After The Clouds – Our First Foray into Wine-making

Sitting in a pizzeria in Franschhoek with two unlabelled bottles of loosely-corked wine in front of us, I pitched my idea for what we should call our new blends. We had just spent the morning in the Dam House at Boutinot’s Wildeberg winery, tasting and spitting and blending and discussing a whole host of tank samples (that is, unfiltered, unbottled wines).

We had come out to the Cape, four of us from Peach (David, Sharon, Terri & me) with Michael & Jack from our long-term suppliers and wine-makers Boutinot, to see if we could successfully blend a white wine and a red good enough to serve as one of our house pours. It is one of our ingrained values that we always serve the good stuff in our pubs, so we relentlessly strive to make sure that our everyday wines are the best possible quality for the price.

None of us had ever tried to make a bespoke wine before, but we had a very clear idea of the kind of thing our guests enjoy. Through the morning we tasted all sorts of varieties, some famous in South Africa, some more international, some decidedly niche. At the end of the first round we agreed that our blends should major on the two grape varieties that most naturally excel in the Cape – Chenin Blanc for the white, Shiraz for the red.

In the second round, winemaker Ryno Booysen from Wildeberg produced his measuring tube, and we started blending two parts this, to one part that, to a dash of the other. I suspect he had thought he would be humouring us, that it was all a bit of a jolly. It very much didn’t turn out that way. We are all passionate about wine – and about what we serve our guests. The debate was positive, detailed and – after three hours – surprisingly consensual.

It helped that the wines were fresh, full of character and great quality. After a few false starts, we took a rich, citrusy Chenin and added a splash of Sauvignon, a dash of Semillon, and a soupçon of an obscure Portuguese grape, Fernão Pires, grown in a small parcel nearby. The additions to the Chenin cut the richness slightly and gave it a lighter, breezy freshness that was simply delicious. For the red, we took a mid-weight Shiraz, added a few per cent Cabernet Sauvignon for a hint of blackcurrant leaf amongst the ripe red fruit, and a dash of a much more intense Shiraz to provide a humming intensity to the bass line.

All tasted out, we decided to take bottles of the final blends out to lunch. If they tasted as good with pizza as they had in the Dam House, we had a result. Reader, they delivered. Now it was time to name them. Bear in mind this was March 2019, and the parliamentary votes and machinations over Brexit were at fever pitch. We intended to launch the wines on 31st October – the day the UK was (then) due to leave the EU. In the circumstances, I felt we needed a name that was positive, uplifting, and a label that was eye-catching and cheerful. I had in my mind’s eye a retro travel poster, showing Table Mountain, and the ocean in the foreground.

And the name? I’d had it up my sleeve all trip, but would the others like it? It’s a strange thing, but our family (my husband’s family, actually) has a motto: After The Clouds Light. It’s a rather reassuring line – it may be dark now, it says, but things will be better soon. It’s the same sort of sentiment as After Work – the Pub. And we all know the heart-lift that brings.

Nervously, I made my pitch. I’ve designed enough pub interiors, names and signage schemes to know that if you have to explain your idea – if people don’t get it – you need to go back to the drawing board. But, luckily, in this case, the idea chimed at once and After The Clouds was born.

Once bottled and shipped, the wines arrived just in time for the new list in October and both shot into our top ten sellers, where they remain. We ordered 8,000 bottles of the Chenin blend and 6,000 bottles of the Shiraz, which seemed ambitious, but if it hadn’t been for lockdown we would have sold through both lots before the new vintage was available. I have just tasted samples of a new selection of blends FedExed from South Africa, and have chosen to stick with exactly the same blends as our first vintage. They’re still just delicious. This time I’ve increased my order to 12,000 of the white. And if you’d told me in April or May this year that I would have the confidence to do that in September I would not have believed you.

You see, it’s true. After The Clouds, Light.