Charles Louis Back is the third generation owner of South African wine and cheese producer Fairview, in Paarl in the Western Cape Province. Charles Back studied winemaking at Elsenburg Agricultural College in Stellenbosch. He officially joined his family’s company in 1978 and took over full control in 1995 after the death of his father, Cyril.
Today, Charles Back is known as one of the great entrepreneurs and innovators of the wine world – an individual who likes nothing more to swim against the stream. From the start, he has done things differently, introducing Mediterranean grapes such as Viognier, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Petite Sirah to the Cape. He then expanded the Fairview umbrella to three arterial sub-brands – La Capra, Bloemcool and Goats Do Roam – a brand which went on to become the highest selling South African wine brand in the United States following its introduction in 2000.
- Where did the idea for the name Goats do Roam come from?
- How did the idea for the Goats do Roam blends originate?
- What were the circumstances surrounding the copyright infringement controversy with French authorities?
- Is there a primary goat-in-residence at Fairview Estate?
- Are many of the wines from Fairview Estate exported?
- What has Charles’ experience been with creating high-quality wines with playful branding?
- Were the Goats do Roam labels inspired by the critter craze?
- What types of predators does Charles encounter at his vineyard?
- How did Charles come about the decision to produce goat cheese in addition to wine?
- How do the production process and timeline for goat cheese compare to that of wine?
- Do Fairview wines use any fining agents?
- What impact did Apartheid have on the South African wine industry?
- Why did Charles start Fairvalley and what has been its socio-economic impact?
- What is the significance of Fairtrade certification?
- What is the history behind the Fairview Estate?
- Is more white or red wine produced and consumed in South Africa?
- What are some food pairings that go well with Fairview wines?
- Why are Chenin Blanc and Pinotage so iconic in South Africa?
- What factors go into changing ratios for wine blends each year?
- Does Chenin Blanc benefit from extended ageing?
- What does Grenache do for wine?
- Fairview Estate
- Fairview Cheese Selection
- Connect with Charles
- Fair Valley
- Gus Clemons’ Wine Column
- Unreserved Wine Talk Episode 12: The World’s Best Wines with Forbes Columnist Katie Kelly Bell
- The Goatfather 2015
- Fairview Chenin Blanc 2017
- Goats do Roam 2016
- Goats do Roam White Blend 2017
- Fairview Old Piekenierskloof Bush Vines Grenache 2016
- Fairview Primo Pinotage 2016
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Transcript & Takeaways
Welcome to episode 13! Before we get started, I want to give a shout out Gus Clemens, who writes a syndicated weekly wine column that’s published in more than 100 Texas newspapers that are part of Gannett Company, the largest newspaper chain in the US, that also owns USA Today.
Quote: Wonderful to listen to, informative, funny. I agreed with almost everything you said in your podcast, and I have made many of the same observations in my column over the years.
I don’t score wines for the reasons you mentioned. My writing is about wine and the wine world. My tasting notes focus much more on the winery’s story, or the story of the grape or region, or all of the above.
Thank you, Gus, this is so kind, and so collegial, of you to say!
Be sure to check out Gus’s column online in any of the newspapers or at gusclemensonwine.com.
I’ll continue to give a shout to others who’ve been kind enough to leave a review, so if you want me to mention your website or social media handle, please include that in your review, along with your name.
Now, back to this episode. We’re chatting with Charles Back, owner and winemaker of both the whimsical Goats do Roam label as well as the premium brand Fairview. Charles is up there in my pantheon of great winemakers who also are incredibly witty and wise. He’s South Africa’s answer to California’s Randall Graham of Bonny Doon. I know you’re going to love our conversation.
You can also watch the video interview with Charles that includes pictures of the protest masks Charles describes, bonus content and behind-the-scenes questions and answers that weren’t included in this podcast.
Wasn’t he great?
Here are my takeaways from this discussion:
- Loved Charles’ observation that cheese is ten years ahead of wine in marketing, yet wine is ten years ahead of cheese in technology. He cross-pollinates from both sectors to strengthen his market approach and innovation.
- I also thought it was enlightening to consider the vastly different timelines for making cheese and wine, with cheese being several months compared to once a year for wine. Cheese has satisfied his impatience and cash flow needs, while wine fulfills his long-term life legacy.
- The Goats label was a great market entry brand in North America, almost too much so in that he then had to work hard at being taken seriously as a premium winemaker for his Fairview wines.
- Chenin Blanc is so adaptive to where it grows: you must give South African Chenin Blanc a try soon if you haven’t tasted this lovely wine.
- Fair Trade has improved the lives of wine and farm employees, but it’s not the lead marketing selling point for any wine with that endorsement on the label: quality still must lead.
- His take on Apartheid’s impact on the South African wine industry was nuanced, including the fact that even though it was devastating, it did help to foster domestic competition and tourism.
- He characterizes South African wines as a mid-Atlantic style with more fruit than European wines, but more restraint that North American wines. He calls it the oldest New World country, or the newest Old World country.
What was your favourite tip or quote from this episode? Share that with me on Twitter or Facebook and tag me @nataliemaclean, on Instagram I’m@nataliemacleanwine or use the hashtag #unreservedwinetalk.
You’ll find links to social media channels, reviews for all of the wines we discussed, and bonus tips for this episode at nataliemaclean.com/13.
My next guest on the show will be Lesley Brown with the Canadian Association of Sommeliers. We’ll get her best tips on how to choose a wine from a restaurant list and what to ask the sommelier when you’re stuck.
Finally, if you want your ability to pair wine and food to the next level, join me in a free online video class at nataliemaclean.com/class.
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