Kleinhoekkloof: A Taste of the Cape Wilderness

The pure mountain air is bearing scents of summer wild-flowers, budding vines and oak barrels filled with ageing red wine. But nothing beats the smell of bacon. Bacon frying atop a gas-plate in the wine-tasting venue at Kleinhoekkloof tucked away between the Klein Karoo town of Ashton and the heady heights of the Langeberge mountains.

With owner Theunis de Jongh’s pedigree as a born-and-bred Pretorian and his admission of being a life-long Blue Bull rugby acolyte, I was expecting the hearty scent of boerewors instead of bacon. But besides making wine from the 11.2ha of vineyards growing in this pocket of unexpected vinous wilderness, Theunis also produces a range of charcuterie from big, happy pigs wandering distant pastures of Glen Oaks Farm at Tesselaarsdal in the southern Cape.

Kleinhoekkloof

Like his love of charcuterie, Theunis came upon wine during the two decades he spent running various businesses requiring extensive travel and lengthy stays in Europe. “As most students do, I partook of the odd slug of jug wine while studying at the University of Pretoria,” says Theunis. “But now being a wine-farmer, I know you are going to ask me about the ‘lightbulb moment’ when wine became more than a passing interest and something that took root inside of me. Well, this came in the early 1980s when I was dining at La Gavroche in London. And someone on the table ordered a Châteauneuf du Pape wine, something I had not come across before. The presence, the array of flavours, the classic structure, the balance and the whole experience of this wine… that did it. As far as South African wines are concerned, Meerlust Rubicon also convinced me that we can truly produce world-class wines in the Cape.

That Theunis himself would be making a world-class wine, never-mind owning a wine farm, would not have crossed his mind forty years ago. But now here he is on Kleinhoekkloof, from where last year’s overall top-scoring wine at the Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards came from, namely a Shiraz-based blend named Jupiter, from the 2018 vintage.

“Of course, when we bought the farm in 2004 the idea of making champion wines was not on the horizon,” says Theunis. “But I would not have pulled-up my tent-pegs in Pretoria and settled here if I did not believe that this piece of earth is truly something unique and special, capable of turning our family dreams into some sort of satisfying reality.”

Theunis de Jongh

The farm is 114ha in all, most of it wild mountain country. Only just recently the De Jonghs were woken by the sound of a leopard having an altercation with an unsuspecting duiker buck. With 11.2ha planted to a diverse spectrum of varieties, eight hectares of land is still suitable for vines.

“I am a proud exponent of the features of the Robertson Wine Valley, and Kleinhoekkloof is an example of the diversity of terroir found within the Robertson region,” he says.

Elevation-wise, Kleinhoekkloof’s vineyards lie at between 320m and 420m compared to the 160m above sea-level altitude found in the lower regions of the Robertson Valley along the Breede River. Rainfall is higher – 420mm – and temperatures are not only cooler, but a greater diurnal difference is found. While Robertson in general, prides itself on having the most limestone-rich soils of all the Cape’s wine regions, Kleinhoekkloof’s rocky schist and shale foundations fall outside the chalk kingdom.

Sauvignon Blanc is the stand-alone white variety, with a patch of Viognier existing exclusively for blending into the award-winning Jupiter blend. The rest of the farm is planted to Shiraz, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot and Malbec.

“My preference is red, and I think we get terrific and a unique varietal expression in our red wines,” says Theunis. “Looks aren’t everything – this the wine game has taught me – but the diurnal temperature differences up here at Kleinhoekkloof give the red fruit such amazing colour that I am in love with some of the wines just by looking at them.”

Although himself handy in the cellar as a self-taught winemaker, Theunis has brought in educated and experienced help to ensure the end-results does justice to the quality of the grapes. The late Kim McFarlane, who passed away in 2021, was a major guider and inspiration, and currently he is assisted by Lizette Stulting, who ditched a career in magazine publishing to study Viticulture and Oenology at Stellenbosch.

Kleinhoekkloof’s legendary charcuterie platter.

“I am still the underling, although I admit to being a fast learner,” says Theunis. “But I have one rule, and that is we play nothing but Pink Floyd in the cellar.”

During my visit, bacon snacks were complemented by a selection of wines poured for an early-morning tasting, me being keen to try the accolade-bearing Jupiter 2018. Shiraz, Petit Verdot and Viognier is co-fermented and aged in a combination of new and old wood, and the result is an unsullied powerhouse. Hugely engaging and very interesting, Jupiter combines the supple, sappy frame-work of cool-grown Shiraz with a Petit Verdot punch of dusty tannin, the whole shebang given an evocative perfumed fleshiness by the dose of Viognier.

The Jupiter 2018 is unfortunately now sold-out, but is such a distinctive and fascinating red wine that many Kleinhoekkloof discoverers will keep the release-date of the next vintage to themselves.

I’ve always been keen on continental climate South African Pinot Noir, and the Kleinhoekkloof Pinot Noir 2019 confirms the rewards that lie on being made of the ilk that never lets a Pinot pass one by. Typical Pinot Noir characters of red-fruit and feral dampness are eschewed, this wine being firm and fresh with an eerily tasty jolt of metallic bloodiness.

The Merlot Rosé is a class act, the classic onion-skin hue leading to a gush of red fruit, potpourri and a wet-stone perkiness.

The first time I visited Kleinhoekkloof was during harvesting of Sauvignon Blanc, yet the resulting wine has never reached me. Until I commanded a glass to cut through the unctuous fat of my bacon sandwich.

And it is a stunner, none of the sought-after tropical character many Sauvignon Blanc producers pine for, nor any of the canned-pea and wet cat characters that defined the variety ten years back. This Sauvignon Blanc is about crispness and sparkling mountain streams, the glitter of a breaking sun on mountain rocks. To communicate this joy, the wine shows lime-peel, sorrel and rock-salt, with just an ever-so slight golden hint of honey-suckle drifting on a cool, endless sea of white wine purity. Taken with one of Theunis’s home-made charcuterie platters, heaven on earth.

Kleinhoekkloof might be a hidden gem, as of yet, but the potential for great things is so rife you can smell it.

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