Veteran Journalist Turns Wine Producer

Dec 15, 2011
Originally published on December 15, 2011 11:38 am
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I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Just ahead, a challenge for your holiday feast. What malty drink could you pair with a festive, elegant holiday meal? Here's a hint: It's flavored with hops. If we say beer, do you say, no way? We have an expert for you who may challenge your preconceptions about beer. We'll have that conversation in just a few minutes.

But first, we want to turn to a mainstay for many people for holiday drinks: wine. And when selecting the right vintage for this season of merriment, choices will range from country to celebrity vintner. Our guest fits both bills. She is award-winning journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault - yes, our Charlayne Hunter-Gault - who now resides in South Africa with her husband, Ron. And this husband-and-wife team created just what you may need to cap a great meal and lavish entertainment.

The label is Passages, and Charlayne Hunter-Gault joins us now from Johannesburg. Charlayne, welcome back. Thank you for joining us.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT, BYLINE: Thank you, Michel. It's really a delight to be back with you, especially during this holiday season. You sound so joyful.

MARTIN: Well, thank you - better now that I'm talking to you. And of course, normally, when we talk to you, we talk about the politics and the policy of South Africa and all the events going on, on the African continent that you cover for us so well.

So I think it might be surprising to many people to hear that you - an award-winning, veteran journalist - and your husband, Ron - a very successful businessman - have decided to go into the wine business. So what made you decide to do that?

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, you know, South Africa is known for many things, especially - and Americans know that, you know, the end of apartheid and the entry of the new, multiracial government. But one of the things that the end of apartheid has opened up for South Africans is to get its amazing wines into the rest of the world.

And so when we came here - my husband came a year before I did; of course, I came in '97 for NPR - we began to enjoy the wines that are produced here in South Africa. So many of our friends considered themselves connoisseurs - and some are. And so we were exposed to some of the best wines that South Africa has to offer.

And at a certain point, we decided that we had had enough of the good stuff that we could embark on it ourselves - but principally, for the American market because at that point, when we first decided back in 2006, South African wines had not entered the American market in any large degree.

MARTIN: What's the story behind the name of your label, Passages?

HUNTER-GAULT: We have traveled the world, gone to so many different places, gone through so many different passages through our own lives. We've been married - we just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. And so when we thought about what we would call our wine, we thought about the passages that we have gone through, through life, that brought us to South Africa, which has enhanced our taste for all things good - not just the wine and the food, but also the people.

And so we wanted something that was really symbolic and unique to our lives. And it turns out it was the passages that we have been through. Hence, Passages.

MARTIN: And to this point, I understand that you are offering a chardonnay, a merlot and a cabernet. Do I have that right?

HUNTER-GAULT: That's right. We have a chardonnay and in South Africa, there's someone called a fundi, who is a knowledgeable person. And so I'm considered the chardonnay fundi because I have an appreciation for the American palate, and so I get to taste the chardonnay. And it's a lovely - has a butterscotch and vanilla flavor, and the aftertaste is lovely. It just sort of floats on the palate and down the throat.

We also make a merlot, which has dark, fruit flavors and is just a very smooth, red wine. And then we have a cab-merlot blend, where you can taste sweet black current fruit. And also, it's red. All of these wines are drinkable. You know, some wines you buy, you have to put them in your cellar and keep them for years. Well, ours are immediately available and immediately delicious.

MARTIN: Well, that's good to hear. You know, I'm dying to know this, but what's similar and different between being a vintner and being a journalist? What are the - what's different, and what's the same?

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, I think it's the excitement of your creative product. I mean, wine is creative in the same way that journalism is. I mean, you know, I think what makes a successful journalist is a person who has the capacity to get excited about just about anything. And I think in that regard, I've gotten very excited about the wine business. And I think the passion that I feel for my work as a journalist - a lot for NPR - my passion for this wine comes through in the tasting, which is why I think the public will like it.

I mean, we're just beginning to be all over America. We're right there in Washington, D.C. where we had a tasting recently. Sold out of the chardonnay; sold out of the merlot. So people reacted to our passion, but the passion that we have is actually in the bottle.


MARTIN: OK. Award-winning journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault is co-owner with her husband, Ron Gault, of the South African wine label Passages. And she was kind enough to join us from the BBC studios in Johannesburg.

Charlayne, thank you so much for joining us, and happy holidays to you.

HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you too, Michel. And enjoy Passages as you pass through these wonderful holidays. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.