International Chenin Congress Ignites Multi-Level Collaboration Between France and South Africa

Stellenbosch is exchanging best practice in wine tourism marketing with Angers, in the Loire Valley, France. The sharing of market positioning and destination marketing strategies between the two high-profile wine centres, could add significant impetus to local wine tourism, said Ina Smith of the Chenin Blanc Association of South Africa. “We hope to see more French tourists visit Stellenbosch and other parts of the Cape Winelands and more South Africans visit the Loire Valley.”

The Chenin Blanc Association was recently the joint host of the second edition of the International Chenin Blanc Congress in Stellenbosch, held in close association with the Académie du Chenin, Destination Angers, and the City of Angers. The multidisciplinary event in November drew some 230 delegates South Africa, France, as well as from Germany, the UK, the US, and Australia.

At the time of the congress, Stellenbosch Mayor Gesie van Deventer, CEO of Visit Stellenbosch, Jeanneret Momberg, Mathilde Favre D’Anne deputy mayor and Valérie Mathieu-Fichot director of Angers CVB at Destination Angers met to discuss how to encourage wine tourism between South African wine destinations and Angers and the Loire Valley.

Ina Smith said this was just one significant outcome from the congress. Others included advances in genome, clonal and marketing research all intended to raise the profile and reputation of Chenin blanc.

The grape has become a source of growing interest to winegrowers, winemakers, and consumers all over the world, particularly over the past decade. Thanks to its climate resilience, adaptability, and versatility, it can produce wines of excellence and longevity, that are increasingly sought after by taste makers, collectors and connoisseurs.

Evelyne de Pontbriand, president of Académie du Chenin, was delighted by the “international dimension” of the three-day event that, she said, had successfully linked scientists and opinion leaders from around the world.

She praised the “excellent level of research presented this year on clones, climate, rootstock, water and canopy management, conservation, and the high level of knowledge exchange amongst the specialists presenting, and the delegates.”

Amongst the international speakers were Philippe Porché, known as the Grand Ambassador of the grape in the Loire Valley, who represents advocacy group #FANDECHENIN, and Ina Smith, who for several years has been the power behind the highly successful international #Drinkchenin drive.

They and their colleagues plan to collaborate on digital campaigns, comparative French/South African Chenin tastings in the UK and North America, on sommelier programmes and on various marketing projects to build the grape’s global visibility and stature.

Prof Johan Burger of Stellenbosch University’s department of genetics and a renowned grapevine virologist, who served as chairman of the scientific committee for the 2022 congress: said: “At the debut congress in 2019 in Angers, South Africa and France established a partnership to embark on the full genome sequencing of the Chenin Blanc grape. This important work continues, along with research specifically to advance our understanding of genetic level disease resilience and climatic adaptability of the grape.

“Surviving old Chenin vines at the Cape are providing important clues in this respect. We are working with colleagues at Interloire, the official inter-professional body for the Loire Valley wines. The outcomes of our research will help growers not just in France and South Africa, but all over, to optimally site and manage their vineyards in the face of climate change.”

Burger also spoke of the impact of the exciting multidisciplinary research in the neuroscience of taste by Dr Gabriel Lepousez, whose work “perfectly links to the current popular topic of umami in wine and food pairing and the role of umami in contributing to a positive experience associated with wellbeing.”

The event also included a Chenins of the World tasting, with examples from South Africa, France, Germany, Chile, and India. Commenting on the tasting, wine critic and journalist Malu Lambert said: “It was illuminating to see how Chenin was a revealer of place for regions across the globe. As I tasted through the appellations of the Loire, the acidities, sugar and fruit carved and morphed following the changing geography.”

In South Africa, Chenin had become “the flag bearer for the country’s contemporary fine wine renaissance and the lifeblood pumping through the country’s wine culture.”

She discovered a “mouth-watering and rapier-like acidity in a wine from the Margaret River, Australia and a “spiced and yellow-fruited” Indian Chenin, adding that “the comparative tasting showed in myriad ways how terroir is not just sprung from soil, but also from people and their stories: and how Chenin with its diversity of expression can weave the sum of the whole together”.

At the close of the congress, several South African wine personalities, including viticulturist Rosa Kruger, were inducted into the Confrérie des Chevaliers de la Chantepleure. Other South Africans, as well as plant biologist and wine writer Jamie Goode (UK) and two Australian wine makers, were inducted into the confrerie des Saccavins D’Anjou. Both fraternities are ancient international organisations and highlight the close ties being established by the global Chenin community.

The third edition of the International Chenin Blanc Congress will be held from July 3 to 5, 2024, in Angers. A large South African contingent of wine makers, wine tourism specialists, sommeliers and researchers is expected to attend.

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