Press Office: Old Road Wine Co. Winds-up Medal Success

With another major accolade having recently come its way at the annual Mundus Vini International Wine Awards in Germany, the Old Road Wine Co. (ORWC) from Franschhoek is rapidly becoming the best performing young winery in South Africa. At this year’s Mundus Vini, Old Road Wine Co. delivered the Best South African White Wine with its gold-medal winning Anemos Chenin Blanc 2018.

Almost 3 000 wines from all over the world were awarded medals at the 28th Mundus Vini International Wine Awards in Neustadt, Germany. Some 7 300 wines from 39 wine-growing countries of the world were tasted by a select panel of judges over 20 days.

Old Road Wine Co. is a collaboration between Tim Hutchinson, executive chairman of DGB, and private partners. The winery was formed in 2019 to ensure vineyards in the Franschhoek Valley are protected for future generations to continue the region’s legacy of winemaking and viticulture, as well as to source grapes from a selection of the finest vineyard growers in the Cape in order to make superlative terroir-driven wines.

The Anemos Chenin Blanc is one of the wines from Old Road Wine Co. and is made from old vineyards growing in Durbanville and Stellenbosch which were planted in 1983 and 1988 respectively.

Andrew Harris, marketing manager for the Old Road Wine Co., says the superb performance of the winery’s Anemos Chenin Blanc 2018 at Mundus Vini is another highlight in the short history of Old Road.

“The strong showing of ORWC’s wines over the past few years has, to my mind, exceeded everyone’s expectations,” says Harris. “We have received awards, trophies and international ratings seldom seen for a fledgling wine brand. This can be attributed to the vision of ORWC’s founders and the way they have given our winemaker Ryan Puttick the freedom to make incredible wines from magical sites of terroir.”

Since its first wine releases in 2018, ORWC has raked in an enviable list of awards and ratings which have led to this “Best in Show” Award at Mundis Vini. Amongst these are:

  • 94pt rating by the Wine Advocate for the 12 Mile Limited Release Syrah 2017
  • National Champion at the Novare SA Terroir Wine Awards with Pepper Wind Syrah 2017, as well as Top Shiraz on Show from a vineyard in Franschhoek
  • 94pt rating in Tim Atkin South African Report for Grand Mère Single Vineyard Semillon 2017 from the La Colline Vineyard in Franschhoek which was planted in 1936
  • Michelangelo Double Gold for Grand Mère Single Vineyard Semillon  2017 (WO Franschhoek)
  • Michelangelo Double Gold for Pepper Wind Syrah 2017 (WO Franschhoek)
  • 93pts in Tim Atkin South African Report for Stone Trail Chenin Blanc 2018 (WO Franschhoek)
  • Michelangelo Double Gold for Juliette Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (WO Elgin)
  • Mundus Vini Gold for Juliette Sauvignon Blanc 2018 and 2019 (WO Elgin)
Ryan Puttick, the man behind the wines of Old Road.

Puttick, who has been at the helm of ORWC’s winemaking since the beginning, says the list of accolades and awards is deemed important on two fronts.

“This recognition has obviously helped get the message out to our local and international markets that ORWC might be a new, young winery, but that we are settled enough to be able to deliver the goods in terms of wine quality – and our Franschhoek vineyards are delivering the goods” he says. “These awards and the valued recognition from wine critics have helped Old Road Wine Co. to, as they say, hit the ground running – with the competition in the wine world rife and South Africa making the best wines in its history, new wineries can struggle to get out of the blocks. By garnering this fantastic local and international recognition for our wines, ORWC’s profile has – marketing wise – been given a tremendous boost.”

The other aspect about medals, awards and high-ratings is that they act as an important indicator of one’s ethos and progress in terms of wine quality and stylistic endeavour.

“There are so many great wines out there and for a winery committed to quality – such as Old Road Wine Co. – it is vital that we find ways to be measured alongside our peers,” he says. “And here the recognition we received has been most valuable. Our commitment to partnering with the right growers and their vineyards helps us express characteristics of terroir, and a true sense of place has been vindicated by the way the wines have been received by critics, wine judges and the wine-enjoying public.”

Puttick says the Old Road Wine Co. approach to winemaking is indeed akin to following a road that is old, tried and tested. “First up are the vineyards and here we have made a point of going off the beaten track to find growers with parcels of fruit expressing the relative varieties in a unique way. The winemaking is strictly minimum intervention aimed at preserving – at all costs – the signature of site-specific terroir. These include older barrels, traditional clay amphorae and a truly hand-crafted approach.”

According to Puttick, Old Road Wine Co. also places a strong emphasis on positioning Franschhoek as one of South Africa’s leading quality wine regions as well as preserving the town and region’s rich wine heritage that goes back to 1688 when the French Huguenots arrived.

“The wines in our Single Vineyard Range – Pepper Wind Syrah, Stone Trail Chenin Blanc and Grand Mère Semillon – all originate from Franschhoek vineyards,” says Puttick. “They underscore the unique terroir of this fantastic region ranging from mountain slopes to alluvial soils, with the cooling breezes that make for a wonderful temperate climate. And with the entire Old Road Wine Co. range made right here in Franschhoek adjacent to our inviting hospitality area, we are glad to be a leading part of a new era of Franschhoek’s wine offering.

“And we have the medals to prove it!”

Of Wine and Men: The Gathering of Cap Classique Legends

Old Cap Classique makers never lose their sparkle: they just fizz with mature effervescence and pop louder. This showed at a recent milestone event hosted by Joaquim Sá of Amorim Cork, sponsors of the Cap Classique Challenge which brought together the living legendary makers of Cap Classique wines at Glenelly Estate for a lunch, a tasting of their older sparkling wines and, as could be expected judging from the human pedigree present, a log-book full of tales, stories and memories.

The A-team around the table reads like the Who’s Who of South African wine:

  • Achim van Arnim who made Boschendal Estate’s first Cape Classique in 1981 before heading off to start Haute Cabrière, still today one of the country’s leading Cap Classique brands.
  • Jeff Grier, proprietor of Villiera, released the winery’s first bottle-fermented wine in 1984.
  • Johan Malan from Simonsig, home to the first Cap Classique in 1971 and where Johan began making wine in 1982.
  • Nicky Krone, former head of Twee Jongegezellen in Tulbagh whose Krone Borealis Cap Classique was a pioneering brand for this category throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
  • Pieter Ferreira, chairman of the Cap Classique Association who made his first Cap Classique at Haute Cabrière in 1984 before going on to head-up Graham Beck and turning it into the leading winery and brand it is today.
  • Mike Graham who launched Distillers’ Pongracz brand in 1990.
  • And, last but not least, Frank Meaker who was one of the founding team that put JC le Roux Cap Classique on the map for what was then Distillers Corporation where he made fizz between 1984 and 1988.
Cap Classique stalwarts, with hangers-on: Back from left – Nicky Krone, Johan Malan, Emile Joubert (PR), Joaquim Sa (Amorim), Frank Meaker, Jeff Grier. Front: Pieter Ferreira, Mike Graham and Achim von Arnim.

Joaquim, who put the event together with Pieter Ferreira, said that it was Achim who was behind this coming-together. “A wine writer who visited Achim a few weeks back told me of Achim’s wish to get the old hands of Cap Classique around table,” says Joaquim. “And with this being the 50th year of celebrating Cap Classique, a category Amorim has been supporting for 20 years through the Amorim Cap Classique Challenge, I immediately contacted Pieter who without hesitation got the ball rolling.”

As could be expected, the event was accompanied with laughter, wit, opinion and memories ranging from the romantic to the ribald.

Jeff Grier, who was present when the Cap Classique Association was established in Swaziland in 1992 recalls an incident with an energetically popped cork and a leading South African wine writer and consultant. “At the event to kick-off the newly formed Cap Classique Association I had to pop a cork to announce the formal blessing on proceedings,” recalls Jeff. “I shook up the bottle for extra clout, popped the cork which flew across the room – only to hit the esteemed wine personality in the eye. Not exactly the way we founders of Cap Classique wished to treat the media, but it was an accident, no major damage was done and proceedings went ahead unabated.”

Cap Classic stalwarts Frank Meaker, left, who was on the team who pioneered JC le Roux and Mike Graham, part of the initial Pongracz team.

Mike Graham remembers the launch of the maiden Pongracz vintage in 1990 also providing some gas. “It was a media launch, and as per usual the event was topped with a lunch at the old Doornbosch Restaurant in Stellenbosch,” says Mike. “By the time the journalists – about 30 wine writers from all over the country – arrived at Doornbosch the obligatory sample bottles were already in their cars as we had given them their samples at the presentation at the Bergkelder.

“Thing is, the bottle-pressure of those samples was a bit excessive and while everyone was eating, drinking and toasting this new Pongracz Cap Classique, outside in the parking bays the bottles were exploding in the cars. Long story short, it cost us more to clean the journalists’ cars than to throw the launch event itself.”

To add to the formidable presence of the Cap Classique makers around the table, Pieter Ferreira has mustered the gentlemen to bring along some rare older Cap Classique gems. And those lucky enough to be present agreed that this year’s focus on 50 years of Cap Classique gained more importance at this lunch due to the quality of the older wines that were opened and poured.

These included Krone Borealis 1993; Villiera CWG 1987; Pierre Jourdan 1984 and 1985, Graham Beck 1991 Chardonnay/Pinot Noir, 1993 Blanc de Blancs and 1994 Brut and Simonsig Blanc de Blancs 2007.

These wines had drawn complexity from time in the bottle, developing intriguing flavours, luxurious palate-weight and – just like the legendary wine-makers assembled for this auspicious occasion – the wines had not lost their sparkle. They were all shining.

Cape Wine’s Creative Drought: can an Octopus Change it?

This morning’s announcement that the heart-felt documentary film about a man striking-up a mutually rewarding relationship with an octopus had won an Academy Award – Oscar – for Best Documentary Film has set Cape Town and South Africa abuzz. My Octopus Teacher, which earlier in the year also got its tentacles on a Bafta – the British version of the Oscars only with less political correctness and fewer winners making arses of themselves by dancing in the aisles – is a major achievement. Not only in terms of the two awards’ underscoring this being the most incredible natural documentary in recent history years, but also because it gives viewers an intimate look into the unique, pristine natural environment found off the Cape Coast.

Now the most important thing about the above, is the word “viewers”. Here we are talking millions of people from around the world who have already seen My Octopus Teacher and the tens of millions more who will watch it – or revisit the film – after today’s Oscar victory. And in viewing Craig Foster’s courting, flirting and playing with this octopus beneath the ocean of False Bay, it is a sure bet that said viewers will not only be captivated by this unusual relationship, but also by the place where Craig and octopus find themselves.

The Kelp Forests of the Cape, just off the winelands.

Now, what does this have to do with wine, besides the fact that the second viewing of the film had me salivating for an octopus paw – grilled Portuguese style with thyme, olive oil and garlic  – accompanied by a brisk glass of Durbanville Sauvignon Blanc? It is all relevant because here, once again, there is a cosmic opportunity for the South African wine industry to align itself with something that is garnering mass attention for the country. In this case, the Cape’s extraordinary ecological character so viscerally beautifully shown in the film.

Precisely how this link between the charming underwater inter-play of species and South African wine should happen, I do not know. But with the captivating showing of the drama that lies beneath the Cape coast and said coast being one of the unique traits comprising South African wine terroir, a smart creative mind or two would surely find the right chord to strike.

Ask any New Zealand winemaker as to what led to Kiwi wine’s stratospheric growth in America and Europe, and one of the reasons is sure to be the fact that the Lord of the Rings films were shot in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Just by looking at that scenery, the pure green ruggedness that you can taste, people who previously could not point-out New Zealand in an atlas wanted to get their hands on anything from that country, including wine.

Charlize Theron revealing her enjoyment of wine.

Crocodile Dundee, the 1986 film starring Paul Hogan as a jolly Australian wild-man from the Outback, led to a surge in all things Australian around the world. The increased wine exports at that time neatly show this.

This leads me to my conclusion in wondering if the South African wine industry does not lack some out-of-the-box thinking in the creative department? I see some creativity as an opportunity, one which is now more needed than ever due to the current perilous state of wine South Africa, the future of which is dependent on premium, solid export markets.

Winning the hearts and minds of the esteemed international media has not been enough. No other New World wine country gets as much glowing air-time in the global media space as South Africa does. The top wine scribes and judges, with an audience running into the hundreds of thousands, continue to drive the quality, the excitement and the excellence of Cape wine, the country and its people in a manner that one can only appreciate. This glowing and credible media support has, unfortunately, over the past decade done nothing to grow the value proposition of the country’s wine offering among the world’s wine-consuming public.

Bonding with octopus.

South Africa can align itself with things that are admired by hundreds of millions of people from across the globe. World Cup Rugby Champions. The paternal countries to global icons Elon Musk, Trevor Noah and Charlize Theron. And now, a world-beating film about an octopus off the shores of the Cape winelands that is being watched by millions, as we speak.

The power of association, if recognised and used proactively, is an opportunity of gigantic proportions. It just needs some out-of-the box creativity and the spirit to activate it.

Otherwise we’ll just have to continue paddling without oars and rudder, now and again stopping to look at an octopus garden or two.

  • Emile Joubert

Home is Where the Chenin is

I wanted to smell Africa, but the nose was not co-operating. A quick jaunt to London and back – via the Middle East -had subjected my aroma-detector to enough invasive Covid-testing to make the poor shnozz as dead and numb as the nose of a Nigerian cocaine-dealer on Canary Wharf just after the UK restaurants opened last week.

By the time I hit Customs at Cape Town International the scent of rubber, airport-floorspace and cheap cigarettes were, however, beginning to make their presence known. And then, as I left the airport building to be met by a blast of warm autumn air, I got it. Africa. That smell of sun-baked earth, dry rock and open veld, with a hint of smoke that last Sunday’s petrifying fire on the slopes of Table Mountain had left behind.

The apartment, a temporary abode until heading back to the country house, faced a sea as smooth as glass and as calm as a newlywed on her second night of honeymoon. Not a breath of air sighed as I stood on the veranda looking at water as blue as the sky above.

A shower and a snooze, and I opened the fridge to see as to what my gracious host had left for me to drink. Knowing that I would be partaking of my first just-returned glass of wine in the heat of day, the stock she had left was of white wine, mostly. In London the Burgundies had been fine, as well as the white Bordeaux my old colleagues treated me to at the Club, for which I now had to sign to gain entry. Back in the Cape, that bottle of Chenin Blanc perching in the fridge had my name on it, pickings of this variety being lean in London and my knowing a spot of Chenin would be welcoming. It tastes of home.

This Chenin Blanc was from Oldenburg, the very special wine farm in the Banghoek Valley with a terroir I would call enormously unique. Weathered granite, clay and alluvial soils are found there, and that hill, round and full as an opera-singer’s breast in aria mode, is a most interesting point of geography in the Stellenbosch region. Rondekop, they call it, and it is planted to vines.

Oldenburg Chenin Blanc 2019 had me smiling from the first pour, as it is a wine demonstrating the chameleon-like character of Chenin. On first nosing it, the wine has a definite amalgamation of citrus fruit and wood making it truly Chardonnay-scented. And indeed, it did spend 10 months in French oak, some 20% of which was new, although the wood’s presence is modest in providing a buttery-brioche note rather than a knock of burnt UCT library.

Oldenburg.

In the mouth, the cool wine provided me with immense satisfaction and the welcoming glow of being back on South African soil. Ah, Chenin Blanc, so fresh, so naturally wine-tasting, so very tastily rewarding. And, as made by Oldenburg, so very classily and elegant and poised that it reminded me of how the gorgeous Princess Anne held herself at her father’s funeral.

The themes of citrus and white flowers showing on the nose carry to the tasting cavity. Here the Chenin Blanc enters the mouth with searching, curious excitement pushing from entrance to swallow in a heart-beat, blasting an array of flavours that leave a jet-lagged taster quite breathless. Quince and lemon-meringue are evident, the sweetness neatly pulled-back by a firm, tarty presence of green loquat. A line of honey-comb runs true, as does an ever-so-slight nick of dried Provence herbs.

The Princess.

It is wet, vibrant and joyous, a white wine showing mountains, sun and veld on the terroir side, as well as admirably judicious wine-making.

Next to the opening to the veranda was a table, and I sat down with my note-book to compose a letter of appreciation to my host and to bless her for the wise choice of wine. Then I drank the bottle’s last glass and got dressed. From the refrigerator I took another bottle of Oldenburg Chenin, placed it in my satchel and took the lift down to the ground-floor to find someone to share it with. The air was colder, and a mist had drifted in from the sea.

  • Lafras Huguenet

4 Reasons to Drink Wine at Lunch

A disturbing, yet factual, feature of the modern world is the disappearance of the wine-fuelled lunch. Perhaps a glass or two is imbibed at a week-end midday nibble or on workdays by office-types who had received their retrenchment notice at 10.00. In which case the drinking will start before the restaurants open.

Returning to the office aprés lunch with a spring in the step and Merlot on the breath is these days about as acceptable as asking the new girl at accounts if she buys her underwear at Fruit&Veg City. Hence the daylight lit restaurant tables featuring – only – glasses of mineral water or Coke Zero instead of the row of red and white wine bottles and bowled glasses, like they used to in days of yore.

A drink or two at lunch is, however, as civilised as it has always been, namely for the past 6 000 years. For the following reasons:

  • Wine tastes better at lunch: At 12.30, your palate is still alive and alert, inquisitively probing for flavour and excitement. This is why that glass of cool Chardonnay or brooding Shiraz exposes its full spectrum of tastes and aromas to a lunch-time diner. Said diner is, thus, at the midday meal able to truly appreciate the wine as well as the magnificent manner whereby it complements the food that has been chosen to accompany it. Later in the day the case is much different. For by 18:00 one’s palate has been subjected to the sensory-deadening onslaught of myriad foodstuffs and liquids. All that coffee, the wolfed-down sandwiches at the office desk and the pellets of chewing-gum have splashed and trodden all over those delicate taste-buds. The senses are tired and overfed and sated, leaving little with which to assess a fine glass of wine. Because the bright-side of day was far better for them.
  • Stomach juices: The stomach consists of a complex set of linings, gut and nerves, with especially the Oriental societies believing it to be the most important physical feature after the brain and that these two biological fundamentals are related. With its thrust of acidity and its life-affirming zest, wine has proven to be a healthy and ideal way to perk-up that sleepy gut of yours which has been lying coiled and drowsy after the morning’s stodgy bowl of Corn Flakes and milk. Pouring two sips of fresh Sauvignon Blanc or Grenache Rosé onto that pile of guts, tissue and fat sitting in your belly instantaneously wakes-up the stomach, allowing it to continue the rest of the day in a state of rude health which should culminate in the next morning’s spectacularly satisfying bowel-movement.
  • People look better: One of the reasons for a day at the office being approached with a sigh of trepidation and the onset of slightly grey melancholy is the prospect of enduring the presence of those irritating pricks with whom you have to spend the day working. The sweating financial director with garlic breath grimly requesting explanations of your expense account. That detailed-obsessed secretary, lined with fine facial hair, who keeps asking you to redo the PowerPoint presentations you crafted for the Creative Director. The messenger in the hoodie and with the neck-tattoo who insists to, at every instance, ask for a loan to buy the latest Manchester United soccer-shirt – apparently for his ailing grandmother.
  • Well, there is nothing that a three-glasses-of-wine lunch cannot do to sort this bunch out. The warm glow of alcohol-paired Pinot Noir or Riesling does not only put a lift in your mood and an ease in your disposition, but also makes the world – including those three miscreants – brighter, happier and better to be in. And if that does not boost your own productivity, nothing can.
  • For moderation: Ironic as it might sound, lunch-time drinkers are actually more restrained in terms of total alcohol-consumption. This is because that half-bottle of wine at lunch sends a message to the central nervous system alerting it that its human-owner has begun its daily alcohol-intake. When said human arrives home, the bout of earlier drinking will have a profound effect on the imbibing set to occur for the rest of the evening. Had the human not consumed any wine at lunch, said person – tense, tired and thirsty from the day’s toil – will jump onto the bottle like an Ace Magashule protégé on a BEE tender. What will follow is big, fast drinking of the substantial kind leading to an overall increased intake of liquor with all those known negative long-term health and socially unacceptable effects.

The lunch-time drinker, whose senses have already met with the day’s wine intake, tends to take a more controlled, tempered and relaxed approach to the bottle resulting in more moderate and easier drinking of the totally civilised kind.

Bon appétit and cheers. To the world.

  • Earl Dexter

In Le Lude for Cap Classique

As is the case with most sectors of the South African wine industry, the making of sparkling wine is but a youthful endeavour. Only 50 years ago – a cork-pop in the history of wine – did the first Cape wine farmer take-up the challenge of creating a bottle-fermented bubbly to the tradition of France’s Champagne. That was the late Frans Malan, patriarch of Simonsig in Stellenbosch, who used a splash of his 1971 Chenin Blanc vintage and some rudimentary machinery to create the first Kaapse Vonkel, which sparkled onto the market in 1973.

A lot of Cap Classique – as this style of South African wine is known – has foamed under the bridge since those days. Half-a-century later it is a sexy part of the local wine category with over 150 wineries making this sparkle. These range from the ubiquitous Cap Classique houses such as Simonsig, Graham Beck, Krone and Villiera to various estates and cellars crafting a couple of thousand of bottles of sparkle a year to brighten-up their wine portfolios.

The beauty of a young industry, however, is that here good things can happen quickly. And in the world of Cap Classique it would be difficult to find a better example of this than Le Lude, the boutique winery in Franschhoek exclusively committed to making bottle-fermented sparkle. Le Lude was only established 12 years ago, with its first vintage being that from 2012. Yet in all aspects the brand has leapt to the very top of the Cape’s impressive range of Cap Classique offerings in terms of quality of wine and the dedication to sparkling wine culture, with a bit of French-inspired flair, at the bottom of the Franschhoek Pass.

The primary reason has been the focus, taste and drive of Nic and Ferda Barrow. With a history ranging from pushing paper in the legal world to creating stylish hotels and guest-houses in Oudtshoorn as well as various contributions to the worlds of art, music and culture, the Barrows hit Franschhoek with the aim of establishing a winery. The land they had bought only has space for six hectares of vineyard, so buying-in fruit was going to be a non-negotiable part of whatever this newly acquired spread would turn out to be. The importance of sourcing grapes, together with a taste for Champagne and sparkling wines led Nic and Ferda to push focus on Cap Classique. A bit of Barrow panache, style and flair also contributed – in bounds.

Ferda and Nic Barrow

 Appointing Paul Gerber as first cellarmaster was a step in the right direction. While this brilliant Cap Classique specialist ensured a high standard of wine quality from the outset, an aesthetically pleasing tasting-venue was established. Together with the Orangerie Restaurant, where Barrow-daughter Nicolene offers some of the best French-inspired cuisine one could hope for south of Marseille.

Le Lude’s range of Cap Classiques, now made by Francois Joubert, are broad for a smallish set-up, but this underscores the marque’s restless creativity – a Barrow feature, by the way – to do a number of things, and do them well.

There are non-vintage bruts and rosés, a couple of vintage cuvées, and the agrafe wines. Agrafe, where lees-maturing occurs under cork instead of metal crown-cap, was pioneered by Le Lude in South Africa, heralding a new era for quality of Cap Classique.

During a recent tasting of non-vintage Cap Classiques it was apparent that Le Lude is in the progress of developing a true house-style for its wines. There is something so very true about these wines, a purity among the sparkle that makes them sincerely individual and classy offerings.

Le Lude Brut n/v is driven by 91% Chardonnay and 9% Pinot Noir, the wine spending 36 months on lees in the bottle – three times more than the required minimum time for Cap Classique. A solid Robertson Chardonnay element is present here, the quality of the fruit polished to a seamless and direct slice of vinous perfection, providing drama, beauty and energy through the life-affirming presence of bubble, sparkle and mousse.

Typical Cap Classique notes of green apple and brioche lurk in the background. The focus is, well, on focus. Bright, buttery fruit sliced with a silver thread of stone, soil and wilted wild-flower. Refreshment is massive, as the finest of these wines should be. Taste is long, texture is moreish and evocative.

Onto the pink, and the Le Lude Rosé n/v is 71% Chardonnay to 29% Pinot Noir. Colour is that of wild Irish salmon, poached. It is a drier wine than the Brut, not due to sugar but because of the savoury and lick of salt the Pinot Noir element brings to the party. With the attack, there is a slight floral tickle, quickly brushed aside by sterner flavours of plum, fresh kelp and fynbos. These flow on a tide of unfettered purity, long and cool runs of elegant sparkling wine offering pleasure and goodness, memories that will last forever. And a day.

  • Emile Joubert

Stellenbosch, the Route of All Vino

Wine might be made in the vineyard, as most modest winemakers like to say. But it is people who create wine legends.

Today’s Stellenbosch Wine Routes, the largest wine tourism collective in South Africa and renowned throughout the world, began 50 years ago with three people and one idea. The idea, this was to create an organisation allowing members of the public to visit Stellenbosch’s wineries to taste and buy wine, as well as to experience the winelands’ hospitality and its atmosphere on a more personal level.

Of the three people behind this idea, it must be said that they were iconic individuals with such a forward-thinking and determined mindset they could have started a wine route in Botswana and it still would have been a success.

It all began back in 1969 when two of the troika, Frans Malan of Simonsig and Spier Wine Estate’s Niel Joubert, were visiting the winelands of France. They found themselves in Burgundy’s Morey St Denis appellation, which had a modest Route des Vin where participating domains opened their doors to visitors, like Messrs Malan and Joubert.

Recalling this visit, Malan told Wynboer magazine in 1992 that experiencing the French efforts towards wine tourism immediately set his famous inquiring mind abuzz. “I had previously seen something similar during a visit to Bordeaux and it suddenly struck me that Stellenbosch was the ideal district in which to create a wine route,” he recalls.

Back in South Africa, Malan and Joubert canvassed the support of their friend and fellow pioneer Spatz Sperling of Delheim, who immediately latched onto the idea. Writing in his memoirs, published in 2005, Sperling said: “At that time very little was happening on the wine farms in the way of public relations, marketing or providing facilities to welcome visitors to the farms, be it tastings or lunches.” Like Malan and Joubert, he saw a potential wine route not only as being an effective sales channel through which Stellenbosch’s private wine cellars could sell their wine, but also as an opportunity through which a better understanding of wine and the wine culture could be fostered among the public. Leading to a greater appreciation for the product of the vine, and thus a regular market.

Sperling was tasked with recruiting members for said idea. This meant sending a questionnaire to the 15 wine farms who were trading as private cellars to gauge interest in the concept of a wine route. After a lengthy waiting period, Sperling received a show of interest from one single wine farm.

He writes: “I was distraught! Malan, however, comforted me: ‘Jy ken nie my mense nie. Hulle sal nooit ‘n brief beantwoord nie.’ (You don’t understand my people – the Afrikaner – they’ll never answer a letter.) So, we got into a car and went canvassing, door to door … Often it felt like selling chewing gum, so gluey and gummed up were my fellow wine producers in this supposedly most culturally progressive wine district of South Africa!”

As Malan predicted, the personal lobbying worked. And in April 1971 official approval by the authorities was given to the form the Stellenbosch Wine Route, consisting of 11 members. Although the renowned bureaucracy surrounding South Africa’s liquor legislation made initial progress slow: it was only in 1975 that the Wine Route was given permission to erect sign-posts, and only in 1981 were the first signs bearing the Wine Route logo approved for placing at the designated farms.

At last! Wine Routes get a sign-post 10 years after the organisation is established.

It was, however, not only state officialdom that the Wine Route pioneers had to face, but the protectionist ethos of wine merchants themselves. Bottle stores and other traders were not keen on the prospect of the wine-loving public flocking to Stellenbosch wine farms to stock-up, thereby bypassing the liquor store. After its initial approval as a tourism body, the 11 members of the Stellenbosch Wine Routes were only allowed to sell a combined volume of 3 000 (12btl) cases of wine at cellar-door. Which was ludicrous, as Spier, Simonsig and Delheim were individually each producing more than that.

Other herd-headed restrictions the initial Wine Route members, as well as their guests, had to contend with was the fact that wine-tastings could not be held and people buying wine had to purchase a minimum of 12 bottles.

Fortunately, Sperling, Malan and Joubert were not only well-connected with the liquor authorities but possessed immense powers of persuasion, ensuring that these restrictions and limitations were eventually relaxed.

In 1992, celebrating the 21st anniversary of the Stellenbosch Wine Routes, Malan said: “I believe that the current laws pertaining to the wine industry are a direct result of the efforts of the Stellenbosch Wine Routes members.”

Stellenbosch

At the year of those 21st anniversary celebrations the Stellenbosch Wine Routes sported 24 wine farm members. This anniversary also coincided with the dawn of the new democratic South Africa which saw not only international markets opening for wines from Stellenbosch, but a proliferation of wine farms in the region due to the greater opportunity the industry now offered.

At the turn of the millennium Stellenbosch had some 120 wine-producing farms. However, the sudden growth in winery numbers and individualistic mind-sets had seen the Stellenbosch Wine Routes stagnate, with only 40 estates participating in the oldest South African wine route, representing the country’s leading wine region.

A new dawn began in 2000 when members of the Stellenbosch Wine Route realised that, to harness the dynamic opportunities of wine tourism to the benefit of the entire Stellenbosch, a more inclusive and commercially astute organisation had to be established. Under chairman Johann Krige of Kanonkop the Stellenbosch Wine Routes became a section 21 company, drew the majority of the region’s farms into the fold and obtained a lucrative sponsor from American Express. This allowed the organisation, which now had 140 members, to lead the way in local wine tourism and become one of the greatest wine tourism brands in the New World wine countries.

The leading role the region has played and continues to play in broadening the parameters and unleashing further opportunities in wine tourism has ensured Stellenbosch’s garnering of legendary status. A status that, like the legacy of the three pioneers, ensures the legend continues. 

New Vintage from a Port Master

The first chill of autumn drew me towards that part of the wine-shelf displaying the magnificence of Port (Douro Valley, Portugal) and Port-style (Cape) wines. Here there was a welcome sight, namely that of the Quinta do Sul label representing the heart and soul with which Alwyn Liebenberg approaches the style of wine that consumes a substantial amount of his expansive spectrum of vinous passions.

Alwyn has made Port in the Douro Valley. He has a collection of these wines that will cause a London fine wine trader to kick a hole in a Waterford decanter. An imbiber and enjoyer more than a tight-arsed taster and critic, Alwyn has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Port and Port-style wines. He can tell you from where the grape spirits originated that was used to fortify the later Taylor’s pre-war vintages. Tasting blind, Alwyn’s knowledge of and experience with terroir has him identifying the different sites from where the Port and Port-style wines originate, albeit between the Douro Superior and Cima Corgo or between Calitzdorp and Simonsberg.

The Quinta do Sul Port-style label is only made in special years and is waited for with revered anticipation by the – unfortunately dwindling – number of those appreciative of this style of wine. The most recent vintage is the 2020. Obviously, I shall hold back a number of bottles to age, but this most recent bout of Port-lust led me to open the bottle out of curiosity, also knowing it shall sate my thirst.

Alwyn’s style of Port-making is, as the previous Quinta do Sul vintages have shown, a combination of the renegade adventurous, in-build intuition and a heart-felt understanding of what makes this style of wine arguably the purest on earth. That is a broad statement, I know. But which other style of winemaking comes as close to capturing the essence and the soul of wine grapes as what Port does? Grapes are picked. As the magical, character-giving process of fermentation begins, the wine is fortified with neutral grape spirits. This blast of alcohol arrests the conversion of sugar to alcohol, allowing the perfumed sweet plushness of grape purity to remain intact, while complementing this with a statuesque structure courtesy of the added spirits.

Quinta do Sul 2020 was made from 100% Tinta Roriz grapes – also known as Tempranillo – which is one of the traditional Douro Port varieties. The vineyard grows in Prins Albert in the Karoo, so the necessary ripening requirements of sun and warmth are there, limitlessly, and this ideal geography is complemented by the region’s pristine Champagne-pure air in the isolated Karoo.

Alwyn Liebenberg

Back to Alwyn’s style of Port-making, which appears one-half Clint Eastwood and the other half Vincent van Gogh. The grapes are crushed in open-fermenters, and a portion of the neutral grape spirits added almost immediately. By introducing a measured portion of spirits from the onset, the grapes begin to ferment in the presence of the alcohol, which at this early stage is not enough to stop the process of fermentation. It just slows the whole thing down, allowing deep extraction of flavours and colour during the prolonged ferment. The segmented spirit additions and fermenting took place for 10 weeks, the wine lying on the skins for the entire time. Once the final portion of spirits went in, causing the ferment to finally halt, the wine spent another week on skins before pressed, racked and bottled. Not a barrel or smidgen of wood anywhere.

Quinta do Sul 2020 is, thus, barely one year old. But infanticide the drinking of it is not – back in Porto the Port houses state that a vintage Port has two stages of optimal pleasure: Years one to five, and then from 15 years onwards.

Port is, for me, best enjoyed in a glass of decent size. This allows for aeration, as well as introducing the drinker to the wine’s heady perfume, particularly beautiful in this young Quinta do Sul. The aroma drifts lazily from the glass, the pool of smells immersing the senses in rich black fruit, stewed by the late summer sun as they lie beneath the trees that are spent from the season’s growth. The nose of this wine comes with a spirited tug of alcohol, a warm heart-beat of noble power, almost Medieval in its dramatic presence which is black, gothic and sexy.

This Port-style wine has a truly sensual, balletic attack on the palate. The sweet loveliness of it all is crystal in its clarity, with not a hint of the cloying or syrupiness that all too many persons assume to be present in wines subjected to fortification. Warming the palate instantaneously, the display of flavours lifts the spirit of the one having the privilege to drink this. There are familiar red wine aspects, like the almost-sour brush of tannin and the agreeable swipe of dry herbs on the mid-palate. They raise the wine, giving freshness and perk. Allowing the senses to stay awake during the rest of what is going on here.

Tastes, gorgeous and delicious. The thick juicy black fruit of the aroma carries through on the palate, synching the soul of the drinker with the heart-beats of the Tinta Roriz grapes. A thimble of white pepper is sensed, joining the wine’s succulent, eloquent sweetness in brilliant harmony. Being fortified and strong, the power is not harnessed. There is an excitement in drinking a fine vintage Port or Port-style wine, such as Quinta do Sul, the liquor refusing to rest sleepily on the palate. Instead, it entices, seduces and alarms the senses, giving shudders of being enthralled and amazed by a beautifully big monster of a wine.

The sight of the winter ahead is a pleasure to behold.

  • Emile Joubert

Cape Fizz at 50

Great are the trumpet noises that so often herald the fact that the South African wine industry began all of 362 years ago when Dutch colonist Jan van Riebeeck announced that the first wine grapes had been harvested and pressed at the Cape. The date was 2 February 1659, a timeline which is today tirelessly used to underscore the fact that as far as winemaking goes, we Saffers ain’t no Johnny-Come-Latelies.

The first juice might have flowed all those years ago, but the local industry was not that quick in terms of selecting a diverse planting of wine grapes to do justice to the incredible Cape terroir, nor the grasping of innovative winemaking techniques. For example, small oak barrels were only introduced into the mid-1970s and wine-lovers here had to wait until the 1980s for their nation’s wine producers to begin titillating the palates with successful modern varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. 

The late Frans Malan, pioneer of Cap Classique.

And it was only in 1971 – 50 years ago this year – that a Cape wine farm began to experiment with the making of bottle-fermented sparkling wine, that is a fizzy wine made to the traditional method made famous by Champagne in France.

The farm was Simonsig in Stellenbosch. And after a visit to the Champagne region of France, Simonsig’s late patriarch Frans Malan decided it was time for South Africa to get its own version of Champagne.

The experiment of making a bottle-fermented sparkling wine turned to be a resounding success. Under the name Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel, Malan began a new chapter for Cape wine. The success of his maiden Kaapse Vonkel inspired other winemakers to take-up the challenge, and before you could say “pop that cork”, there were over 100 local versions of this sparkling wine known worldwide as Cap Classique.

Celebrating 50 years of Cap Classique, Simonsig is still one of the top brands in this wine category. And although the Kaapse Vonkel brand is very much alive, I only think it apt to toast this half-century with Simonsig’s other great bubbly, namely the stately Cuvée Royale. This is the estate’s blue-chip Cap Classique. Only one grape variety is used – Chardonnay. And the 48 months of lees-aging in the bottle elevates it into the category of luxury, excellence, premium and any other superlative of which any great sparkling wine is worthy.

The Cuvée Royale 2017 is currently on the market and coming from one of the best vintages for wine grapes in the past 20 years, this wine can pretty much close the book for anyone seeking that life-affirming, inspirational and joyous sensation a fine glass of ice-cold sparkling wine is known to offer.

For me, Chardonnay is just so much the go-to grape for Cap Classique or Champagne as its clear, zingy and citrus-driven purity enhances the overall sense of arousal evoked by the fizz and sparkle and foam. The base wine for the Simonsig Cuvée Royale goes into the bottle, where it undergoes that magical, mystical second fermentation. Here the 50 million bubbles found in every bottle of fizz is formed, while the 48 months spent in the glass allows the wine to draw an array of flavours and a collection of palate-pleasing textures from the lees (dead yeast cells).

It is a gorgeous wine, bubbles rising through the glass’s pale-straw, golden-sunset hue. Like a fine sparkling wine tends to do, the palate is alerted and wakened with the first sip of freshness and life. Then the flavours of citrus, honey-blossom and fennel take-over, ending with that beautiful waft of fresh brioche, a characteristic of any great sparkle.

I’ll raise this glass to Simonsig and 50 years of Cap Classique, and I shall drink it all.

No talk of Cap Classique is complete, however, without mentioning Graham Beck Wines, the sparkling  wine cellar which celebrated 30 years of business last year and is – like Simonsig – synonymous with Cape bubbly. A fantastic wine from that cellar currently out is the Graham Beck Pinot Noir Rosé 2015.

Expecting a palate-jolting bit of fruity fun, this Cap Classique turned out to be a seriously fine wine of statuesque structure. Some 90% Pinot Noir, the wine has a 10% Chardonnay component which works fantastically well in scalping those assertive tannins the acidic base wine tends to draw from a Pinot component during the whole-bunch pressing. The wine spent 60 months on the lees. No-one quite knows what goes on during that secondary fermentation in the bottle. But when you taste a wine like this it is evident that, with respect to Graham Beck cellarmaster Pieter Ferreira and his wingman Pierre de Klerk, there is a higher power at work during that process.

The Graham Beck Pinot Noir Rosé is extraordinarily perfect, as if the components had been put together by Steve Jobs and Einstein, with a bit of Elon Musk to add an untamed edgy eye seeking adventure of the other-worldly kind. The mousse is explosive and riveting. All the flavour one wants is there: berry and green apple, with mature lines of dry herb, clam brine and savoury. Once the bubbles dissipate in the mouth, the taste remains long and true, seamless and graceful and very, very impressive.

Okay, not all sparkling wines are created equal, but most are – for me – deliciously drinkable. Take this Bullicante bubbly from Dalla Cia, the Stellenbosch operation where father Giorgio and son George Dalla Cia craft a substantial collection of wine, grappa and now sparkling wine.

The Bullicante, delightfully colourful and Italian modern in its packaging, is a no-nonsense affair made for easy-glugging fun yet still hits those spots the human frame reserves for wine enjoyment.

The name Bullicante derives from a technique used by the Murano Art Glass blowers in Venice, where layers of air bubbles are blown into thick glass and pulled with the blowpipe to form elongated depressions. In a similar way the Dalla Cias have added bubbles to this range using a very northern Italian cultivar, Pinot Grigio, not often used as a bubbly and a variety not all that widely planted in the Cape.

So, after fermenting, the wine gets its fizz through a process sending a burst of CO₂ bubbles into the wine. The result is a fun-to-drink bubbly, brim-full of melon and goose-berry notes with a palate firm enough to ensure the pleasure of every sip lasts long enough to ease you into the next one.

Whatever’s in your glass this year, make sure some of it sparkles. Heaven knows we’re worth it.

Incredible Old Vine wine from Chamonix

Lafras Huguenet

The late Chris Hellinger had a wine farm in Africa of which he told me en route to Zurich to count his reserves of gold bullion. We met twice, both times in the Swiss Air 1st class lounge in London, and I remember him as an easy conversationalist able to talk on a wide variety of topics. We shared an interest in business, mining, wild-life, languages and wine, the latter being a passion of far greater importance to Chris as he was heavily invested in vineyards and cellar. He bought the Chamonix spread in Franschhoek in 1991 and during both our leisurely meetings raged about the travails of turning a fruit farm into a wine estate. Tracking a wounded buffalo was, apparently, child’s play compared to the efforts of soil preparation, selecting of clones and fielding the opinions of consultants on viticulture and cellar technology.

Chris Hellinger

The results of what he achieved on Chamonix, however, gave Hellinger a discernible sense of pride. He spoke about his vineyards and the wines in tones of reverence and respect, with gratitude for what the vines embedded on those Franschhoek mountain slopes were expressing in the glass.

Chris loved Pinot Noir, one of Chamonix’s calling cards, and when the fruit orchards went, in came Pinot Noir, Pinotage, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. He’d send me a few bottles every once in a while, which I enjoyed – and still enjoy immensely. The Chardonnay especially, is very good.

It is a great pity Chris is no longer alive to join me in drinking the latest release from Chamonix, as the first thing I would ask him is why, when he bought the farm and removed all the old growth, he allowed a Chenin Blanc vineyard to remain rooted. This was one of the few vineyards that had been set on the original Chamonix, probably a workhorse vineyard to supplement the income accrued from the fruit crops.

Planted in 1965, this Chenin Blanc vineyard – the only of the variety on the farm – was recently chosen for special treatment by Chamonix management. Watching the bunches developing on the old vineyard with its long shoots resembling sky-grabbing witches’ fingers, Chamonix CEO Stefan van Rooyen and winemaker Neil Bruwer last year sought to send this fruit for vinification. And to add a new wine to the Chamonix offering, this bearing the Old Vine Project seal developed by the Cape wine industry to underscore the importance of the region’s old vines. As well as to promote the quality of the wines made from these magnificent old gnarly pieces of living wood.

Neil Bruwer in the Old Vine Chenin Blanc vineyard.

The first batch of Chamonix Old Vine Steen, thus, was made from the 2020 vintage. Bruwer was offered a tentative meagre offering of old vine fruit, from which he managed to coax 600 bottles of white wine.

The vineyard is planted at 320m above sea-level in loamy apedal soil of sandstone origin. The patch is farmed dryland and comprises .58ha carrying 1732 vines. Due to the tender care the vineyard has been receiving of late, 2021 saw it bearing more fruit which will see more bottles Chamonix Old Vine Steen being offered in future.

And if the maiden 2020 is anything to go by, this is set to become a classic Cape white wine that also plays a role in emphasising Franschhoek’s legacy of viticulture and senior vineyards.

The Chamonix Old Vine Steen 2020 was fermented in old French oak, then aged for seven months in two old oak barrels, the one barrel undergoing regular lees-stirring while the other remained undisturbed. To my mind, this decision by Bruwer was a game-changer as the managed lees exposure gives the wine breadth and airiness without diluting the keen expression of life that make old vine wines so commanding.

To the eye, the wine fills the glass with a pale goldenness, gold being one of the many features Hellinger could talk about with uninterruptable authority. A tight, nostril-awakening hit of salt and citrus aroma drifts from the wine’s surface, and my attention has been captured.

The attack on the palate is, as is the wont of old vine wine, filled with the assertive confidence of a life well-lived, a vineyard that has seen it all in 55 summers and that has borne the savagely cold brunt of just as many winters. Edgy and probing, the wine soon finds purchase on the palate, filling the senses with an immense offering of unfettered flavour-filled joy.

Tang and zest are off-set by breezy flutters of white flowers, honey-suckle and ripe Kakamas yellow peaches. A rind of the maritime is there, clingy wet kelp and the just-pried shell of the white mussel. Citrus is sharp, more to the salted Moroccan lemon kind than just-picked freshness. But the whole, here, is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Chamonix Old Vine Steen is, simply, a deliciously wonderful wine talking the language of an exceptional vineyard planted to a unique patch of earth on the mountains above a charming Cape village. It is, like the pioneer of Chamonix, unforgettable.