A week ago I was invited by Silvermist Tasting Room assistant Declan to visit the wine estate next door to La Parada Constantia Nek, being in Constantia every Sunday when I dance to DJ René’s music. On Sunday I took up the invitation, and was lucky to find both winemaker Greg Louw and Declan on the estate, to do the tasting before closing time. Continue reading →
Last night I attended a tasting of six wines by Cederberg Wines with Altitude at OpenWine on Wale Street. The Wine estate has the highest location above sea level, at 1036m, of all vineyards in the Cape. Continue reading →
Tulbagh winery Saronsberg is our country’s top red wine producer when it comes to winning wine awards, its Full Circle being the most lauded red wine, followed by its Shiraz, over the past ten years. Continue reading →
In one of the top coups in the wine industry, Benguela Cove Lagoon Wine Estate has announced the appointment of award-winning Johann Fourie as its head winemaker. Johann left the KWV last week, where he and his team reaped numerous industry awards.
Last night KWV was crowned as the king of the wine industry for the fifth year running, winning 5 Double Gold and 9 Gold Awards for its wines, more than any other winemaker. Nederburg (2 Double Golds and 11 Gold Awards) and Spier (2 Double Golds and 8 Gold Awards) followed in second and third place, respectively, awarded at one of the highlights of the wine industry, a function attended by about 400 wine industry staff and media, with their partners. Kanonkop won the Best Performance by Entry title for 10 wines or fewer entered, while KWV won the title for more than 10 wines entered. A total of 57 Double Gold, 157 Gold, 473 Silver, and 662 Bronze medals was awarded. A mix of local and international judges evaluated the entries.
Not only were the wines with their winemakers and related staff celebrated, so too was the 25th anniversary of the Veritas Awards. The highlight of the evening for me was seeing how many women Continue reading →
* Business confidence reached a 7 month high last month, good news for the economy, and reflecting a more stable exchange rate, higher share prices, and reduced impact on production due to strikes. In November the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (SACCI) Business Confidence Index (BCI) increased to 90.8 in November. Loadshedding by Eskom, and a retraction of the economies that our country trades with may reverse the positive trend.
* The second Veritas Young Wine Writers Competition has been won by Sandile Mkhwanazi, assistant winemaker and acting viticulturist at Elsenburg Agricultural College, and winning R15000. He enjoys to communicate about wine in a fun way, rather than academically. His two articles ‘The South African Wine Continue reading →
* An American study shows that the most annoying habits of fliers are ranked as inattentive parents of children, back seat kickers, ‘aromatic‘ passengers, excessive drinkers, and overly chatty passengers!
* The first sulphite-free wine range has been launched by Neil Patterson Wines, using South Africa-developed SurePure’s photopurification technology to clean liquids with ultra violet light, a more environmentally responsible and healthier wine preservative method. The range consists of Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Merlot 2009, Chenin Blanc 2012, and Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, sourcing grapes from single vineyards. (received via media release from Tin Can PR)
* The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has forecast a growth of 31% in passenger numbers internationally, between 2012 – 2017. By 2017 3,9 billion passengers are forecast to be transported by airline travel.
* KWV’s classic and sparkling wines will be available in India from month-end, after a marketing and distribution agreement Continue reading →
I have driven past Bilton Wines on my way to Rust en Vrede and Haskell Vineyards a number of times, but had never stopped to visit their Tasting Room, even though their collection of old-timers catch the eye. An invitation by the wine estate to attend a tasting of their wines, paired with dishes prepared by ‘pop-up’ Chef Craig Cormack from Sofia’s, was an excellent opportunity to hear how its winemakers go about their winemaking so differently.
We were welcomed in the Tasting Room with a massive fire burning in the fireplace on a very wet Winelands day, by owner Mark Bilton, referring to us as ‘blockers’, which caused a laugh, because of the double meaning implied, especially due to many bloggers blocking each other on Twitter! I was told that he is British in origin, has American connections, but lives on the estate. His grandfather, Sir Percy Bilton, was a well known philanthropist, who came to South Africa in 1938, and bought the wine estate at the end of Annandale Road ten years later. It is one of the largest wine estates in the country, 377 hectare in size, but only 20 % of the land is planted to vine, the rest dedicated to biodiversity, being fynbos. The distance between the cellar and the highest point on the wine estate is 680 meters. Winemaker Rudi de Wet believes that Bilton Wines is the largest wine estate in private ownership. Rudi has been on the wine estate since 2005, having studied at Elsenburg, and then setting up Ernie Els Wines and Webersburg close by. From there he moved to Meerlust, working on their iconic Rubicon. Elizma van der Mescht is Rudi’s assistant winemaker, having also studied at Elsenburg, joining Bilton Wines and gaining experience by working a harvest in St Émilion. We chatted about women winemakers, and Elizma said that she was one of seven female students in her class of 20. The physical challenge of the harvest, including 20 hour days during the harvest, is a barrier to entry for women in this career, but was no deterrent for Elizma. She believes that women winemakers are perfectionists, and therefore very good at their jobs. She has seen an increase in the number of female students from Italy and France, who come to Bilton Wines to help them with their harvest. Elizma admires Erika Obermeyer from Graham Beck Wines, and Ronel Wiid, winner of the first woman winemaker of the year competition and now at Bartinney.
We moved to the wine cellar, in which a long table had been set, beautifully and simply decorated by Marketing and Sales Manager Cindy Eveleigh, with vases of fynbos, corks in glass jars, labels on each glass, and name cards. Rudi introduced the Bilton Merlot 2008, and shared with us that they harvest 100 tons of grapes, and all wines are barrel matured, using 25 different barrel types from 25 coopers. Rudi explained that the wood used to make the barrels by each cooper is different, influencing the taste of the wine, and he blends the wines matured in the 25 barrel types over two years, to achieve the perfect wine. Interestingly, 80% of the production each year goes into new barrels. Rudi’s previous boss from Meerlust, Giorgio Dalla Cia, is a consultant to Bilton Wines. Rudi expressed his passion for Merlot, not the easiest wine to make, its grapes either giving a fresh and green taste or a plummy taste. The thinness of the skin, the sugar, and eleven other parameters are evaluated to select the right time to harvest, night harvesting being preferable. To aid oxidation, Rudi adds 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Chef Craig and his team prepared a beautiful study of beetroot, with a curry-flavoured ice cream, risotto, and purée all made with beetroot, toasted caramelised walnuts, and sprinkled with truffle oil. The earthy Merlot (R 99) was a good match with the Beetroot starter.
The second wine we tasted was the Bilton Viognier, and Rudi explained how he makes this wine look and taste different to any other local Viognier, receiving the blessing from Mr Bilton to experiment and try out new things. Rudi introduced the wine as one he had no intention to make, but explained that a winemaker spends his or her free time by reading international wine magazines. It was in one of these that Rudi read about Josh Gravner from Northern Italy, and his Viognier, which he matures in clay vats under the soil, fermenting the grapes with their skins, ‘unheard of in New World wine-making‘, Rudi said. Rudi has used this €1000 a bottle wine as his benchmark to produce his Viognier, sold at R250 per bottle in the tasting room. It was first produced in 2008, and only 10 barrels are produced every year. They select berries, and not bunches, and the skin contact is 18 days, compared to the usual 6 hours. Rudi explained that there are no boundaries in making Viognier. All of the wine is matured in barrels, 25% of them made from acacia wood, a wood type normally used to make grappa, because it has fewer tannins, and the balance in oak. Craig paired the wine with a strongly flavoured Chakalaka sauce served with a delicious pork belly, pap, bok choy, and a jus to which he had added star anise.
The biggest surprise of all was Chef Craig’s third course, for which we were expecting a dessert. In the mould of doing things differently, like Bilton Wines does in its winemaking, Chef Craig created intrigue when they served each guest a platter containing three bowls, with a raw egg, a mushroom, a piece of bacon and steak, and a tomato. Then the creative chef arrived with hot Himalayan salt blocks, which Chef Craig smeared with olive oil, before each guest prepared their own bacon and eggs! The steam from the preparation reminded one of the smoke created with liquid nitrogen in fine-food cuisine. The salt contained in the blocks was a natural flavourant for the food. I added some Viognier to the egg, and Rudi was most intrigued by this creative use of his wine! Whilst on the egg theme, Rudi explained that all red wines have too much tannin, and therefore all winemakers add proteins (gelatine, but more often powdered egg white) to soften the tannins. He adds 1 egg white per 300 litre barrel, whereas the French winemakers are inclined to add six egg whites for the same volume, in order to clarify the wine. Locally wines are filtered, for clarification. Rudi explained that making a screw cap takes 24 times more greenhouse gases than a cork, and therefore one can be sure that all Bilton Wines have corks. I liked Rudi’s description of vineyards being ‘oxygen factories’. Rudi also burst the bubble on sulphites, saying that every grape has them naturally, and therefore every wine too. Many wines claim to not add any sulphites, but that does not make them sulphite-free, he explained. We had the Bilton Sir Percy (R149) with our ‘breakfast’, a Bordeaux blend first made in 2004. Its current 2007 vintage has 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, and 17% Petit Verdot. Once again Rudi uses 25 different barrel types in which to mature this wine, which spends about two months on skins, which is the way in which it is done in Burgundy and Bordeaux, Rudi explained.
Other wines in the Bilton range are Shiraz 2008 (R99), Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (R99), Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (R59), Merlot 2008 (R99), Pinotage 2009 (R99), and the Merlot-dominant Matt Black blend (R79). Cabernet Franc has been harvested this year for the first time, and its first bottled wine of this variety will be available in five years. Interesting is that Bilton sells 1 million tons of salt to Oranje Soutwerke a year. In the Tasting Room Bilton also sells delicious chocolate slabs, made by Marionette in Knysna and costing R35 each, and are meant to be paired with their wines, the Dark Chocolate Espresso paired with their Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Milk Chocolate Cape Malay Spice paired with their Shiraz. The Cape Malay Spice chocolate has an intriguing gingerbread/Lebkuchen taste, with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Vintage D’Vine restaurant serves light meals prepared by Nella and her staff, and includes sandwiches, salads, boboties, lasagne, chicken pie, and burgers.
Bilton Wine Estate, Annandale Road, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 881-3714. www.biltonwines.co.za Twitter:@BiltonWines. Tuesday – Sunday. Wine tasting R35, chocolate and wine tasting R50. Vineyard walk free.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
Today history will be made in the South African wine industry, with a first wine named after a wine route. Hermanus Wine Route R320 red blend will be launched to more than fifty media and wine industry representatives at Creation this afternoon, a blend of wines from 12 wine estates on the R320, which is the Hermanus Wine Route.
Conceived as a charity project which is expected to raise about R250000 in the next three months, the Hermanus Wine Route R320 is a blend of 73% Syrah, 9% Pinotage, 9% Merlot, and 9% Malbec. Southern Right Vineyards, Bouchard Finlayson, La Vierge, Newton Johnson, Sumaridge, Spookfontein, Ataraxia, Creation, Mount Babylon, Domaine des Dieux, Whalehaven, and Hermanuspietersfontein are the blend of producers that have each supplied a barrel of wine for the new blend. It is described as having an elegant nose, with spicy white pepper, ripe plum, crushed berries, and added rosemary and biltong. The pay-off line is “Welcome to heaven. On Earth”.
The proceeds of a charity auction for a case of the Hermanus Wine Route R320 charity wine, that takes place via Twitter and Facebook today, will go to social upliftment, the development of a farm school, creation of a tourism scholarship, and funding of courses at Elsenburg. To participate in the auction, one must pre-register at firstname.lastname@example.org, and then bid with an allocated hashtag between 12h30 – 19h30 today. The highest bid with the correct hashtag receives the case of wine. The wine will be sold at R100 per bottle, and will be available on the Hermanus Wine Route, Wine Village, Hermanus Liquors, Wine & Co, as well as at Hermanus restaurants such as Season, Burgundy, Fabio’s, Harbour Rock, and Bientang’s Cave.
Creation is the wine estate at the furthest end of the Hermanus Wine Route of 15 wine estates, and has grown in stature and visibility, despite being off a gravel road section of the R320. It has a beautiful location overlooking the Babylonstoren mountain, and has attracted 17000 visitors to its tasting centre in the past year, more than double from the year before and making up 20 % of its sales, Carolyn Martin, Creation owner with husband JC, told me proudly when I visited yesterday. The tarring of the far-end of the R320 is expected to start in February, and is excellent news for all wine estates on the Hermanus Wine Route, in making it far more attractive to wine lovers.
POSTSCRIPT 1/12: In her speech at the launch of the Hermanus Wine Route R320 charity wine today, Creation’s Carolyn Martin praised the Hermanus Wine Route, and its unique wine estates. “Our scenic route unites the passion and reputation of fifteen wineries, each growing small volumes of premium quality wine in carefully and sustainably managed vineyards. WOSA’S slogan, “Variety is in our Nature”, is a sentiment clearly echoed along the Hermanus Wine Route. Each cellar on the route offers a unique experience and I’d like to give you just a tiny little thumbnail sketch of each: Hermanuspietersfontein is renowned for their biodiversity efforts and also enjoys great popularity for their buzzing Saturday markets. Whalehaven is the smallest cellar with the largest range of wines. At the trendsetting Southern Right, experiments for the ageing of wine under the sea are underway… Ashbourne is becoming known for it blends, and Hamilton Russell is the estate that first put Hermanus on the world wine map. Now on to Bouchard Finlayson with its distinctive cellar and pioneering winemaker, Peter Finlayson. (Peter, by the way, is famous for describing Pinot as “velvet sliding down your throat”!). La Vierge is renowned for its boules, its Champagne Verandah and its quirky labels. One of Sumaridge’s many attractions is the fabulous guest house with its marvellous views where some of you will be staying over tonight. When I think of Newton Johnson I think of great Pinot, and yes this cellar has scored 5 stars in John Platter’s Wine Guide for their Pinot Noir over the past three years. Spookfontein with its own resident ghost can especially be commended for its commitment to organic farming … among Ataraxia’s many claims to fame is their art in the chapel and the “ringing of the church bell” … while both Domaine des Dieux and Mount Babylon excel in the creation of outstanding Methode Cap Classique wine. At Jakob’s Vineyard you simply have to taste their highly rated Bordeaux blend …and here at Creation I believe one of our greatest attractions is the wine and food pairing experience”.
Hermanus Wine Route, R320, Hermanus. www.hermanuswineroute.com Twitter: @HermanusWine
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage
Earlier this week I attended a winetasting of Sequillo wines, led by well-known and highly respected maverick Swartland winemaker Eben Sadie, at French Toast. It was the most enjoyable wine function I have ever attended, largely due to the refreshing down-to-earth three-hour tasting done by Sadie, and excellent value at R100.
The name of the winemaker leading the tasting was clearly a big drawcard, with 45 winelovers having booked. I was introduced to Eben by Karen Visser, co-owner of French Toast, and Eben struck me as a really nice and friendly person, without any airs and graces, not what I expected at all, for a winemaker who has achieved a number of career highs, including having his winery selected as Winery of the Year, and his Sadie Family Wines Palladius selected as South Africa’s top white wine in the 2010 Platter’s South African Wine Guide.
It took some time for the tasting to get going, due to some late-comers, but we were served a Mystery wine, which we were asked to identify. It was a Riesling, only 60 bottles made (unwooded) by Eben from grapes coming from Elgin, and not one of the attendees could identify it. Throughout the evening, Sadie told us stories, and for him the most important role that his wines play is that they too tell stories. He loves to play with wine, to experiment, and his greatest goal is to get locals to enjoy wine, without any fancy references to the aroma wheel (which should be burnt, he says), as it puts people off wine-tasting. He said ‘my guava is not your guava’, explaining his controversial winetasting views. Eben came across as the most down-to-earth, hands-on winemaker. Awards generally do not mean much to him, and he would not answer my question as to how he views the Platter’s guide. In the introduction, French Toast co-owner John Harrison said that Eben is recognised as a ‘renegade’, who has broken all the rules of conventional winemaking. This ‘enfant terrible’ is South Africa’s first certified celebrity winemaker’, Wikipedia writes about him.
Eben’s big passion is surfing, he studied at Elsenburg, and he started his winemaking career at Romansrivier Winery in Wolseley, moving to Charles Back and making his Spice Route wines for him. Sadie Family Wines is a joint venture between two Sadie brothers Eben and Niko, and their older sister Delana, starting with R9000 in 1999. They grew up on a vegetable and pig farm on the West Coast, and it was grape farming, and winemaking with it, that attracted Eben to this sector of agriculture, telling me that winemaking ‘can carry a century’. They have three wine operations, making Sadie Family Wines (a wine for weekends and special occasions) and Sequillo (a wine for weekday drinking) in the Swartland, and make wine in Priorat in Spain (Terroir Al Limit label) too. Studying winemaking in Germany, Austria, Italy, the USA, and Burgundy, Eben liked the lifestyle of the Spanish the most, choosing this country, but clearly declaring his love for the Cape. Taking a swipe at ‘molecular gastronomy’, Eben said he believes that winemaking has been ‘intellectualised’, in that wine drinkers are encouraged to sniff and spit the wine. He said one should not bother with drinking one glass of wine only, as it was as good as drinking a glass of water! Wine drinking must be done in volume, so that one can enjoy it, he said.
All the Sadie wines are blends, and they do not make any single varietal wines to sell. Eben said that winemakers could make wines to the ‘100 point formula’, to tick all the judges’ boxes, but this would be an ‘intellectual wine’, made without regard for soil and climate. It would have ‘blueberries, cigarbox, cream, and fennel on the nose, would be opaque, and have tannin’. He mentioned this dig at the ‘aroma wheel’ a number of times during the evening. Rather, wines should be an ‘ambassador’ of the place and the climate, and that is why Eben does not irrigate his grapes anymore, to be a true representation of the climate of that vintage. To counter climate, Eben will reduce his crop by half, depending on whether there is late rain or not. His wines have no added yeast, and only about a third of the allowed quantity of sulphur is added two days before bottling. Very old barrels are used, adding little or no wood to the taste. Eben said it was hard to move from conventional farming to ‘natural farming’. He told us how they have built up the resistance of their grapes in Spain, and plough with mules there. Mules were not suitable for the Swartland, he found, so they use horses. We laughed when Eben said that one can read how to get onto the moon, but the internet does not guide him as to how to use horses to plough his land!
Eben became very fiery about Law 70 of 1970, which does not allow the sub-division of agricultural land. This means that Eben leases 53 blocks of land in different areas, which he tends to with his staff, driving from one piece of land to another.
Sequillo is a second label, and the name comes from the Latin, meaning ‘dry arid place of great purity’. To introduce the Sequillo Red and White blends to us, Eben ‘deconstructed’ the wines for us, and we drank most of the individual varietals that made up each of these two blends. The Sequillo White blend 2010 consisted of:
* Grenache Blanc: Eben said this wine is like someone you know who is in jail, being someone you love but you cannot mention it. This variety came from the south of France. It is used in the blend to ‘build volume of wine’.
* Palomino: the origin of this grape is Jerez, from which sherry is made in Spain. It has acidity, firmness, coming from a 65 year old block in Piketberg. It has minerality, and white peach and other stone fruit, with a lingering after-taste. There is some saltiness.
* Verdelho: This wine is made from grapes originating from Portugal, planted in its northern areas. Eben said that his wine comes from 8 year old vines, the youngest vines he has. He tested this variety’s suitability in different soil types, and it does well across a variety of these. It does not have the prettiest bunch nor leaf, not having been to ‘finishing school’, he says in Sadie-speak, but is a great grape that is conducive to good natural farming. Their grapes are planted in Wellington, Perdeberg, and Stellenbosch. It has spiciness, potpourri, great nose and taste, easy to grow but hard to make in the cellar. Presenting it to Portuguese winemakers, they were very complimentary about his wine, Eben said.
* Viognier: This variety comes from Croatia originally. Eben said that it was grown too ripe originally in South Africa, giving too much alcohol.
* Grenache Noir: This is the most planted grape in the world, about tenfold of the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a Mediterranean grape, which can go to 17% alcohol, but Eben keeps his at 13.5 % by picking the grapes earlier.
* Semillon and Roussanne are also part of this blend, but we did not taste them.
The Sequillo label design is done in-house, and is refreshingly different, changing every year. The ‘Dorper skaap’ on the Sequillo White symbolises the hardiness of this sheep variety, like his wine, and is politically correct in being white and black, he laughed! The Sequillo Red has a locust on it. The Sadie wines are sold in 35 countries. When asked how they market internationally, Eben said that he answers his e-mails! They do not have a website for the Sadie Family Wines, and have only just created a website for Sequillo. They will never get into Social Media, Eben said, and he probably will throw away his cellphone when the contract expires, he said. He has no TV nor radio, and does not follow rugby. He makes all his own wine, and does not buy any of it in. While Eben had to keep reminding himself to ‘focus’ on the tasting, to great laughter, he explained that he is ‘semi-German’, and has ‘structure and order’, answers his e-mails, and is organised about his wine-making.
Asked which wine estates and their winemakers he admires, Eben mentioned Mullineux, Hamilton Russell, Newton Johnson, Adi Badenhorst, Neil Ellis, Boekenhoutskloof, Paul Benade, and Chamonix, and described them as mavericks too. He told us that he used to make full-bodied heavy wines, but now he makes lighter ‘roadblock’ wines, that will get one through a traffic control! He said that the wine industry has come a long way, and that the country’s political transformation in 1994 caught the industry by surprise, not being ready to compete on an international platform initially. Eben deplored that rarer and interesting wine varieties do not sell locally. He is focused purely on making wine, and is not there to set up pretty gardens with fountains on his wine estate!
The Sequillo Red blend 2009 is made from the following varietals:
* Syrah is Eben’s favourite varietal, and he told us that its origin is said to be Persia or Greece. The Australians could not pronounce its Old World ‘Syrah’ name, and called it ‘Shiraz‘. While other winemakers pick their Syrah grapes in March, Eben picks his in January, to prevent it being ‘jammy’, sweet and pruny, because of its thin skin, and the intensity of our sun, giving him 13,8% alcohol compared to 16 % for others picked later. He says it is a lunchtime wine, is well suited to the Cape, although it may be too hot, needing altitude to do well. He would not reveal where the special Syrah is grown, but hinted that the block is 60 km from the city, just above that of a very well-known wine brand. Platter’s Guide says 65% of the blend is Shiraz.
* Mouvèdre is the most difficult wine to make, Eben said. It is great to farm, a beautiful grape and a vertical grower, but difficult to make in the cellar. It has ‘nervous aromas’, ‘energy and electricity’, ‘is alive’ and great to use in blends, as it raises the fruit in these. This grape variety makes the world’s greatest Rosé in Bandol in France, Eben said. He added that Rosés are cool wines now, not a ‘chick wine’ any more!
* Cinsault is like one’s brother that is in jail and about whom cannot talk (Eben likes to use the analogy of wines and jailbirds!), being one of the greatest varietals but that has ‘suffered from human ambition’, he said, extending the analogy to say that it has been ‘framed for a murder he did not commit’, referring to its poor appeal as a variety. He says it is one of the most drinkable red wines in the world, it is seductive, and a wine he thinks about every day.
* Grenache and Carignan are two further varietals used, but not offered for the tasting.
As if we had not had enough to taste, Eben opened a 5 litre bottle of his newly 5-star rated 2012 Platter’s (for its 2009 vintage) Columella 2007, a Rhone blend of 80 % Shiraz and 20% Mouvèdre, according to Platter’s.
Eben Sadie and his wine brands will continue to make waves, given his passion and charisma, his dedicated focus on what he loves doing best, in making wines, and his fresh anti-bureaucracy and anti-convention views. Marc Kent of Boekenhoutskloof said of Sadie that he makes wines as an ‘artisan’, and not as a chemist or a technician!
Sequillo Cellars, Malmesbury. Tel (022) 482-3138. www.sequillo.com
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com, Twitter: @WhaleCottage