Master of vine art

When William Kentridge drew a pair of pruning shears for a series of old-vineyard wines, it was not the first time that this humble bit of wine-farmer’s equipment had appeared on a local label.

But it’s surprising that they hadn’t featured even before Adi and Cornelia Badenhorst and their designer Peet Pienaar got hold of the idea — secateurs (to use the French and British English word) are, as Adi says, probably the wine-grower’s most important tool.

They were featured first in a small way on the two Badenhorst family wines, on labels that are among the happiest design successes of recent years, standing out brilliantly from the coolly elegant, understated look that dominates the smarter end of South African wine-labelling.

The brief to Pienaar was to “keep the family/earth vibe” of this small new venture in the Swartland — a million miles from Adi’s former winemaking scene at grand Rustenberg in Stellenbosch.

The labels brilliantly correlate to the wines — a chenin blanc and a shiraz-based red blend. All the sophistication in the world is summoned up and subversively used for an effect of unpretentious, even naive, honest and warmly human engagement.

Among all the cheerful, witty detail (a three-headed swan, a mouse, clip-art bunches of grapes at different sizes) there, on the right-hand side and rather tiny, is a pair of secateurs. It actually marks the halfway point down the bottle, as an aid to drinking progress, perhaps. And the almost absurd formal declaration of the broad diagonal blue stripe both holds the apparently artless design together and makes the French connection that, again, parallels the inspiration of the wine.

A year or so later, in a rather different studio, Kentridge was developing his own secateur thoughts and imagery. His notably antique implement, which includes a single blade for trimming excrescent shoots off a vine’s trunk, re-appears in a recent suite of prints related to the drawings he did for Eben Sadie’s Ouwingerdreeks wines.

Back on Kalmoesfontein farm on the slopes of the Paardeberg, when it came to thinking of a name for their new, rather cheaper range of wines (a chenin blanc, a rosé and a red blend, with a different version of the latter for Woolworths), it was Cornelia Badenhorst who came up with secateurs. Cornelia and her dictionaries, that is. What first came to mind, of course, was the Afrikaans version, snoeisker.

“My sister Hanle said snoeisker sounds like a cool Afrikaans rockband, but Adi said we were not fighting the Boer War —” So, with its welcome echoes of Frenchness, secateurs it was — with an image to match, and a happy yellow stripe and rustic feel keeping the connection with the label on the senior wines.

And that suited Adi just fine.

(Adi, by the way, can deploy an enigmatic flamboyance as a screen and is something of a joker — I used to be rather confused by him, and once reported my unsureness about whether he was the stupidest wine-maker in the country or the cleverest. His best efforts notwithstanding, I have realised that the latter is much closer to the truth, and he’s making an enormously fine thing out of the neglected farm and rudimentary winery he and his cousin Hein bought a few years back.)

Says Adi of his label: “We wanted something that represented the physical working of a vineyard by people and the snoeisker was perfect. It’s a beautiful tool — slender, wonderful curvy lines, sharp — It also makes a wonderful sound when you work with it, that carries very far in the crisp winter morning air. And, of course, when you stand before a vine with secateurs in hand you truly feel like an artist about to sculpt something wonderful.”

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