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.

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2 thoughts on “Of Wine and Men: The Gathering of Cap Classique Legends

  1. Hi Emile,
    Wat ‘n wonderlike geleentheid.
    Baie dankie dat jy dit met ons gedeel het.
    Mooi bly en vonkelgroete.

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