Juliet Cullinan, she of the sharp nose and receptive palate, has always enjoyed an easy familiarity with everything aristocratic. The Contessa of Cultivars can fill you with thrilling terroir one minute, and have you roaring with laughter the next, as you soak up the bonhomie at any one of her eponymous wine festivals.
A Member of the French Champagne Guild’s Ordre des Côteaux de Champagne for her contribution to wine internationally, Juliet thought that was her best achievement until her induction last year into that most exclusive knighthood of wine kinship, les Confrérie des Chevaliers – ‘Every Wine Master’s dream!’
The Queen of the Tastevin – fệted for her talent, lively conversation, and dedication to the vine – incites enthusiasm in young and old with her considerable knowledge of the fermented grape
Juliet vividly recalls being the first South African woman to have the coveted silver tastevin bestowed on her by a Grand Conseil of chevaliers at the 12 century Château du Clos de Vougeot in the Cote d’Or region surrounded by vineyards planted by Cistercian monks.
‘Once homage had been paid to Noah, Bacchus and other vintage saints, I was knighted with an 84-year-old petrified grapevine root from Burgundy, kissed on both cheeks, and invited to sign my name into a large register with a red and gold feathered pen. It was a proud moment,’ she says. Stirring stuff, indeed.
At this year’s 29th Juliet Cullinan Standard Bank Wine Festival, Juliet will uncork new ‘made-to-measure’ wine wheels; fact-filled mandalas of vintage possibilities, that work for both contemporary and classist quaffers.
‘All good things are circular. Patterns emerge in our lives, circling, returning anew in endless variations, and so it is with wines. I wanted to woo a younger clientele and allow oenophiles to hone in on their established preferences at the same time,’ she says.
‘My father and grandfather instilled in me the old-school art of tasting. They would bring up the bottle from a dark cellar and uncork it ahead of time to ‘breathe’. They relished all the sniffing, swirling, assessing. That’s probably why introducing vinicultural concepts from an early age, is my personal ideal. Think about the relaxed nature of multi-generational French family luncheons where wine always accompanies the baguettes and laden platters of cheese.
‘However, trying to tell people how to live their lives or enjoy their wines, is futile. They will ignore you. And rightly so. The trick is to combine all the different tactics and techniques into what I call the Romantic Manifesto, an emotional connection the taster makes the moment the wine is sipped. It’s the golden thread that binds them all.
‘I want people to experience for themselves how a fine wine can encapsulate the sensation of eating warm plums in summertime, and so I hope my development of the wine wheels will introduce more mutual understanding between the generations.
‘Both ‘old school’ classists and ‘new school’ contemporary tasters, contribute to the style of flavours designed for the wines of today and tomorrow. There are no rights or wrongs here, only explorations of the nuances. ‘
At Juliet’s festivals, sensational cellars are a given and this year will be no exception. As always, by showcasing elite boutique wineries and inviting the top talent, she provides the ideal forum for interaction between wine aficionados, gifted cellar masters and guests of every age.
Here, friendships are forged over discussions of varieties, vintages and maturation. Anyone who loves wine is welcome.