South African Wine Co-operatives Cooking!


Co-operatives are the heartbeat of the South Africa wine industry, some would say the unsung heroes. They produce large volumes of wine, most are situated in locations deemed untrendy by commentators on matters vinous and co-ops are run by white and predominantly Afrikaans-speaking farmers with whom some nosey labour-liberals have issues.

Yet it is the co-op contingent that keeps the industry breathing. It is they who employ the most people. Who supply the bulk wine for the big corporates and foreign clients. Who keep the South African vineyard planted, groomed and growing. And if an estate is looking for a few thousand litres of Chardonnay, Shiraz, Chenin Blanc or Cabernet Sauvignon to bottle under its own label thus making a healthy profit, who are you going to call? Mister co-op.

I cut my teeth harvesting at Simonsvlei Co-op in Paarl, back in the early 1980s. And visiting co-ops today the changes are incredible, as are the improved quality of the wines.

In my day even a famous co-op like Simonsvlei would just open on harvest morning and take in every load of grapes available. Everything was pumped together into separators – my job – without any real thought that Fanie’s Chenin Blanc might be of a different or superior quality than Piet’s. The grapes were lumped together, the wine was made and the wine was sold.

Today all the co-operatives I deal with harvest to an approach that begins in each member-farmer’s vineyard. Blocks are identified for harvest on a certain date and are vinified separately. The better the quality, the more money said farmer gets for his grapes, encouraging him to take quality into account and not only yield.

It is harvest management to a military-like strategy. Winemakers and viticulturalists sit down each day to plan the following, co-ordinating with farmers who in turn must execute their own picking plans.

The result is a standard of excellent co-operative wines, something I for one am really proud. A bottle of Chenin Blanc from Perdeberg, for example, at below R30 displays great farming on the land, skilled winemaking and the kind of logistical management the smaller players are not aware of never mind the public.


I mention Perdeberg because it was the wine that set me on my wicked ways and the prospect of glass or two at the end of a day had my hands itching at the tender age of 17, if I recall correctly. And smuggling a case into Paul Roos boarding-house was a risky business, I tell you what.

The co-op variety that has me going at the moment is Chardonnay. Unwooded or with a bit of oak, chardonnays made by the bigger wineries are serious value for money and splendid drinking.

Bonnievale Wines is a given for good Chardonnay with all that chalk, gravel and clay in thar them vineyard soils. The 2013 Chardonnay from Bonnievale is slightly wooded to round off the edges with a burnt-butter edge, but displays exuberance of fruit, stony and mineral refreshment and a great purity of mouthfeel. At R40 a bottle it punches way, way above its weight and I’ve got cases.

The guys from Du Toitskloof Cellar in Rawsonville are arguably the most marketing-savvy co-operative around and it is hard to miss their wines among the current clutter of labels. Besides driving a wine-writing competition and sponsoring the Kokkedoor TV-show, which has twice the viewership of Masterchef, Du Toitskloof continues to make show-stoppingly good wines that do not make a credit card tremble.

They are famous for their Sauvignon Blanc, especially, but dig the Chardonnay, man.  It has a whiff of sagebrush and rose-petal, leading to a hit of citrus, Packham pear and buttercup mild on the palate. Hugely refreshing, massively satisfying, I drink it in big cold glugs from a glass chiming with ice-cubes.

Yes, I have my Corton-Charlemagne moments, but as get-down-and-enjoy Chardonnay, you can’t do better than those from a South African co-operative cellar.

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4 thoughts on “South African Wine Co-operatives Cooking!

  1. Hear hear! When you think of the fun stuff we tasted up on the Orange River and my recent tastings at Boland Perdeberg and Du Toiskloof, we make truly great value wines in this country.

  2. Thanking you ever so much Emile!! Really refreshing piece. Thanks also to you Michael for the lovely comment.

  3. Goeie artikel Emil! SA het ongelooflike waarde vir geld wyne, veral met die swak rand behoort die wynindustrie ernstig gebruik te maak daarvan om hierdie boodskap te vestig in nuwe markte.
    Was ook lekker om te sien dat jy saamgewerk het met die National Geographic program oor die SA wynindustrie. Was ook verfrissend om te sien dat die jonger wynmakers sulke goeie blootstelling kry. SA kan ‘n lekker niche vul met wynbemarking as ‘wyne vir n jong, ondernemende, kreatiewe, energieke, generasie. Dis soveel meer interessant as om na ou ooms en tannies met nat broeke te kyk wat hulle “big return on ego” fantasiee uitleef met ‘n wynplaas iewers in die Kyp of nuwe byvoeglike naamwoorde uitdink en dit in ‘n kolom sit en baie geld vra om dit te lees, sodat jy jou vriende by die volgende ete kan wow.
    Robert Parker was onlangs in Shanghai. Was egter te besig om my eie wyn te verkoop as om USD1000 op te dok om hom in aksie te sien. Die dae van die Sjinese draak se onblusbare aptyt vir verspot duur wyn is besig om te taan. Die Robber Parker roadshow lyk na ‘n laaste poging om dit te laat herleef. Daar was onlangs ‘n goeie artikel in die China Daily (voorblad nogal) wat gese het dat Sjinese verbruikers wegbeweeg van hul tradisionele “witblits” (bai jiu) en al hoe meer rooiwyn begin drink. Fantastiese nuus. Hulle moes net bygevoeg het dat dit verkieslik SA wyn moet wees 🙂 Die Sjinese het verseker hul eie industrie om te beskerm en te groei maar die Sjinese het ‘n ernstige agterdogtigheid oor hul landsgenote se voedsel industrie. Ek het nog nie iets hier geproe wat iemand met ‘n prieel op die Hoeveld nie beter kan maak nie. Die gevolg is dat daar met die regte posisionering in hierdie markte groot geleenthede is vir SA se wynindustrie. Die enigste twee SA wyne wat regtig hier ‘n impak op die winkelrakke het is Two Oceans en Nederburg via die groot Sjina invoerder ASC. ‘n Bottle Two Oceans sit jou (teen die huidige wisselkoers) so R300 terug. Eina.

    1. Hi Rihann
      Baie dankie vir jou kommentaar. Jy is beslis passievol oor die onderwerp. Ons deel ‘n gemeenskaplike wingerd.

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