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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Monday, 13 September 2010 14:33

South Africa: Visiting Wineries of Cape Winelands

South Africa has not only styles that reflect their diverse terroirs and wines that vary in quality and prices from being affordable to premium, the wine farms are well-designed to receive wine-tourists as Subhash Arora found while visiting a few wineries in the Cape where he had been invited as a judge for the Michelangelo International Wine Competition last month

On Bottelary Hill- Dannie, Sue Van Wyk and the Simonsig Brut
Cape Winelands is a region of the Western Cape Province  and is the largest wine producing region in South Africa. It’s divided into six main wine regions, each offering its own wine route- Constantia, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl, Robertson and Wellington are the most popular. Based in Stellenbosch, I visited the following wineries located in and around this town as well as Franschhoek.

1.   Kaapzicht Estate

Koelenhof, Stellenbosch
Owner: Dannie and Yngvild Steytler
Winemaker: George Steytler

The Kaapzicht (meaning Cape View) winery is located in Bottelary Ward of Stellenbosch District, on the wine route known to specialize in Pinotage because of its special soil and micro climate, especially the high altitude bush vines. The winery makes some excellent Pinotage and Cape blends using around 30% Pinotage.

It was bought in 1946 by the Steytler family who have 160 hAs of grapes grown on the 190 hA Estate and have been bottling since 1984. Though they make excellent wines including Pinotage and the Cape blend under the family ‘Steytler’ label, they also make 8 excellent value-for-money wines in various varietals and have several awards to show for it. The family produces mainly red wine (70%).

Yngvild at Kaapzicht Vineyards & Table Mountain in the yonder
While Dannie and his brother George look after the viticulture and winemaking, their wives look after the finance and marketing. The winery has a wonderful braai spit area (huge barbeque area) and with its gazebo and garden makes an inviting place to visit for wine tasting and social events.

‘We don’t want to tell our kids when we grow old only about how many bottles of wines we have sold’, says Dannie, while explaining to our group that the icy winds are blowing from False Bay, where we stand on top of Bottelary Hill at the vineyards location while we get a clear view of Table Mountain barely 15 kms away, ‘we try to help our workers and look after their kids. We have opened a small school for their education and generally look after our farm workers due to sheer compassion.’ The cool winds are one of the factors in making their micro-climate special.

Kaapzicht- some of the wines tasted
We tasted 15 wines in the course of the evening around the braai pit where Dannie was busy barbecuing several African specialties, besides the Simonsig Brut with which we had been welcomed earlier. Chenin was excellent value- for-money wine with tropical aromas. So was the Cabernet ’07- full bodied, balanced, and full of cherries and blackberries with a persistent long aftertaste.

Kaapzicht Pentagon 2007, a dark ruby coloured Bordeaux type blend of 5 varietals of their top quality grapes was outstanding- so was the Cape Blend with 30% Pinotage, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot- again full bodied, juicy and with lots of fruits and rounded tannins. Kaapzicht Steytler Pinotage 2007 was also at the top of the list dictated by my palate. I was to learn later that this wine had won the Top Ten position in a Pinotage Competition held recently and has been consistently in the top Twenty for the last ten years.

The winery touched the sale of 30,000 cases, but due to recession has currently come down to 20,000 cases. But for the Shiraz 2006 which was slightly too sweet because of the use of American oak and had slight burnt rubber smell, all their wines were quite pleasant and the winery can be recommended for a range of lower ended wines priced with a  good Price-quality ratio and also the premium labels which spell quality.
2.   La Motte
Owner: Hanneli Rupert-Koegelenberg
Winemaker: Edmund Terblanche

Twilight at La Motte Historical Winery
One might have heard the name of Rupert family in India because of their association with Rothschild family in Bordeaux, making excellent quality wines at reasonable prices, in the Rupert and Rothschild wine estate in the Franschhoek Valley. The billionaire, late Dr. Anton Rupert bought this winery in 1970 and yet a third one, L’Ormarins being run by his son Johann. His daughter Hanneli Rupert-Koegelenberg owns La Motte while son Johann, who owns L’Ormarins, and she partner in the R & R venture.

Her winemaker husband Hein Koegelenberg is the managing director of La Motte. She is one of South Africa's foremost mezzo-sopranos and spends most of her time in performing at concerts.

As you drive into the expansive estate, you are blessed by the statue of a motherly looking lady, giving the impression that the winery is dedicated to the mother. It is  named after a village in France, about 100 kms from Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape, since it was founded by one of the French Huguenots (French protestants who were hounded away by religious extremists, and came to South Africa via Holland) in late seventeenth century. Today, the winery-an estate till 1997 when it started buying grapes from outside also,  owns four historical buildings and is linked not only with fine wines of this important wine region but also culture and heritage, and is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Cape Winelands.

La Motte- tasting and reception room
Well designed for wine tourists, it has recently opened Pierneef- a la Motte Restaurant for Cape cuisine, adding to the string of restaurants in the town known for excellent cuisine and reasonable prices. There is a museum too but the main attraction is the winery itself. As you enter, you feel you have arrived at the residence of a rich aristocrat- with the reception room full of plush furniture, interiors, tasting room with a beautified barrel room visible through a big glass door through the bar-cum-sitting-cum tasting room.

‘Does the winery make the kind of money selling wines to afford such luxurious trimmings?’ I ask Edmund Terblanche, the wine maker who is taking us around. Replying in the negative, he says that it is the passion of the owners that has made them invest in the facility that includes paintings from Jacob Pierneef, the well-known South African artist.

La Motte Sauvignon Blanc is their flagship wine that sells 34000 cases, mostly in Suth Africa; barely 10 years ago it sold only 4000 cases. They buy grapes from as far away as 500 kms away. It would be interesting for the Maharashtra vintners to know that their grapes leave at 11 pm reach the winery unscathed at 6 in the morning. When asked how they can maintain quality, buying from different sources and collecting the grapes, he says people buy the brand. Winemaking must get credit too as La Motte is a well-known national and international brand even though the Sauvignon Blanc is in the mid-price range.

The company has also bought a property in Walker Bay and

3.   Diemersdal

Ladine and Thys Louw in the lawns of the Estate
Owner: Tienie Louw
Winemaker: Thys Louw
Labels: Diemersdal, Matys, Atlantic Vineyards
Market: 40% Domestic, 60% Export

Although Tienie Louw runs the kingdom, it is his son Thys Louw who is taking the winery to the hitherto uncharted region of quality wines and a brand that the future generations will be proud of. It is only tertiary that both Thys and his young, charming and unassuming wife of 10 months Ladine are perfect hosts and one of the most humble and down-to-earth wine couples you would meet in South Africa.

Old Dutch architecture at the Diemersdal winery
Thys (spelling mistake intended!) is a 6th generation Estate founded in 1698 and owned by the family since 1886.The beautiful Dutch architecture kept in a manicured and meticulous state is as beautiful as the view from the expansive lawns.

The clay soils help water retention and with the 800 mm annual rainfall on the 180 hAs planted, dry farming is possible, aided by wheat growing in June, pressed down giving moisture to the soil. Because of the local soil conditions, there is generally no rot problem, giving very healthy grapes.

Diemersdal could be classified as Sauvignon Blanc specialists with 40% of the 1 million liter production being Sauvignon Blanc, although the Louws are proud of the Pinotage planted by his grandfather in 1974. So enamoured is Thys with Sauvignon Blanc that he is starting a new label on September 21 with his new website the URL of which he bought for a 5-figure amount. He will also sell this label online, he says.

A Rosé made with a 93% Sauvignon Blanc and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon may not be allowed to be produced in Europe under the EU laws but has bee exporting to UK for the last 3 years. Made from the basic Sauvignon grape, the wine offers the simple pleasure of enjoying the characteristics of a Sauvignon, with a bit of body and the light pink colour due to the presence of red Cabernet grape.

This was perhaps the best winery which has the story, quality, prices and the capacity to make ordinary wine drinker in India happy as much as a sophisticated drinker who can afford to drink quality wines.

(Accidentally, I learnt from their website after finishing this article that this winery won SIX Gold Medals at the Michelangelo wine competition and the Trophy for the Most Successful Winery!’

 4.   Lanzerac

Wynand (left) showing the Lanzerac winery
Uniedal, Stellenbosch
Owner: Christo Wiese
Winemaker: Wynand Lategan

Lanzerac may be known more as a deluxe hotel and spa today but it has a long-time history of making excellent wines in a relatively small corner of Stellenbosch known as Jonkerhoek Valley, not known outside South Africa but well respected for its excellent micro climate.

The recorded history of the winery goes back to 1692 but it was bought by a French lady in around 1920, informs the winemaker Wynand (wine and) Lategan who conducts the wine tasting in the evening, before a fine dinner at the classy restaurant of the hotel. The winery kept changing hands including the brand which was bought by the Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery (SFW) in 1958 at which time a hotel was also built at the property.

Wynand talks about the Lanzerac Pionier Pinotage
The property was bought by Christo Wiese, one of the richest South African retail tycoons from Cape, who bought back the brand also from SFW (now known as Distell)  in 2002. Only 30% of the wine is white-mostly Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Out of the total production of 300-400,000 bottles, about 250,000 are cased. The second quality wine left over is sold as bulk wine according to Wynand who also informs us that Wiese hardly ever visits the winery and lets him handle the production and marketing, besides winemaking.

During a vertical tasting of their Cabernet Sauvignon ’08, ’05, ’02 and ’00 Wynand admits that the alcohol level is slightly high at 14-14.5% although earlier it used to be 12%. Their style emphasizes on fruit as the market wants it like that, according to Wynand who says that although vintage is not as important as in France, ’07 was an excellent vintage for them and ’08 was not as balanced; ’09 Pinotage looks very promising at the moment.

Their Rosé in a teardrop shaped bottle and screw-cap top is a fun product with Merlot, Cabernet and Pinotage being the serious reds. Pionier Pinotage is the premium product that shows the best of South African Pinotage.

5.   Vilafonté

Villafonte Series M and C
Bosman’s Crossing, Stellenbosch
Owner: Mike Ratcliffe, Zelma Long and Phil Freese (USA)
Winemaker- Martin Smith

Mike Ratcliffe, of Warwick Wine Estate has partnered with Napa winemaker Zelma Long (of Robert Mondavi, Simi and Long Vineyards fame) and Dr. Phil Freese (a viticulturist from Napa Valley who has been a consultant to Warwick and many wineries in California and South Africa) to make this boutique winery making bold and beautiful reds.

Tasting Room & Villafonte wines
The winery is in a small building- like Niphad Wine Park in Nashik, adjacent to a couple of other wineries opposite a residential complex. The small winery makes only red wines in two labels- M series and C series-using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec are the only grape varietals used but the yields are kept so low at 1-2 tons/ hA that the wines are really concentrated, full of fruit, a great balance and are priced accordingly.

The winery uses its own grapes from Paarl. It’s new and in only second year in production at this facility. You will find the wines full of ripe tannins and mature phenolics. There are two labels only: Series M (for modern) and Series C (Classic). Both use Cabernets Sauvignon and Merlot as the base blends – Malbec and Cabernet Franc are added in varied percentage depending on the series and vintage.

If you want to know the price, you are not in the league of its buyers who were supposed to be the Americans when it started operations but the rich Chinese and the Brits are drinking it too, besides more of South Africans coming into their fold gradually. One day, some smart Indian hotel chain will perhaps import this luxury brand- duty free, for their high end clients who like California style big wines.  

Incidentally, the winemaker partner Zelma Long has been nominated for the Best Winemaker Award for this year by Wine Enthusiast, a respected and one of the top two wine magazines in the US.

Subhash Arora

Disclosure: Visit to the wineries and the dinners that followed were organised for the judges by  MIWA- Michelangelo International Wine Awards 2010-editor 


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