I am often asked about the name Saltare, pronounced [sal.ta.rɛ]. The story I tell is of a first-year viticulture student being tasked to hand disgorge the cap classique bottles that our class made that year. Opening bottle after bottle, I knew I’d specialise in méthode champenoise wines one day.
The true inspiration, however, comes from the remarkable human capacity for smell - olfaction. I rediscovered the importance of smell in March 2021 when a Covid-19 infection wiped out my sense of smell for several days.
I slowly emerged from this existential crisis by going into our garden day after day to smell whatever I could lay may hands on - origanum, lavender, citrus, pelargonium, mint, imphepho, rosemary, curry leaf - anything with a distinctive aroma. When lavender came back, faintly at first, and then stronger every day as I retrained my olfactory memory bank, I regained my confidence as a wine maker.
Smell is the neglected one of the five senses. This was certainly the case for me until well into my twenties. We live in a visual era, or simply grew up in households where quality food ingredients were not appreciated. The truth is that, save for dogs, humans have among the best developed senses of smell of all mammals.
In the words of a psychologist from Stockholm who specialises on smell: “Far from being a simplistic mode of engaging with the environment, smelling engages our deep emotions as well as our intellect.” (From https://stias.ac.za/2022/11/all-in-the-nose-understanding-and-rediscovering-our-sense-of-smell-fellows-seminar-by-jonas-olofsson/)
That explains why a single whiff of something can transport you instantly to a moment back in time that stands out for you. While I often had these experiences, smell remained my least explored sense.
That all changed for me while working as a temporary waiter on a wine farm. The tasting room attendant hadn’t shown up and they asked me to stand in for the day. A quick tasting of the wine range awakened a deep realisation in me: that I have a good sense of smell. A desire to explore more was born.
Despite having completed two degrees already I knew then that I was going back to university: I enrolled for BSc Agric (Viticulture & Oenology) at Stellenbosch University the following year.
A new world opened up to me with harvesting stints locally (first at Tokara) and abroad in Bordeaux, New Zealand, Priorat and, of course, Champagne. It is to Champagne where I return as often as time and resources allow. The inspiration of hundreds of champagne houses each producing their unique style offers never-ending olfactory discoveries.
But this does not explain the link to dancing. Saltare simply means ‘to dance’ in Latin! And for me, when I observe the bubbles in the glass, that is what I see, a dance. Fine and delicate, swirling upwards in chaotic unison until they release their aromas in a thousand tiny explosions.
Contemporary dance has always inspired me for its creativity in movement. The movement of the mousse in the glass resembles dancing. If my wines can express a hint of this movement and grace, and if its aromas and taste can instantly transport you to a special occasion or memory, then I have achieved my goal.
Here’s to a season of new memories!