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Learning About Wines from Those Who Made Them


The 16th annual Forks & Corks, Sarasota’s popular four-day food & wine festival, held its four sold-out University Master Classes on Saturday, April 22nd, 2023.

While I love the camaraderie and fine wines and food experience at the event’s winemaker dinners, and the pure fun and excitement of the Grand Tasting, for me it’s the Master Classes that present the best opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the world’s most esteemed winemakers.

I stopped in at Michael’s Wine Cellar on Saturday morning to get a taste of the class entitled “South African Adventure.” Owners and winemakers from six of South Africa’s most esteemed wineries had traveled more than 8,000 miles to take part in the festival.

Each place setting included tasting portions of 11 wines in their sparkling glasses, both red and white, and a plate of charcuterie – meats and cheeses, crackers, artisan breads, grapes, strawberries, and more – that paired well with the wines.

Prior to the event, I spoke with Yair (a panelist at the event) and Lynne Safriel, founders of Safriel House Wines, who were attending their first Forks & Corks this year. The two are based in Tampa and immigrated to the United States from South Africa about 20 years ago.

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“We are a classic immigrant family, but with a winemaking background and a passion for South African wines,” Yair said. The two work as wine negociants. Their first vintage was in 2015, all single vineyards, whose owners share their commitment to quality over quantity.

“We want to make each wine true to their particular vineyard. We don’t want to add things. Each wine has to reflect what that vineyard is producing in a particular year – capturing the time and the beauty of that wine in a bottle,” Lynne said.

“We come to events such as this so we can expose our brands to more people,” she said. “People are looking for something that’s different from all the other wines on the shelves – a wine that grabs their attention. It’s like the difference when you bite into an organically grown tomato and a tomato off any grocery store shelf. There really is a difference, and it is the same when you taste our wines,” she added.

Lynne describes Safriel as “mission-driven,” with a goal of introducing people to wines that are not mass-produced and might otherwise be difficult to find.

The two travel to South Africa a couple of times each year. “South Africa is such a beautiful country,” Yair said. “The quality of the wines all begins with the person doing the farming, and his care for and love of his land. Everything else grows out of that,” he said.

Educating people about South Africa and its wines is extremely important, Lynne said. At events such as this, people have the opportunity to connect with the winemakers and the wines, and that connection is something that hopefully will last for years and years, Yair added.

Guests at the class were greeted by Forks & Corks Founding President Michael Klauber, who introduced the event’s moderator, Pascal Schildt. Schildt was born in South Africa and fell in love with wines while studying at the University of Stellenbosch. He introduced the panel, Charl Coetzee of Babylonstoren; Yair Safriel of Safriel House Wines; Rudger Van Wyk of Stark-Conde Wines; Andries Burger of Paul Cluver Family Wines; Olive Hamilton Russell of Hamilton Russell Vineyards and Ginny Povall of Botanica Wines.

Guests then sipped, sampled, and interacted with the winemakers as they tried two wines from each producer. Wines tasted included Chenin Blancs, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, a White Field Blend, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir. And, oh yes, those at the tasting were the first to try a very young Pinot Noir from Hamilton Russell Oregon that had only been bottled only a couple of months ago and was shipped to the event by mistake. And a delicious mistake it was!

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While the South African Tasting was going on in Michael’s Wine Cellar, in the Michael’s On East Ballrooms, a world tour of Pinot Noirs was taking place, as was a master class on Cabernets. In the afternoon, “students” sipped their way through Italy, from tip to toe.

Sarasota-Manatee Originals' next Forks & Corks University will be held on Saturday, January 27, 2024. Stay tuned to our newsletters and social channels for updates.

By Gayle Guynup, Guest Columnist