Entries tagged with “Erika Obermeyer”.


Last night I attended the launch of the ‘Platter’s by Diners Club International 2019 South African Wine Guide’ at the Table Bay Hotel. It was an evening of some surprises, and new awards presented! But one thing was consistent – the Mullineux duo of Chris and Andrea lead this country in its consistent wine award performance, winning Winery of the Year for the third time in the 39 year history of the Platter’s Guide.  (more…)

Graham Beck LogoA surprise announcement yesterday was that Graham Beck Wines will consolidate all the wine interests in its Graham Beck brand portfolio in its Méthode Cap Classique  (MCC) range.  The Graham Beck MCC focus will be supported by a ‘substantial financial investment‘, its CEO Chris du Toit has announced. (more…)

Graham Beck 25 Logo Whale CottageYesterday 30 or so writers, mostly from Cape Town, dedicated a full 10 hour day to travel to Graham Beck Wines in Robertson, to celebrate its 25 year Silver Jubilee with a vertical tasting of more than 25 Cap Classiques and base wines which go into the making of the Graham Beck range of MCCs.  The event was also a salute to PieterGraham Beck Pieter Ferreira Whale Cottage ‘Bubbles’ Ferreira, in having worked at Graham Beck for 25 years already.

Always organised, PR consultant Nicolette Waterford had organised a Le Quartier Français snack pack with water and juice for us for the two-hour bus trip.  We arrived to a misty day in Robertson, but the day became sunny and warm.  We were welcomed by the Graham Beck staff, and by Pieter with his trademark bubbly shirt in particular, and it felt a lot like Pieter’s ‘birthday’ party (he did recently celebrate a special milestone birthday).  (more…)

Cheni BA Summer Outside table Whale CottageThe Chenin Blanc Association hosts a tasting of its top members’ wines twice a year, to match the summer or winter season.  Last week a tasting of 25 top Chenin  Blancs was followed by a summery Italian-inspired lunch with a view onto Table Mountain at Meloncino in the V & A Waterfront.

The tasting of the 25 Chenin Blancs was divided into five groups of five wines, and was led by Jeff Grier of Villiera, a gentle good off-the-cuff speaker, being so good with his notes that he often knew more about the wines Chenin BA Summer Jeff Grier Whale Cottage than was shared by the winemakers. Jeff stood in for Ken Forrester, Chairman of the Chenin Blanc Association, who spends a lot of his time marketing his wines in the USA.  What makes these events great is that writers can meet a number of the winemakers at the table, getting to know them a little better, the Simonsig (Hannes Meyer), Ayama (Liezel Delport), and Rijk’s (Pieter Waal) representatives sitting (more…)

FNB Sauvignon B All Top winners Whale CottageI have not been to Nitida wine estate in Durbanville in a long time, nor to its Cassia restaurant.  As the FNB Top 10 Sauvignon Blanc awards were held at the wine estate, it was a good opportunity to revisit, and to experience the new function venue, which comfortably seated 120 guests for lunch yesterday.

Invited guests included two representatives each of the FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top 20 shortlist, writers, and FNB staff as well as their clients.  Prior to the lunch, each of the 20 Sauvignon Blanc producers manned a tasting table, and provided information, making it a good opportunity to rub shoulders with other guests.   (more…)

Graham Beck Still Wines Whale Cottage Portfolio‘Excellence‘ is a word that forms part of the Graham Beck Wines’ pay-off line ‘The Origin of Excellence’ for its Still Wines range, and the company is true to its promise, in that its wine making as well as marketing activities attest to this.  While the ultra premium wine range is dedicated to the founder of the company, the late Mr Graham Beck, it also is a tribute to the fine wine making skills of the Still Wine Cellarmaster Erika Obermeyer, and the Marketing team’s excellent quality presentation of its wines, demonstrated in a series of three functions they had organised last week with the most perfect summer weather (in the middle of winter). The tastings were once again held at the Camps Bay Retreat, a magnificent location overlooking the waves crashing at Glen Beach.  The company has an incredible knack of choosing excellent weather days for its functions!

To know Erika is to know her wines, and while she comes across as a soft and gentle ambassador for her product range consisting of  The Game Reserve and Ad Honorem, she is a serious (more…)

Welcoming the guests attending the Christian Eedes Cabernet Sauvignon Report 2013 at Burrata on Thursday, sponsor Sanlam Private Investments CEO Daniël Kriel said that South African wine drinkers should thank our winemakers for producing such good quality wines at affordable prices. It was the second year in which the Christian Eedes Cabernet Sauvignon Report was presented.

Kriel said he had done a Google search about Cabernet Sauvignon, and to his surprise found that Wikipedia did not mention South Africa in its first paragraph.  He learnt about the wide range of terroirs and climates in which the grape variety is grown, from Canada down to the 15° latitude in Argentina.  South Africa is only referred to in the New World wines section, and then only Stellenbosch and Constantia are mentioned.  He referred to the markets being in terrible chaos on Thursday, and he was happy to escape the office to not see what was happening on his computer screen.  Having recently been to New York, and paying $89 for a reasonable Californian, he said that we should be grateful for the affordable and good quality wines which our winemakers produce.  He justified the investment by Sanlam Private Investment in The Christian Eedes Cabernet Sauvignon Report in that their clients love wine and have a passion for them, as do the leaders of businesses!

Christian Eedes thanked the wine writers present for spreading the word about his 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Report, allowing him to renew the relationship with his sponsor.  Using the same judges Roland Peens of Wine Cellar and James Pietersen of Balducci’s, sixty Cabernet Sauvignons were evaluated.  He announced that Wade Bales has put together a special Cabernet Sauvignon Top 10 pack, based on Eedes’ Report results. Bales could not tell me how much he will charge for the special pack.

In introducing the Top 10 list, Eedes said that the 5 point scale had been used for the ratings (instead of the 100 score which he has recently moved to for his wine evaluations), and that within a star band, the estates are listed alphabetically on his Top 10 list. The panel had found the local Cabernet Sauvignons, the second most planted varietal locally, ‘on the whole, very impressive in quality…characterised by richness and weight‘.  He added that while Cabernet Sauvignon ages well mainly due to its high level of tannins, wine drinkers are placing less value on this characteristic. ‘Winemakers seem to be going to great lengths to emphasise fruit and the resulting wines are tending to be ever riper, sweeter and more alcoholic.  The best examples display fruit concentration but retain shape and form’.  The panel had found some ‘clumsy addition of tartaric acidity‘, done to add freshness, but it resulted in sourness in some instances.

The Christian Eedes Cabernet Sauvignon Report 2013 Top 10 list is as follows:

*   5 stars:   La Bri 2009 (Irene Waller was the proud recipient), and Le Riche Reserve 2010.

*   4,5 stars:   Graham Beck The Coffeestone Cabernet 2011, Guardian Peak Lapa 2010, Rickety Bridge Paulina’s Reserve 2010, Rudera 2011, Springfield Méthode Ancienne 2006, Thelema 2009, and Waterford 2009.

*   4 stars:   Rust en Vrede 2010.

Burrata served a selection of tasty canapés, including porcini and cheese sticks; sirloin and radicchio crostini; fried crumbed smoked mozzarella, short rib and red pepper risotto balls; and toasted brioche with chorizo, green olive and mint purée.  The restaurant had been cleared of all its table and chairs, to allow the top ten Cabernet Sauvignons to be set up for tasting after the announcement of the top achievers.

It was a treat to catch up with a small select group of ten winemakers, and share their news.  Erika Obermeyer was still excited about her recent trip on the Queen Mary 2 from Durban to Cape Town, spending one day giving lectures to the cruise guests. Irene Waller was excited for Franschhoek (she heads up the local Vignerons association) that two of the top 10 Cabernet Sauvignons are from the wine valley, which is receiving increasing recognition.

Disclosure: We received a bottle of Graham Beck The Coffeestone Cabernet 2011 as part of the media pack.

The Christian Eedes Cabernet Sauvignon Report, www.whatidranklastnight.co.za Twitter: @ChristianEedes  www.sanlamprivateinvestments.co.za

Burrata, The Old Biscuit Mill, 373 Albert Road, Woodstock, Cape Town. Tel (021) 447-6505. www.burrata.co.za Twitter: @BurrataSA   Monday – Saturday, Lunch and Dinner.

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

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

On Tuesday I attended the Chenin Blanc Association Winter Showcase at Delaire Graff Estate, and was reminded by the association chairman Ken Forrester, a passionate champion for the varietal, that Chenin Blanc’s unique attributes are that it comes in a diversity of styles, and that it is the wine that can be paired with the largest range of foods.

Six months ago I had attended a first such Chenin Blanc Summer Showcase at the One&Only Cape Town, which focused on the full spectrum of Chenin Blanc styles, both light and fruity, and rich and fuller.  The association has classified chenin blanc styles on the basis of residual sugar:

*   fresh and fruity (less than 9g/litre)

*   rich and ripe – unwooded (less than 9g/litre)

*   rich and ripe – wooded (less than 9g/litre)

*   rich and ripe – slightly sweet (9 – 30g/litre)

*   sweet (30+g/litre)

*   sparkling (tank fermented or Cap Classique)

Interesting consumer research was presented at the previous Showcase, highlighting that our country’s largest grape variety is not well known at all by local wine drinkers.  The Chenin Blanc Association is focusing on changing the low level of awareness about the varietal, in hosting bi-annual showcases of Chenin Blancs which are more suitable to drink in summer (light, fresh and fruity), and those that are better suited to winter (rich and fuller).  Another goal the association has is to see more restaurant wine lists feature a Chenin Blanc category with a number of different options, instead of this varietal being lumped into an ‘Other/Blend’ category.  The association is ably managed by Ina Smith.

Ken explained the procedure for selecting the vast total of 26 Chenin Blancs we tasted, from the hundreds that are made in our country.  The 96 association members were invited to submit their wines, meeting the criteria of them being made from 30 year old bush vines or older, and having an alcohol content of 13,5 – 14,5%, which led to 30 entries being received.  Jeff Grier from Villiera and Association Vice-Chairman, and Carel van der Merwe from De Morgenzon whittled the Chenin Blanc portfolio for the Winter Showcase down to 26 wines. Grier led the tasting, which was held in the Delaire Graff restaurant, and he shared short notes about each of the wines, which were tasted in flights, it not being clear exactly what each of the seven flights had in common. I shared a tasting table with Delaire Graff GM Johann Laubser, Ken, and Orielle Berry from Bolander.

Our table particularly liked the De Morgenzon Reserve 2011, Tierhoek 2011 (grapes come from the Piekenierskloof area, also the area from which the Botanica chenin grapes are sourced), and Mullineux White Blend 2012 (with Viognier). Other Chenin Blancs we tasted included AA Badenhorst Secateurs 2012, Simonsig ‘Sur Lie’ 2012, Doran Vineyards Barrel Fermented 2012, Nederburg The Anchorman 2012, Spioenkop ‘1900’ 2011, Beaumont Hope Marguerite 2012, Graham Beck Bowed Head 2011, Sijjn 2011 (made by David Trafford), Joostenberg Fairhead 2010, Oldenburg 2012, Jordan 2012, Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Barrel Fermented 2012, Delaire Graff 2012, Diemersfontein Carpe Diem 2011, Bellingham The Bernhard Series Old Vine 2011, Spier 21 Gables 2011, Stellenrust ’46’ Barrel Fermented 2010, Cederberg Five Generations 2010, The FMC 2010, Kanu Kia-Ora Noble Late Harvest 2010, and Villiera Inspiration Noble Late Harvest 2010.  What was impressive is that so many of the top winemakers attended the tasting too, including Andrea Mullineux, Razvan Macici of Nederburg, Erika Obermeyer from Graham Beck Wines, David Trafford, Bruwer Raats, and Kathy Jordan.

De Morgenzon uses cement eggs for its Chenin Blanc production, these fermentation and maturation vessels having been developed in France twelve years ago.  Eben Sadie was the first South African wine maker to introduce cement eggs locally, and now they are also used by Boekenhoutskloof and Hamilton Russell.  Ken explained that winemakers follow trends too, and cement eggs are one of them.  Ken spoke about winemaking, and shared that one must make wine that the customer enjoys, even though it is not always the winemaker’s taste.

To get to Indochine, the Asian fusion restaurant at Delaire Graff, we took a short cut through winemaker Morné Vrey’s cellar, and passed Chef Christiaan Campbell’s vegetable garden.  Indochine is in the Delaire Graff Lodge & Spa building, set back from the main restaurant.  The entrance is ‘guarded’ by two Dylan Lewis cheetahs, and there are more on the lawn outside the restaurant.  The Lodge interior is dominated by art of the same contemporary artists whose work is in the main restaurant building, including Lionel Smit, Anton Smit, and Deborah Bell.  The restaurant seats about 40 patrons, and it has a view over Stellenbosch on a clear day.  It has the most impressive work of art by Lionel Smit and Andre Stead on the ceiling, called ‘Flight of the Swallows’.  The colour scheme is blue, reflected in the leather seating and the very classy looking menu and winelist folder.  The chef is Virgil Kahn.

The very efficient waiters brought fritters made from cabbage, fennel and spinach as well as bread crisps  to the table, with a black bean and sweet soy sauce, spicy tomato relish, and cucumber and mint sauce.  Johann Laubser and Delaire Graff winemaker Morné Vrey were also at the table, and I asked Morne how the Showcase would influence his Chenin Blanc wine making.  He said that he had learnt a few things he may try for the next vintage, and it had set a benchmark, but it had also helped him to define what he would not do in his Chenin Blanc making.  Johann shared that Africa’s first Graff diamond store will open in the main Delaire Graff restaurant building in September, and it is being designed by the international interior designer of all Graff stores.

The amuse bouche was an unusually presented kingklip su mai (dim sum) with a gengati gel, and a citrus and fennel emulsion, a simple fresh start to the meal.  The wine stewards and waiters offered the guests a continuous choice of the Chenin Blanc wines we had tasted.  The Thai Duck starter, with pickled radish, bamboo, the most delicious cashew nut brittle, and orange, was the favourite course of many guests.  The main course is one of the signature dishes of the restaurant, being the 7 Thai spice pork belly served with edamame beans, pickled garlic, and red pepper.  An interesting looking and very tasty black rice was served with the pork.  The dessert was a colourful mango parfait served with passion fruit, rose water ginger crumble, and raspberry.

Most of the wine writers and wine makers had not been to Indochine before, and expressed how impressed they were with the restaurant and its good service.  Both the Chenin Blanc Association and Delaire Graff were gracious and generous hosts, and Ken thanked all involved for a fabulous event.

Disclosure:  We received a bottle of Tierhoek Chenin Blanc 2011 with our media pack.  My son is the Manager of Indochine.

Chenin Blanc Association www.chenin.co.za Twitter:  @CheninBlancAsso

Indochine, Delaire Graff Lodge & Spa, Tel (021) 885-8160.  www.delaire.co.za Twitter: @DelaireGraff

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

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