How to Make an Instant Wine Classic in Stellenbosch

The Stellenbosch wine region is rapidly being defined by the tale of two Cabernets: Sauvignon and Franc. At this stage Sir Sauvignon is still way ahead in terms of offering wines showing recognised splendour and magnificence, obviously due to the fact that it is more widely planted in Stellenbosch than Monsieur Franc. Being associated with iconic wine brands such as Kanonkop, Rustenberg, Rust en Vrede, Meerlust, Waterford and Le Riche – to name a few – has, too, made Cabernet Sauvignon a no-brainer in attracting traction in the mind of the wine consumer searching for the big red stuff.

It was Uva Mira winemaker Christiaan Coetzee who, during a long conversation atop one of his sky-hugging vineyards 600m up the Helderberg, planted this thinking that Cabernet Franc is fast becoming a serious Cape wineland offering, capable of garnering as much star-struck attention as the wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon. Especially in the Helderberg where sunlight radiation runs to 5000 watts, air-flow is indeterminably constant and the 80 million year-old soils of decomposed granite offer growing matter of the kind the Cabernet Franc variety tends to find as likeable as its more famous Sauvignon off-spring does.

The much-hyped release earlier this year of Taaibosch Crescendo definitely adds to the excitement around the potential Cabernet Franc has to make and contribute to magnificence wines. There is no turning back now. The variety is a player. And the best and most is yet to come.

Taaibosch is the premier result of the France-based Oddo family’s foray into Stellenbosch. It began with Pink Valley Rosé lower down the Helderberg slope from the Taaibosch vineyards and winery. Now, after a relatively short period of cellar-building, soil-ripping, vineyard-planting and rejuvenation of established plants, the Taaibosch Crescendo 2018 has been released. To loud acclaim and hype, the rapturous welcoming of Taaibosch largely resting on the reputation the same farm had achieved under previous owners as Cordoba. Cordoba had a huge reputation in the 1990s and early 2000s, so much so that the current owners milked the name of Cordoba’s flagship red wine Crescendo.

Taaibosch winery.

Comparisons, however, stop there. Besides new owners, the sherriff is Schalk-Willem Joubert. The Taaibosch wine is a different animal all together than Crescendos of old. Different winemaker. Different vineyard and cellar. Different style.

In the Taaibosch Crescendo Cabernet Franc dominates the blend with a 65% component, followed Merlot (30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (5%) making-up the balance.

The currently established vineyards comprise 18 year-old bushvines farmed without irrigation. And to organic principles, but without the bunny-hugger ethos which South African organic producers still struggle to shake. “Organic is about soil-health, which makes for healthier vines and better wine,” says Joubert. “This is quite a simple equation, and one we follow rigorously on Taaibosch. But it is not a marketing tool – this is not organic wine, but great wine that happens to result from organic farming.”

The one thing that struck me about the visit to Taaibosch was that although the accent is on the spectacular terroir, the health of the soils and the personal attention each vine is given, there is none of this “wine is made in the vineyard” bullshit. That spectacular Taaibosch cellar, technologically as advanced as any other in the Cape, was not built just to coax grapes from berries wine. It is about timing, precision and focussed aspiration.

Schalk-Willem Joubert

Grapes are hand-picked and cooled-down in a cold-room before given a cold-soaking. After inoculated fermentation, the Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon components are matured separately for 14 months in French oak barriques, of which 35% are new.

Then comes the blending, something Joubert and his team does with the attention to detail and mastered intuitiveness of a symphony conductor.

The wines are removed for blending, whereafter the total blend is moved to two different sets of containers – 70% to wood foudré and the rest to concrete eggs. Here the blend lies for a year, before being drawn off and placed in concrete for three months to finish-off the maturation. The wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered, spending three to six months in bottle before release.

The maiden Taaibosch Crescendo 2018, already deemed a cult wine despite its modest R300 price-tag, easily and confidently slips into the very top offering of South Africa’s classic wine offering. There is something very accurate, immaculate and polished about the wine – that nothing-out-of-place, tuning-fork clarity one gets when experiencing a Charlie Parker saxophone riff or reading a JM Coetzee paragraph of precisely placed sentences constructed from perfectly chosen words.

An initial fresh, juicy entry onto the palate leads to the wine exposing firmly weighted flavours of blueberry, cherry and dried pomegranate, with a slight hit of fennel and fynbos, the latter also being a pronounced feature of Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon. Reflecting its ethos, the wine’s run is precise and clear. From entry to finish, this is complete red wine glory which can be studied and analysed, or just experienced for the very deliciousness thereof. The Cabernet Franc component gives brightness and grace in structure, while the dab of Merlot weighs-in with a turn of fruity succulence with Cabernet Sauvignon ensuring a firm, brooding finish.

Whatever the tale holds in-store, it is being told very well.

Boschendal adds Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon to Acclaimed Appellation Series

Boschendal Estate, founded in 1685 in Groot Drakenstein between Paarl and Franschhoek, is known for going that extra mile in search of vineyards from which to make the best wines possible for its extensive range. In its “Appellation Series” Boschendal seeks to bottle grape varieties that have become associated with parcels of Cape winelands terroir recognised as offering distinctive characteristics to cultivars especially suited to these regions. And when it came to extending this series to include Cabernet Sauvignon, known as the King of Red wines, Boschendal looked to Stellenbosch, South Africa’s most famous wine region which has over the past five decades become world-famous for wines made from this Bordeaux variety.

According to Shirley van Wyk, Boschendal Marketing Manager, the Boschendal Appellation Series of wines has up to now focussed on Elgin from where grapes are selected from long-term grower vineyards as well as Boschendal’s own Highfield Vineyards. “These site-specific wines with their terroir focus and vivid expression of varietal character have established the Appellation Series as one of Boschendal’s acclaimed premium offerings,” says Van Wyk. “In looking to find a wine to bolster this range, the excellent reputation of South African Cabernet Sauvignon came to fore. And when you look for Cabernet Sauvignon, there is really only one region that springs to mind, and that is Stellenbosch.”

Shirley van Wyk, Boschendal marketing manager.

The search for the best vineyards from which to make the Boschendal Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon led Boschendal viticulturist Heinie Nel and red winemaker Jacques Viljoen to Stellenbosch’s Helderberg appellation. Famed for its legacy of Cabernet Sauvignon wines, the Helderberg lies on the south-easterly side of the region and is characterised by ancient soils of decomposed granite, steep slopes that face west and bask in afternoon sun, as well as close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean at nearby False Bay.

According to Viljoen, Helderberg terroir is a dream for any winemaker aspiring to the making of fine Cabernet Sauvignon. “It is as if Cabernet Sauvignon and Helderberg, Stellenbosch were made for each other,” he says. “Not only does one sense this when you are in the vineyards seeing the plants develop grape-bunches in ideal conditions. Once the grapes are harvested and you begin to work with the fruit and the juice, the developing flavours and aromas are pronounced in exuding a Cabernet Sauvignon character one only finds from that part of Stellenbosch.”

The maiden Boschendal Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon was made from the 2017 vintage which is becoming recognised as one of the best red wine vintages the Stellenbosch region has had over the past few decades. “The 2016 winter was slap-bang in the middle of that infamous Cape drought,” says Viljoen, “and as harvest 2017 got underway, vineyard conditions were dry and hot. However, the weather cooled down considerably in March. This was ideal for the late-ripening variety that is Cabernet Sauvignon as the cooler temperatures led to that special thing a winemaker seeks: even-ripening.”

Winemaker Jacques Viljoen from Boschendal.

The grapes were hand-harvested on the Helderberg and brought to the Boschendal winery in cooled containers. After destemming, berries were meticulously sorted to remove any green or shrivelled fruit. Fermentation was done in stainless steel tanks, with regular pump-overs ensuring aeration and extraction during the 12 days’ fermenting.

“With fruit of such quality and from such a great vintage, you want to make sure you get the best out of it,” says Viljoen. “Thus, when the grapes had fermented dry, we did a post-fermentation maceration, allowing the wine to lie on the skins for a further month before pressing. This process really polished the wine with bright fruit flavours and well-rounded tannins.”

Maturation was done in 300 litre barrels of French oak ranging from 1st to 4th fill wood for 15 to 16 months.

“Myself and the team kept an eye on the barrels throughout the wine’s time in wood,” says Viljoen, “constantly tasting and keeping tabs on its development. When it came to selecting the best barrels to make-up the final blend, we had a firm idea what the final wine demanded. And now, tasting it from the bottle, it has exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

Viljoen describes the Boschendal Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 as a great example of Cabernet made on one of the best sites for this variety in the New World. “It is all about giving the wine a sense of place, something the terroir of our Stellenbosch vineyards has truly done,” he says. “There is a commanding presence in the completeness of the wine on the palate, the muscular yet supple tannins and the long, elegant finish. What I am truly pleased about is the bright, sunny fruit elements that complement the classic complexity. Discernible notes of cherry and black-currant add to the wine’s regal features, and I refer to these as the jewels in the crown.”

According to Van Wyk, Boschendal Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 is a welcome addition to the Boschendal . “This wine is destined to become a classic and underscores Boschendal’s position as a leading house of premium South African wines. The Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon is an important milestone in Boschendal’s journey to continued excellence in wine quality, provenance and legacy. And we all look forward to being part of the next chapter of this estate’s illustrious history.”

  • Press Release

Edgebaston and the Cabernet Kid

Having built-up a formidable reputation as a winemaker with various brands and wine styles over the past 25 years, David Finlayson from Edgebaston Wines has enough experience to know what he can do best. In terms of producing wine, his life-long connection with Cabernet Sauvignon is proving to deliver his most famous offerings, as recently shown in the Concours International des Cabernets, one of the world’s leading competitions committed to judging this variety and where Finlayson’s Edgebaston Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 won a rare gold medal.

 At the most recent edition of the Concours des Cabernets, 223 wines made from Cabernets grapes and from 20 countries were tasted by sommeliers members of the Union de la Sommellerie Française.

David Finlayson

“There is something personally rewarding gaining accolades with a grape variety that has been a part of your life for as long as one’s interest in wine has been there,” says Finlayson, who is part of the three-generation Finlayson family that continues to make its mark on the South African wine scene. “Growing up on various Stellenbosch wine farms, it was Cabernet Sauvignon that was always spoken of in revered terms by my grand-father Maurice and his sons Walter (David’s father) and Peter. Going on to study winemaking at Elsenburg and beginning to make wine, I realised at a young age the greatness of Cabernet Sauvignon as a variety, as well as the fact that it comes to the fore magnificently in the diverse terroir offered by the Stellenbosch region.”

Despite the reputation gained with his extensive and diverse range of Edgebaston wines, Finlayson admits to a special affinity for Cabernet Sauvignon. “The aroma of Cabernet fermenting during harvest is pretty much a part of my wine DNA, having been exposed to this from an early age,” he says. Over time and working with the variety you get to know its nuances, its manner and features, as well as those expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch which are unique in the wine world.

“That’s the most important thing about winning this gold medal and the Concours des Cabernets – this and other awards give recognition to Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon, a segment of South African wine that has garnered a terrific reputation and with which we can take-on the world.”

Of the award-winning Edgebaston Cabernet Sauvignon, Finlayson says that it is all about terroir, elegance and purity of fruit. “No fancy tricks in the cellar, just let the grapes do the talking,” he says.

The vineyard from which this wine was made grows on Malmesbury Shale set above a deep red clay component.  Sorting of bunches was done before destemming into 70-100 hl fermentation tanks. Remontage was twice daily and the various components lay on the skins  for between seven and 14 days. The wine was matured for 14 months in French oak comprising a 20% new wood component, the balance made-up of 2nd and 3rd fill components.

With Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon forging ahead as the Cape’s leading red wine offering, the role of legacy and heritage cannot be ignored. As Finlayson has proven, it’s in the genes.

Hamilton Russell and the King of Cool

Of all the features I find most impressive in a wine, cool is king. Not the wine’s physical temperature, although this is, too, a very important aspect of the vinous offering. It is the coolness of temperament, the confidently calm manner in which the wine harnesses its components into one seamless expression of character, charm and taste.

Just as cool was a defining feature of the late great Steve McQueen and still, after 40 years, lies behind the genius of pop-rock legend Paul Weller, all my best, favourite and most memorable wines had a cool swagger. A grace in tone, an assertive note of style and presence, all bringing great beauty to the senses of those the wine permits to feast upon it.

Steve McQueen, King of Cool, tasting wine.

Talk cool and wine, and one could not be blamed for thinking of things white. Suave Sauvignon Blanc. Churlish, cocky Chardonnay. Calm-weighted Chenin Blanc. And yes, many great white wines are cool, although it is a character not exclusive to these wines of lighter shade and lower drinking temperature.

Á current example of such a cool white that passed my lips of late is the 2020 Chardonnay from Hamilton Russell Vineyards, a producer that is itself the embodiment of cool. From the style and intellectual snappiness of its owner Anthony Hamilton Russell, to the maritime climate of those vineyards in the Hemel-en-Aarde, Hamilton Russell Vineyards is to cool what cleavage is to Marilyn Monroe.

But the wine says it all. It says you must have something exceptionally cool about you to release a relatively young Chardonnay. One for no crystal ball is needed, nor a bout of rigorous bone-throwing to the forefathers to foresee this wine is destined for greatness.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2020 resulted from a wet 2019 winter, with over 800mm of rain. The 2020 summer was cool, with pre-harvest temperatures of December, January and February maxing-out at 25°C. Harvested end-February, the grapes were taken to cellar where winemaker Emul Ross managed their growing from infantile raw fruit to one of those complete wines that is made from the great grape that is Chardonnay.

The wine spent nine months in tight-grain French wood, a selection of fills one to four.

Upon procuring the bottle, I was not going to let it lie down. It was chilled, decanted to draw air for an hour before the drinker approached the Chardonnay with the anticipation of a youthful caracal stalking its first guinea-fowl.

On the nose, the wine offers fresh Cape lemon peel, loquat and dew-damp sage with a slight hit of fennel. Of course, the approach and attack on the palate is balletic in grace and elegance, presenting an initial cocky citrussy zest and sherbet-tainted exuberance. Sliding onto the mid-palate as easily as an eel slips through meadows green and lush, this Chardonnay asserts itself with a very likeable combination of the classic meeting a wild wilderness coastline of a land down way south. The classic lies in those notes of broad white lilies, perching on a shrine in the cavernous expanse of a Byzantine church where silence hangs in great pools. Churned butter, wallowing in its briny thin milk, coats the mouth which takes off on a journey of Key lime, grilled hazelnuts and a smack of the wild sour-figs growing on wind-swept dunes, the ones in aforementioned wilderness.

The coolness is tasty and tangible. All the notes are in tune. The body is fresh, lithe and clean. Those aromas are singing sweetly, and the flavours dressed sharply, from head to toe. Looking sharp. Ready to move and being moved. Because it’s wine time, which is always cool.

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.


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