Revisionists seeking another statue to rant about or deface will be disappointed to discover that the memorial to Louis Albert Peringuey was removed some time ago. As far as I can tell it was not packed up for any reasons relating to his politics, his attitude to the locals (of whatever hue) or feelings about his homeland (in this case France). There also used to be a brass plaque placed by the Historical Monuments Commission in 1962 at Bosman’s Crossing in Stellenbosch but that was stolen and presumably sold to a scrap metal dealer.
Phylloxera vastatrix (phylloxera the destroyer) – the vineyard bug which obliterated almost all the European vineyards from the early 1860s onwards – came late to South Africa. It was only positively identified in 1886, when it had reached Mowbray in Cape Town. The man who made the unfortunate discovery was none other than Monsieur Peringuey. In addition to his being an entomologist of considerable renown, a paleontologist credited with determining that the stone age implements discovered in the Cape were of far greater antiquity than had originally been thought, he was also the inspector-general of vineyards.
By the last decades of the 19th century it was already known that there was no chemical solution to deal with the louse whose diet of vine roots would ultimately wipe out all the Cape’s vineyards. Happily, the French had already devised a strategy to save their wine-infused way of life. Phylloxera is endemic to North America and had come to Europe by way of vine importations to the United Kingdom. Over many centuries Native American vines had established their own resistance to it. The obvious solution was to graft American roots onto the European vitis vinifera vines: this would save the classic European varieties from oblivion by ensuring that the new plantings weren’t susceptible to the blight. By the time Peringuey confirmed the presence of phylloxera in the Cape, rootstock grafting was becoming commonplace in France. While the great vineyards of Bordeaux took several decades to recover, the process was much quicker in South Africa. Almost as swiftly as phylloxera presented itself in the Cape, the business of replanting with resistant rootstock began.
Peringuey had come to South Africa in 1879 and took up a position as a French master at SACS and Bishops. His primary interest however was entomology. Within a few years he was offered a permanent position at the South African Museum and two years later was also appointed inspector-general of vineyards. He was clearly something of a polymath: his interest in paleontology led to the discovery that the paleolithic stone tools recovered at the place he called Bosman’s Crossing (on a rivulet forming part of the Eersterivier) substantially pre-dated the San to whom such implements were generally attributed and were in fact older than the stone tools in museums in France.
While there are now no public memorials to Peringuey in South Africa, Kathy and Gary Jordan have found another way to celebrate the life of this remarkable Frenchman. They have launched under the Jordan label a Chenin Blanc which bears his name. As befits a man whose breadth and depth of knowledge was remarkable, the Inspector Peringuey Chenin Blanc is complex, unshowy and refined. Like the Inspector-General, it has an intensity and persistence about it which sets it apart from many other examples you may find in the trade, the kind of concentration which goes with a seriousness of purpose.
Together with most current release Jordan varietal wines, the Inspector Peringuey is priced at around R100, and offers the same over-delivery in terms of quality that consumers of the Jordan Cabernet and The Prospector Syrah have come to expect. Incidentally all Jordan wines (except the Reserves) come with a Stelvin closure so there’s no risk of cork taint. This means you get to enjoy 100% of your purchases all of the time. Wine drinkers stuck in a paleolithic way of thinking still lose about 5% of everything they buy to cork contamination.