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Delhi Wine Club
‘Mad and Maverick’ Marc of Boekenhoutskloof

Posted: Wednesday, 17 October 2012 17:06

Passing By: ‘Mad and Maverick’ Marc of Boekenhoutskloof

October 17: Marc Kent, Chief winemaker, General Manager and partner of the South African Boekenhoutskloof Estate in Franschhoek, who is often considered mad by some and maverick by the others out of sheer envy and affection, was in India last week. Subhash Arora met him at the Golf Bar at ITC Maurya Sheraton for a chat and a personal tasting of the three labels being imported by the Wine Park,

The first look at Marc Kent and I was reminded about Dirk Niepoort, the older one of the famous five Douro Boys, whom I met last year at dinner at his house in Porto and then later in the year at the Ambassador’s house in Delhi when he visited India on my recommendation . If Marc is fondly known as mad or maverick, Dirk is quite often branded an offbeat and eccentric by many people who don’t know him well. It’s not a coincidence that marc knows Dirk very well. ‘In fact, he has stayed at my house,’ Marc tells me. Both are winemakers extraordinaire!

No wonder that in less than a couple of decades ago the current owners have established  Boekenhoutskloof as one of the top and much revered Cape wine companies -and this when they grow only 5% of their own grapes; the balance are purchased including some that come from outside the area of origin. To top several personal accolades for Marc as a winemaker and the awards won by the estate, it has been declared the Winery of the Year 2012 by the best known South African wine guide, John Platter. It is the only winery to get 5 stars from Robert Parker, says Vishal Kadakia who is their Indian connection.

Boekenhoutskloof has four labels The Wolftrap being the entry-level wine and available in India. As one goes higher up the quality ladder they have Porcupine Ridge, Chocolate Block and the Estate Boekenhoutskloof wine which has put the winery on a pedestal since 1997 with its Shiraz though in the recent years Cabernet Sauvignon seem to be doing better -at least in terms of getting the accolades. The Semillon is rated as one of the best white wines of South Africa, according to Marc.

Winery of the Year 2012

Both Marc and Boekenhoutskloof Estate are used to awards and recognition. ‘Our first vintage was sold without any promotion. Since then our vintage is a sell-out every year without any advertising; only 3rd party endorsements suffice. His Chocolate Block (only one red wine in this category) seems to be the latest find of the wine lovers’ community. ‘Last year we sold barely 3000 cases; this year we are selling 4000 cases a month,’ he says with an air of a pretty woman who knows she has the beauty and charm.

‘Our products are on an allocation basis,’ he says. That must be highly commendable considering most producers are feeling the pinch of the recession. Keeping the prices right, travelling around the globe around 3 months in a year and meeting the importers and small groups of people goes a long way in keeping the customers happy. Arriving in Delhi after a small exclusive dinner the previous night at Olive in Bangalore where the Chocolate Block is a hit, he was all smiles with the reaction of the people attending the event and the interest shown. He makes no bones about is disdain for wine dinners with scores of people. ‘I have done several  of them during the last 18 years with hundreds of people. I am done with that and now I like only small ones where I can talk about my wines to people who are interested in my wines,’ he says.

Indage Indignation

Boekenhoutskloof has been present in the Indian market for the last one year, says Marc for whom the  rendezvous with India was not love at first sight. ‘We were invited by Chateau Indage as they showed a lot of interest in importing our wines in India. We had meetings fixed with the CEO and planned our trip around that. We were frankly very excited about the thought of teaming up with the leading producer and an important importer.’

Marc was quite indignant when told that the CEO had to leave the country and they should meet the CFO instead. ‘Within 5 minutes of the meeting, he told us that they actually wanted to buy us out. That was utterly ridiculous and our whole trip was disaster. I guess they were in an expansionary mode then,’ Marc says with a shade of sarcasm and philosophy in his voice.

Boekenhoutskloof could perhaps make a reasonable  offer to buy Indage today for 1 Rand but that would be a poor investment decision. In principle, Marc says ‘we don’t mind expanding through the purchase of other wineries; in fact we bought Heidelberg winery in Stellenbosch and we know we can make good wine as we go along.’

Boekenhoutskloof Wines for India

He seems to be a big hit and fit with Vishal Kadakia of the Wine Park, Mumbai, who met him in 2008 at the Cape Wine Show. ‘We started talking; I liked him and we started export in a small way a year ago (a pointer towards the need for perseverance and partnership approach for several European and the US producers who come to India with the order book in hand and end up going back frustrated and empty handed-editor). There are people in other markets who we work with and who deal with him too; that made it easier for us to decide working with them. We know that the South African Category is difficult with interest waning in the USA where we (South Africans) are pretty much off the radar.’

The Wolftrap White has been recognized as the Best Value for Money white wine from South Africa several times by reputed magazines. ‘We decided to start with the entry level Wolftrap white and red both of which are priced surprisingly low for the complex quality and the blending finesse used. If we decided to cost the wines based on the criteria used by other wineries, we would be losing money in every bottle of Wolftrap. The blend of Viognier 67 %, Chenin Blanc 19% (to uplift the acidity-we don’t ever acidify our wines but manage with the proper blends), and Grenache Blanc 14% has the Viognier aged in new French barriques for a few months. Grenache is fermented with skins like reds. These barriques are then used to age Shiraz which we don’t like to age in new wood. The costing for these barriques is apportioned to the more expensive wines and not the Wolftrap.’

The Wolftrap Red is a blend of Shiraz 65%, Mourvedre 32% and Viognier 3%. At Rs. 1250 in retail and Rs.400-500 per glass in some of the hotels they are listed, they are both great value for money wines though I found the white a bit short at the end; the complexity, balance and freshness more than compensated it though. The red wine has nice fruit and berry flavours.

Chocolate Block - What really blows you away is the Chocolate Block with 72 % Shiraz, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Grenache, 6% Cinsault, and 2% Viognier. This is Cote Rotie Style wine, but what is the Cabernet doing in it? Marc has an interesting explanation. ‘In 2000 we were dealing with the wine specialist Oddbins when they wanted us to give them this same wine as a private blend but we won’t do it. But interestingly, I had been travelling from Roussillon to Costa Brava where I discovered that they were using Cabernet Sauvignon in the similar blends and they were working well. So we decided to introduce it and are pretty happy with the results. No wonder the Chocolate Block which is on allocation is a fast moving wine and is already out of stock, affirms Kadakia. It is intensely perfumed with lots of chocolate, berries and spices like black pepper on the nose and in the flavours and is quite elegant and harmonious wine, like a beautiful woman of substance.

 The wines are listed at Four Seasons, ITC Hotels, Renaissance, Intercontinental Mumbai, Olive, and Indigo etc. Wolftrap is available in Retail in Mumbai and Gurgaon for Rs. 1250. The Chocolate Block is available at Rs.5000-6000 in hotels, a trifle too expensive and for people with a discernible palate and an enviable pocket.

Boekenhoutskloof is a 4 million bottle wine company and is in the expansion mode.’ We are growing and making better wines. With the purchase of Helderberg winery in Stellenbosch, we believe we can get better wines from other wineries as well. There is very good fruit in South Africa-we just need to learn to harness it better, says Marc who is a fine example of a winemaker making high quality wines from bought out grapes. ‘Only 5% of our grapes are own; we are moving in biodynamic direction for our crops. Some of our grapes could even get the requisite certification but we don’t want to necessarily put it on the label. I know for sure that we need to have sustainability in our farming otherwise in 10 years we shall all have problems.’

It may be too early for the top level Boekenhoutskloof Estate wines-Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz in India. But Marc says the Estate Semillon has the fruit from 200-year old vines, fermented in oak barrels making some of the best white wines coming out of South Africa. Perhaps next time he is passing by India, we would be able to taste all the top 3 wines of the ‘Best Winery of South Africa 2012’.

In the meanwhile, I would keep my eyes open for every opportunity I get to drink their Chocolate Block.

Subhash Arora    



Vishal Says:

Dear Subhash, Fantastic article as always! Thanks for taking the time out. Kind Regards, Vishal

Posted @ October 23, 2012 11:20


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