40th celebrations for vintage wine club

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(From left) Joe Orsmond (current GWTC president) Mary Birt (convenor of GWTC Big Birthday Bash) and Donald Hendry (only surviving founding member) are planning the Grahamstown Wine Tasting Circle’s 40th birthday celebrations.

The Grahamstown Wine Tasting Circle, a strong contender for the oldest continuously active wine tasting club in South Africa, celebrates its fortieth birthday this year. Started in 1977, the Circle has met faithfully, ten months a year, over the past four decades and it’s planning a weekend of special events next weekend to mark the occasion – with guests confirmed from around the country.

Apart from its impressive 40-year history, the group can also boast some very notable alumni. Celebrated Stony Brook wine maker, Nigel McNaught is a former GWTC president. He, Joy McNaught, and ten other former GWTC members make up the Western Cape ‘chapter’ of the local Circle. Other former Circlers include Graeme ‘Curly’ Reed, former winemaker at Hillcrest Wines and Meryl Weaver and Dave Swingler, who both taste for Platter’s Wine Guide.  The club is still going strong with many members who have been there from the early days. One – Donald Hendry – has been involved since the inaugural tasting and was the first president.

“It’s not easy to keep a group like this going over such a long time,” says current president, Joe Orsmond. “It is a tribute to the dedication and passion of all our members – past and present – that we are celebrating this milestone. It’s an achievement we’re extremely proud of.”

The Circle has ten tastings per year and has kept meticulous records from each one. It holds an annual special tasting, to sample unusual, particularly excellent or rare wines. Each member is responsible for one tasting per year. According to Orsmond, even though there are very few wine producers in the area and no local specialist wine shops, people still find interesting themes for tastings through careful research.

“The society was formed round a very focused interest in wine. We are share an endless curiosity about it and a real desire to understand and to appreciate it. It think it’s this common interest that has kept us going for so long,” he says.

For this special birthday, there is a whole weekend of celebrations planned. The guest wines at the special tasting next Friday night will be from the Rustenburg Estate courtesy of wine-makers, Murray and Tammy Barlow, who, as Rhodes University alumni, are also former Grahamstown residents. Murray won the prestigious Diner’s Club Young Winemaker of the Year Award for a second time in November last year.

There will then be the Big Birthday Bash dinner on Saturday. The club has been very well supported by producers, with more than 16 donating top quality bottles for the event. Over 60 people are expected to come and join the party.

“It will be a wonderful opportunity to reminisce and drink some superb wine,” says Joe. “Plus, it’s not just about celebrating the last 40 years. It’s about looking forward to the next.”

The Grahamstown Wine Tasting Circle would like to thank the following wineries for their generous support in donating wine to help celebrate the Circle’s 40th birthday: Avontuur Estate, Backsberg Estate Cellars, Blaauwklippen Vineyards, Cederberg Private Cellar, Delaire Graff Estate, Gabrielskloof, Glen Carlou, Graceland Vineyards, Graham Beck Wines, Highlands Road Estate, Joostenberg Wines, Meerlust Wine Estate, Overgaauw Wine Estate, Paul Wallace Wines, Stony Brook, Thelema Mountain Vineyards, Villiera Wines.

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