Footsteps of wine legends have carefully trodden the slopes of Bottelary’s winelands into undulating expanses of glorious vines. From the late Stevie Smit of Koopmanskloof, Danie Steytler at Kaapzicht and the Roos-family on Mooiplaas and the Morkels of Bellevue, to name a few. This unique part of Stellenbosch’s wineland geography is home to not only some of the region’s oldest farms and vineyards. Some of the area’s best wines are made here and supply grapes to some of the finest bespoke wine labels in this country, the terroir of gravel, clay and koffieklip exposed to the maritime air from the north-west in winter and the south-east in summer, complementing the legacy of the pioneering forefathers.
The resurgence of old(er) Cape wine goes ahead unfettered, garnering greater interest every month. More is being written about and spoken of wines from the 1960s through early 1990 than ever before. Only ten years ago these wines were scoffed off as “pre-democracy”, “old school” and “Afrikaner ox-blood”. Now, 30-year-old hipsters with “Swartland Forever” tattoos admit to being willing to swop a crate of beard-grooming oil for a taste of a 1974 Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon and their complete collection of Goldfish CDs for a bottle of GS Cabernet 1966.
Wine blood gets no bluer than that beating through Madame May-Eliane de Lencquesaing. And at 95 years of age, it beats alert, clear and with warmth.
At her birth in 1925 she was already a part of one of Bordeaux’s most respected wine families. Her father, Edouard Miailhe, was the fifth generation of a family that had since 1783 owned some of Bordeaux’s most respected wineries, including Château Palmer and Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, names guaranteed to make every true wine-lover’s heart skip a beat.
People provenance leads me to wine. For as that old sage Duimpie Bayly, former production head of Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, likes to state: “I suppose they can say that wine is made in the vineyard. But I’ve never seen a horse win the Grand National without a jockey.”
For me, the minds, hands and hearts of people play as important a role in a wine’s attractiveness as terroir, cellar skills and perfectly grown grapes.
It was time to go in, right to the heart of the Stellenbosch Mafia. Guy who wrote the book about them, Pieter du Toit, well he reckons the local mobsters hang out at a joint named De Volkskombuis, pretty hard to pronounce for two New York wiseguys like me and Frankie the Juice. But nothing a little google-translate ain’t sorting out. Volks the kombuis and go volks yourselves, too.
In the world of serious wine recognition, South African Sauvignon Blanc appears to be a victim of its own success. In its own country.
During a recent consumer survey done by MediaVision Communications among wine drinkers in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KZN aged between 25 and 50, Sauvignon Blanc was identified by far as the respondents’ “favourite” white wine variety.
South Africa looks set to become home to the largest urban wine vineyard in the world. This is if President Cyril Ramaphosa’s vision of a brand-new city built in the country is realised. During his recent State of the Nation Address, Pres. Ramaphosa suggested it was time to build such a new modern city in South Africa. But besides featuring shiny skyscrapers and sleek bullet-trains, the new city is also to host a vineyard from which various wines are to be made.
As in all art, nothing can ever be perfect in the wine world. But Alto Estate does come impossibly close.
Location, yes. Alto lies on the slopes of Stellenbosch’s Helderberg, one of the patches of God’s earth that manages to combine spine-tinglingly magnificent scenery with geography and geology that is ideal for the growing of grapevines. It is mountain granite from the Cape’s Fold belt that has been ground down over the past 1,5 million years, iron-rich and red and rocky, and lovely soil for wine vines to get stuck in. Continue reading →
With all the steely Sauvignon Blanc wine I drank in New Zealand it amazed me that no airport metal-detectors were activated on the long way home. Although there was a tense moment at Dubai International when a surly, garlic-breathed member of the security staff had to twice pass the hand-held scanner over my left kidney to ensure I was not carrying a harmful object aimed at unleashing some glamourous Middle-East terror.
It is a feature of the wine world that some human DNA has become embedded in certain grape varieties. In South Africa, for example, it’s impossible to think of Chardonnay without seeing the formidable presence of Danie de Wet from De Wetshof before you. And who can pronounce “Pinotage” without mentioning Beyers Truter in the same breath?