The launch of Graham Beck Wines’ The Game Reserve range at the Camps Bay Retreat last week was admirable in demonstrating the wine company’s passion about restoring and conserving the environment and producing world class wines in harmony with nature. It also was a tribute to the late Mr Graham Beck, who was a passionate conservationist.

In welcoming the guests, Graham Beck Enterprises CEO Chris du Toit said that his company is focused on sustainability on three fronts: social upliftment, environmental care and conservation, and economic. Sustainability is an integral part of what the company stands for, ‘it comes from within’, he said.  The sustainability work done to date has been kept low key.

In Robertson the Graham Beck Private Nature Reserve was created in the ‘Nineties, to reverse the adverse effects of 200 years of agricultural grazing. The Madeba farm belonging to the Becks is situated in the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem, with 1500 species of vegetation. Graham Beck was the second Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI) biodiversity champion, and is one of 28 such wine farms, while the Graham Beck farms and cellars have been awarded Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) Conformance Certificates, to reflect that they grow grapes and produce wines in an environmentally sustainable manner.  Four times more Graham Beck land in Robertson is conserved relative to it being used for wine and stud horse farming.

It was a brainstorming session between Pieter Ferreira, the Graham Beck Cellar Master for Sparkling Wines, and a group from the Walt Disney Company that led to the creation of the Gamekeeper’s Reserve, a Cabernet Sauvignon made exclusively for Disney Resort restaurants.  The wine was so successful that its distribution spread across the USA, and Chenin Blanc was added to the range five years later. In 2009 the name of the range was changed to The Game Reserve.

At CapeWine 2012 the full range of nine varietals in The Game Reserve range was launched to the trade, as well as at ProWein in Germany last month.  The launch event last week was aimed at introducing the wine range to wine writers, and to encourage them to help spread the message of sustainability, which is the focus of The Game Reserve range, a story told with particular passion by Erika Obermeyer, Graham Beck Cellarmaster for Still Wines since 2005, and the passionate Conservation Manager Mossie Basson.

In launching The Game Reserve range, each varietal was ‘paired’ with an indigenous animal or plant conservation project in the Robertson area, where Graham Beck Wines is situated in the Cape Floral Kingdom, an ecological hot-spot with about 8500 plant species.  Mossie Basson was previously with the Department of Nature Conservation, and now heads the conservancy work at Graham Beck Wines, tackling a  number of conservancy projects, including clearing alien vegetation, stabilising eroded areas, and re-planting indigenous plants on 1885 ha of land registered with Cape Nature as a voluntary conservation site.  They have been joined by 27 neighbouring farms to create the Rooiberg Breede River Conservancy, now covering 13500 ha, an important achievement in bringing the community together.  Mossie discovered a rare vygie, unique to the Graham Beck Private Reserve, which has taken three years to be registered.  It has been named ‘Esterhuysenia Grahambeckii’, in honour of Mr Beck.

The rare vygie has become the inspiration for the logo created for The Game Reserve range, symbolising ‘restoring harmony and natural balance‘, and its pay-off line is clever:‘Planet first. It’s in our nature‘!  The labels for the range are printed on recycled paper, and contain the BWI logo, the envirolabel icon, the QR code, information about the fauna and flora ‘paired with each of the wines’, a description of the wine, tasting notes, food pairing suggestions, and health and safety guidelines.

Mossie is a raconteur, talking passionately without a note about the nine conservation projects, and could have spoken the whole afternoon, so dedicated is he to his work to help create a sustainable presence not just now, but also in the future.  He shared that by 1978 the Cape had lost 61% of its floral kingdom, the carbon dioxide levels being higher than ever, being ‘man induced‘, he said.  He added that the threat of a shortage of quality water is a concern, 700 liters of water being needed to grow 1 kg of tomatoes.  He said that humans must stop being ‘parasites to nature‘, and should become ‘enzymes‘ and stewards of nature, looking for creative ways to manage the biosphere.

The Game Reserve wine range is the first to be associated with a private nature reserve, and the brand is ‘an environmentally responsible inspired wine brand for wine lovers who care about sustainability in order to leave a lasting legacy for generations to come’, says the brand book for The Game Reserve range.  Mossie added: ‘Each bottle of The Game Reserve must be the catalysts to spread the message about sustainability to the rest of the world‘.

In introducing the nine new The Game Reserve wines on the terrace overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, with birds chirping overhead, Erika Obermeyer showed her natural talent as a storyteller, saying:  ‘Just as in wine, our fragile ecosystem is wholly dependent on balance, harmony, continuity and longevity.  It truly is the case of ‘the sum of the parts’ when it comes to farming sustainably and responsibly.  When we practice environmentally responsible viticulture and winemaking, we not only ensure the quality of our product, we guarantee the future of our planet as well’:

*   Sauvignon Blanc 2012: one can smell South Africa and the vineyards in this wine, for which the grapes predominantly are from Firgrove outside Stellenbosch, but also from Groenekloof in Darling.  This is Erika’s favorite variety, with green and tropical flavours, describing her like a lady that smiles all the way.  Only grapes grown in an area in which one can hear the ocean are used to make this varietal.  The Fish Eagle is associated with the varietal, the highest flying predator, which keeps smaller birds away from their ripe grapes.

*   Chenin Blanc 2012 : This is Erika’s ‘good mood‘ wine, and she is delighted that the interest in Chenin Blanc is growing locally and internationally.  She described it as a ‘Cinderella’ wine, needing to be ‘dressed up’ to make her popular.  Grapes from 42 – 48 year old bush vines are used, coming from Agter Paarl, and are ‘very happy vineyards’, used to the warm weather in this region. Only 5% is barrel fermented, for mouthfeel.  The Riverine Rabbit is associated wit this varietal, the most endangered species in our country, with only 150 breeding pairs left in our country, according to a WWF count, and has been found to live in the Graham Beck Private Nature Reserve.

*   Viognier 2010:  The grapes come from Robertson with lots of sunshine.  When the grapes taste like Shiraz, they are ready to be harvested, being hand picked, Erika said.  Only 20% of the grapes were fermented in 2nd fill French oak, for creaminess and mouthfeel. It has peach and citrus flavours, and goes well with spicy foods.  The Honey Badger has been paired with this varietal, and Mossie called them the ‘engineers in nature’, in that they dig holes, which offer a home to many other insects. They love honey, and the beekeeping on the estate is therefore badger-friendly.

*   Chardonnay 2010: Grapes come from Robertson, which has limestone soils, giving the wines ‘incredible flavours and freshness‘, said Erika.  30% was fermented naturally in barrel and tank, and there was no malolactic fermentation. The wine spent 11 months in the barrel, with a weekly batonnage. Citrus aromas. The nature conservation project linked to this varietal is the Cape Eagle Owl, which catches mice and other rodents.  Often hit by vehicles, 120 perches have been built for them in the Graham Beck vineyards, to prevent their demise.

*   Rosé 2012: Grapes from 5 – 17 year old trellised vineyards in Robertson, and hand harvested. This wine has fresh and fruity aromatics, and is easy drinking, made in a white wine style using Shiraz grapes, with a ‘tiny dash of Pinot Noir‘.  The rare vygie is the conservation project linked to this cultivar.

*   Pinotage 2010: Erika said that she is proud that this variety has sorted out its negative image, as it is a unique variety, which she has made to be soft and sweet, with strawberry, cherry and plum flavours, and soft tannins. Grapes come from Franschhoek, bushvines from Agter Paarl, and Robertson.  The Bat Eared Fox is the conservation project for this variety, which also helps work the soil.  It is protected from being killed, due to its close resemblance to a jackal.

*   Merlot 2011: This is a tricky variety, which Erika described as a ‘fragile and feminine wine’, and is fresh, with soft tannins.  Handpicked grapes come from Firgrove’s coffeestone soils predominantly, and from Franschhoek. The Cape Clawless Otter is the nature project for this variety, and the restoration of the Vink River has created a safe home for the species in the nature reserve.

*   Shiraz 2009: The grapes come from Firgrove, with spicy white pepper, black olive, cherry, berry, and cranberry flavours. The roots of these vines go down 5 meters into the 500 million year old coffeestone soils, seeking the moisture deep down, being the ‘Energade’ for this grape variety, Erika said.  The Eland is linked to this cultivar, an animal needing a lot of space, being the largest antelope in Africa, and is well adapted to the Karoo.

*   Cabernet Sauvignon 2011: This wine is a blend of Robertson, Darling, and Firgrove handpicked grapes, the wine having tobacco spice and fruity flavours, matured in French oak for twelve months, a wine ‘more serious in style’, and which delivers on tannin structure.  The Leopard project has studied, via cameras, the Cape leopard, half the size of the Kruger Park ones, to analyse which ‘corridors’ the leopards use to meet and ‘dance’, so that they can plan their farming activities around these, Mossie explained!  Seven leopards have been recorded as roaming in the area.

Most of the closures on The Game Reserve range are screw caps, the wines designed to be sold in specialist wine stores and by the glass in restaurants.  The range is well-priced at about R60 for the white wines and R80 for the red wines.  Erika explained that while some of the white wines have been made at the sister Steenberg cellar, they will make all their red and white wines from a rented facility in Stellenbosch from next year. Graham Beck Wines sold its Franschhoek estate to neighbouring Antonij Rupert Wines about two years ago.

The building housing the Camps Bay Retreat was erected in 1929, and is named Earl’s Dyke Manor, originally owned by the Knacke family.  A partnership led by Maree Brink, owner of the Village & Life Group, took over the ‘custodianship’ of the property in 2002.  Head Chef Robyn Capendale has been at the hotel for the past three years, was the Young Chef of the Year 2010, and had the amazing experience of being selected to work with Chef Heston Blumenthal at the three-star Michelin UK restaurant The Fat Duck in a five-week placement, chosen from thousands of applicants.  She learnt his ‘multisensory perception’ approach to cooking, the study of ‘how the brain influences our appreciation of food‘.  Chef Robyn prepared the Graham Beck function as her last event, before she moves into her new position as the Village & Life Executive Chef responsible for the catering at all the properties in the Group.

When we arrived we were served the Graham Beck Brut Blanc de Blancs 2008, accompanied with canapés prepared by Chef Robyn and her team: oysters with ginger and gooseberries, and smoked salmon, cream cheese and caper bruschetta.  After the wine tasting we vacated the tables, so that the staff could set up the tables for lunch. This afforded one to step down to the garden again, where tables had been set up to taste more of the wines in The Game Reserve range. More canapés were served, being delicate fig and camembert tarts, and rare roast beef tagliata topped with parmesan shavings.

The starter was unusual, being deep fried crumbed cream cheese and fresh herb filled calamari tubes, served with a fennel bulb and tomato salad, which was paired with a choice of The Game Reserve Viognier 2010 and Chardonnay 2010.  Anel Grobler sat next to me, and as she is allergic to calamari, had a wonderful looking replacement asparagus, ham and poached egg starter served within ten minutes. The main course of slow cooked rack of Karoo lamb, poached for eight hours Chef Robyn revealed, was served with rosemary jus, pomme dauphine, carrots, asparagus, and courgettes, and was paired with a choice of The Game Reserve Merlot 2011 and Shiraz 2010.  The dessert was a trio of chocolate delice, chocolate soil, and chocolate sorbet, topped with a hazelnut tuile, and was paired with The Game Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011.  A further treat was coffee served with petit fours of chocolate and pistachio shards, homemade toffee, and coconut ice.

It was a long relaxed afternoon with a perfect setting, perfect wines, perfect food, and perfect company, perfectly organised by the Graham Beck Marketing team headed by Etienne Heyns (main photograph), and its new Public Relations agency Waterford Communications.  The sustainable approach to the creation and launch of The Game Reserve is admirable, as is the company’s philosophy: ‘We are consummate caretakers – of our wines, people, environment, customers and consumers. Nothing less will do’!

Disclosure: With our media pack we received a rabbit wire art keyholder, a set of recycled pencils and pens with a wooden sharpener, a vygie plant, and a bottle each of The Game Reserve Chenin Blanc 2012 and Shiraz 2009.

Graham Beck Wines, Tel (021) 874-1258.  www.grahambeckwines.com Twitter:@GrahamBeckWines

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: WhaleCottage

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