The Mavens of Cap Classique

Shirley van Wyk, Terre Paisible
Like all the fine sparkling elixirs made from the vine, Cap Classique depends on an image of style, class and elegance as much as it does on that engaging pop of the cork and the effervescent rush of flavours on the palate. Shirley van Wyk, MD of Terre Paisible in Franschhoek, for me has always been the embodiment of this element of style and grace in wine marketing. Coupled with this is her love of Cap Classique and fervent ambition to see it at the top end of the Cape’s wine offerings, comfortably standing alongside Champagne and the rest that the world has to offer in terms of things sparkling.
No surprise then that when she was tasked to make of Terre Paisible a world-class destination for wine, food and accommodation, overseeing the presence of a premium Cap Classique was at the top of her agenda.

“As a wine category, Cap Classique has leapt to the forefront of our country’s wines, in terms of quality as well as image and status,” she says. “Fifty-two years after the first South African sparkling wine was made in this style of bottle fermentation, we find ourselves with a diverse array of Cap Classique wines that exude excellence and express the amazing terroir of the Cape’s wine regions. These can proudly stand alongside Champagne, Prosecco and Cava and, as one who has an international outlook in terms of realising the potential of Brand South Africa, I believe this recognition of Cap Classique as a local product desired in a global context is something we in the industry must advance.”

As a marketing specialist and brand custodian with experience in California and South Africa, Shirley is no stranger to the wines that sparkle. Working in the Los Angeles film industry made Champagne a part of her everyday life. And in the Cape Shirley headed up marketing for Boschendal, one of the country’s first Cap Classique producers, where she played a major role in taking Boschendal Cap Classique to new heights in creating an image of style and desirability, especially in the so-called ‘new market’.
“The beauty of marketing and promoting Cap Classique – and I’m sure the same goes for the promoters of Champagne and Prosecco – is that it’s about more than the quality of the product; it’s about the image and expectation,” she says.

“The brand and every detail in that brand need as much attention as the quality of grapes, the chemistry of the base wine and the levels of dosage. One can equate it to the world of fashion. When a designer creates a beautiful gown, they ensure it is worn and seen so that it can be fully appreciated. However, if the fabric or stitching of the gown are not exquisite, the complete design will lose its lustre. Quality is the ingredient that ensures an exquisite design becomes desirable and truly valuable. Similarly, crafting an exceptional Cap Classique is only half the fairytale – how it is presented is what creates the magic.”

At Terre Paisible, winemaker Adam Mason has created the Vivre Cap Classique, a Blanc de Blancs expressing the property’s terroir and ability to offer a sparkling wine of energy, refreshment and life (vivre). “What I love about creating a Cap Classique brand is that one does not have to make excuses for offering a luxury product,” says Shirley. “And with luxury at the core of Terre Paisible’s total offering, this is one Cap Classique that came naturally for me.”

Lizemari Geldenhuys, Kleine Zalze

There is a well-worn adage that wine is made in the vineyard. Well, as the late wine legend Duimpie Bayly loved to retort to this statement, “The vineyard is important, but no one wins the Durban July without a jockey.” In other words, it is the winemaker who defines and determines the final outcome. And few, if any, wine styles are as dependent on the consistent involvement of a winemaker as Cap Classique.

And this suits Lizemari Geldenhuys, winemaker at Stellenbosch’s Kleine Zalze Wines responsible for the winery’s range of Cap Classiques, to the proverbial tee.

“That’s what I love about making Cap Classique: the fact that the wine in each bottle is individual, undergoing its own secondary fermentation process in that bottle,” she says. “This and other aspects of the category allow a winemaker to be creative in determining each specific style of Cap Classique, as you are basically making two wines.

“The first is the base wine from early-harvested grapes with bracing acidity that must carry through to ensure freshness in the final wine, while demanding attention in the cellar to ensure complexity and character. Making the ‘second’ wine involves priming it with a yeast portion I call the ‘yeast bomb’. This bomb I have to get started, feeding and growing it like you do when preparing a yeast mother for sour-dough. The yeast is then added to the base wine, which is bottled and sealed to begin the secondary fermentation. That’s when the bubbles develop in the wine and all those typical Cap Classique flavours develop.

“All this demands my constant attention for the year or more the wine develops in the bottle, making it a hands-on wine that I find truly rewarding to make and love to see through to the end.”

Lizemari graduated from Stellenbosch University as a winemaker and viticulturist before working in California and Australia, as well as at Boschendal in the Cape. Although these experiences include none with Cap Classique, upon joining Kleine Zalze in 2016 the making of bubbly fell on her shoulders.

“It’s developed into a mild obsession,” she says. “Making Cap Classique for a big established winery such as Kleine Zalze is immensely rewarding, as you know there is a large consumer base of people loyal to the brand due to its overall reputation for wine quality. Consumers have also really taken to Cap Classique over the past decade. It is no longer something reserved for celebrations and special occasions – although no celebration is complete without Cap Classique! – but is enjoyed as part of the inclusive wine lifestyle.”

Besides the satisfaction of total involvement in the process of making Cap Classique, Lizemari and her team love the challenge of something new. The latest is a Chenin Blanc Cap Classique from the 2023 vintage.

“This is truly exciting, as it’s a wine made from registered Old Vine Chenin Blanc and, to boot, the base wine was fermented and aged in clay amphorae, giving it a unique flavour profile. But like everyone else, I will have to wait for the final product as it is now fermenting in bottle, with release pending until 2025.”

Product loyal, Lizemari opens a bottle of Cap Classique to celebrate life. “Waiting with a glass of Cap Classique is the cherry on top!”

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