There is a cynical adage stating “if it looks and sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. Whilst certainly applicable to ponzi schemes and time-share agents, there are exceptions. Zimbabwean author Alexandra Fuller writes like Hemingway and looks like a runway model. Former French rugby captain Fabien Pelous would rip a whole opposing scrum apart and afterwards still discuss St Emilion vintages from the 1960’s to 1980’s in French and English.
Everything about Waterford Estate in the Helderberg sounds and looks too good to be true. The hacienda like entrance, leading you onto a square where models and other good-looking types leisurely sit around on ample leather chairs sipping wine or coffee looking as if they were extras on the set of a Roland Joffe movie.
The Waterford staff exude an air of politeness that one expects to find in airy old clubs off Knightsbridge. Walking into the tasting room, they actually look glad to see you ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ not out of desperation, of course, as this is one of the most popular estates in the country. But they greet you as though you’d walked across the Sahara to be there. What can we get you ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ water (still or sparkling), coffee, some wine-tasting, perhaps?
Then there are the wine-makers, Kevin Arnold and his lieutenant Francois Haasbroek. Kevin, who commandeered the Waterford project making it cash-positive in six years, is to South African wine-making what Morn+¬ du Plessis was to South African rugby. Easy-going, likeable and terrifically skilled at what he does, Kevin would be a shoe-in for the position of South African wine ambassador if ever there was one.
Haasbroek is a Kevin on steroids. Probably one of the most passionate blokes in the South African wine industry, Haasbroek’s physical energy in the winery is matched by the amount of grey matter he has floating around in that chiselled head of his. Want to know why Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is the greatest book of all time or need a dissertation on Stellenbosch vintage variations in the 1990’s? Haasbroek is your guy. Need to know how to cook pigeon in the Alsatian style? Call Haasbroek.
Having people like this around is good. Call me bias and short-sighted, but if Kevin and Haasbroek are involved in a wine cellar, there ain’t going to be nothing but good wine coming out of that joint.
I do not seem to be the only one: Waterford’s wines are found on over 70% of the country’s wine-lists. Personally I can’t think of another South African wine brand which has established itself so firmly in the mind of the consumer, retailer and restaurateur in the past ten years as Waterford. It has to be the South African brand of the Millennium thus far.
During a recent visit to Waterford, Kevin hauled me onto a Land Rover to join farm’s latest tourism experience ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ a wine drive. The Land Rover has been refurbished to accommodate eight people on a drive around the 120ha farm, which has far more rugged country than the manicured lawns and pruned orange trees at the entrance would suggest.
A dip to the north brings one to the Chardonnay vineyards where, lo and behold, the car pulled over at a table next to a dam where wine was poured. We were given the run-down on the Waterford Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, both 2008 and particularly enjoyable.
The Sauvignon Blanc was firm and ballsy, without any flashy pyrazines or zingy acids and had developed beautifully with a bit of bottle aging. Pure class. The Chardonnay was what might be described in poetic Afrikaans as a “koekhou”.
Ever so subtly wooded, the wine was clean, mineral with a hint of typical Chardonnay sunniness verging on the tropical.
The steeper slopes of the Helderberg’s south-western side were negotiated, with Table Mountain and Constantia Neck now visible in the distance. “No other wine region in the world is like this,” says Kevin. “Nowhere do you find the maritime influence combining with a mountain range to form such a unique terroir for wine-farming.”
It is a truly spectacular view, once again reminding one that when it comes to aesthetically pleasing wine-lands, South Africa kicks butt from Chile to Chablis.
Next to a Cabernet vineyard, three more wines were poured: Waterford Cabernet Sauvignon, Kevin Arnold Shiraz and The Jem, the Estate’s premium blend consisting of eight varieties.
The Cabernet made my day. It is not as silkily seductive as the Shiraz or The Jem, but has a serious irony, fynbos whack which is almost as dramatic as the view from where it was sipped.
Back at Waterford HQ, a film-crew was busy shooting an advertisement, not an uncommon occurrence. Upon closer inspection, I noticed the advertisement was for Pedra Negra wines from Argentina.
The irony of choosing a South African wine estate as a back-drop for an advertisement promoting a leading Argentinian wine brand says all that can be said about Waterford. Good, and true.
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