volatility in the currency and negotiate down the shipping prices. Our storage had to be built from the ground up, incrementally ordering bigger shipments in line with our liquidity.  

The first shipment of Le Lude was sold out in record time. Our personal network was curious about our new business and wanted to show their support. Among them a supporter and friend, Nina Gade Tenvik, decided to skip the French champagne she usually swore to, and rather serve Le Lude at her birthday party at Hotel Continental.

Le Lude served at Hotel Continental  
Photo: Philip Isrenn 

The wine monopoly must have found the rush of special orders a tad bit odd, but it worked! The bubble consuming efforts of our social network had caught the attention of two of the best wine monopolies in Norway; Sandefjord and Kragerø, and they gave Le Lude a spot in their store shelves. For a small import company, this was huge! And we celebrated with 5 million tiny bubbles. 

Our goal is to make Cap Classique the new Champagne.  

From a social perspective, South Africa has taken a proper blow because of the ongoing pandemic, and the fact that the country had an export ban on alcohol for several months this last spring. Moving forward we hope that people will be mindful when buying wine, supporting the wine areas of the world that need it the most. Rest assured, at Cape Wine Import we do the diligence for the customer and limit our import to wineries who take their social and environmental responsibility seriously.  

What is Méthode Cap Classique?  

Sommelier Isabella Hedemark, founder of  www.urbansubstans.no, explains.  

Photo: Urban Substans, Isabella Hedemark 

Cap Classique is made with the same winemaking process as Champagne, by creating a second fermentation in the bottle. This is when the bubbles are made. It is called the traditional method or méthode champenoise and produces the highest quality sparkling wines in the world.  

Not all sparkling wines are made equally, there are several cheaper ways to get bubbles into the wine (in a tank for instance). Thus, if you’re looking for wines with similar quality to non-vintage Champagne, South Africa’s Cap Classique is a great alternative. Since it’s not from the Champagne region, it is more affordable, and we all love wine with great QPR (quality to price ratio).  

Le Lude is a family-owned winery in Franschhoek, and one of the few South African wine producers who exclusively makes Cap Classique. Grapes are hand-picked early morning during cool temperatures to ensure maximum freshness. The bunches are pressed whole and only the first free-run juice is used to make the base wine. After bottling the second fermentation takes place, when the yeast eats the sugar in the wine converting it to alcohol while creating millions of tiny bubbles. The lees that are left behind give flavour and complexity to the wine. The wine is matured for a minimum of 36 months on the lees, then on the final cork for 6 months after disgorging to ensures balance and integration. Only then is the wine released. 

Le Lude Reserve Brut NV is a classic blend of 91% Chardonnay and 9% Pinot Noir, with only 6 g/l residual sugar. Pale lemon colour with a nose of lemon citrus, yeast, green apple and brioche. On the palate it delivers white grapefruit, apple, minerals and yeast with that lovely, creamy mouthfeel you also find in a fine Champagne. Beautiful freshness and elegance in a stream of tiny, lively bubbles. 

Cap Classique is often a touch fruitier than French bubbles, and pairs excellently with most dishes, or simply to be enjoyed alone. •