Tag Archives: viticulture

A first introduction to Argentinian wines!

Before arriving in Buenos Aires on this my second visit to the city, I had not prepared for my visit from a wine perspective, my main goal in spending a month in Argentina being to learn to dance the Tango. I have planned to visit Mendoza, renowned for its Malbec, have attended a wine tasting and food pairing evening at COWI in Buenos Aires, drunk three wines at the dinner at Buenos Aires’ Tegui, 86th Best Restaurant in the World, one wine at Don Julio, the 34th Best Restaurant in the World and Best in Argentina, and two wines at dinner at 1884 Restaurant in Mendoza. I have summarised my initial knowledge about the wine industry of Argentina, the fifth largest in the world, to which I have added some research information too. Continue reading →

Hermanus FynArts 2017: Rosa Kruger Tutored Tasting of exceptional ‘Old Vine’ wines!

Yesterday I attended a Tutored Tasting of some of our country’s exceptional wines, which had in common that they were made from vines many decades old. The Tasting was led by South Africa’s leading expert on Old Vines, Rosa Kruger being a passionate pioneer for the preservation of our country’s vintage vines.  Continue reading →

‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa’ episode 4: Franschhoek food and wine highlight, Fairview moves to Franschhoek!

Hayden Quinn 4 Huguenot Monument Whale CottageLast night’s episode 4 of ‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa’ was good marketing for Franschhoek, known for its food and wine, combined with its beauty, being filmed on a perfect summer’s day.  There was minimal, if any, Woolworths punting in the episode!

Hayden started his Franschhoek journey at the Huguenot Monument, erected in honour of the French Huguenots, ‘exiles‘ who picked Franschhoek to grow vines viewers were told, a bit of creative licence, as they were given the land.  Hayden explained that the village name, which he pronounced close to perfectly, means ‘French Corner’.  He  said that the monument represents peace, agriculture, and viticulture, copywriting nonsense, as the monument (erected in 1948) represents religious freedom, something the Huguenots could only experience in Franschhoek, having to flee France.  The village was previously called Olifantshoek, after the elephants roaming in the valley. The main road of Franschhoek was shown, and Hayden referred to it as having buildings with ‘French style architecture‘ (sic)! Continue reading →

Wine Tourism Handbook 2012: Enjoying wine at the source!

At the Bouchard Finlayson tasting at the Twelve Apostles Hotel last week ‘Wine Tourism Handbook’ publisher Monika Elias gave me a copy of her 2012 edition.  It is a very handy guide to the wine estates of the Western Cape in particular, but also in the Northern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal.  It is ideal for tourists wishing to get a quick overview of our wine routes and regions, and for staff working in the hospitality industry.

‘The Wine Tourism Handbook‘ introduces the topic by painting a picture of the 350 year history of South African wine, as well as the making of the first wines in the world up to 10000 years ago!  It tells the story of South African wine-making by Jan van Riebeeck, in February 1659 for the first time, the establishment of the KWV in 1918, the creation of Pinotage in 1941, and the launch of the first wine route, in Stellenbosch, in 1971. From these early beginnings South Africa has become the 7th largest wine producer in the world.  It addresses equitable issues of winemaking via Fairtrade, which promotes ‘greater equity for small producers in the international trading arena. The ethos of their work is that trading partnerships should be based on transparency, respect and a sustainable and ethical system of production and purchase’.   The growing trend to sustainability led to the development of the Biodiversity & Wine Initiative, with land of wine farms set aside for conservation, eradicating alien vegetation, and protecting endangered species such as the Cape Leopard, Geometric tortoise, the Cape Leopard toad, and the Riverine Rabbit.

A chapter is dedicated to winemaking, starting with viticulture, and describing the white and red wine making processes.  The value of the label, in communicating the region and farm from which the wine comes, the alcohol content, the vintage, the variety, the origin of the grapes is explained.  Details about the origin, cultivar and vintage are certified by a seal from the Wine and Spirit Board.  Just more than half of vines planted are for white wine production, and Chenin Blanc is the single largest varietal, at 20% of planting. The methods used to make Fortified wines, Rosés, and sparkling wines are also described.  A ‘South African Bubbly Route’ lists 69 producers of MCC sparkling wine. The best way to store wine is shared, and companies through which one can order South African wines in other countries are listed.

Brandy production is addressed separately to wine production, and the types of brandy, and tasting it, is covered.  Two Brandy Routes are described – the R62 Brandy Route, and the one including Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek, Wellington, and Elgin. Twenty brandy producers are listed.

Most of the book is dedicated to the wine routes of the Western Cape, categorised as Central Region, Inland, East Coast, and West Coast. The Central Region consists of Cape Town wine production in Constantia and Durbanville, and also in Franschhoek, Paarl, Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch Berg, Bottelary Hills, Greater Simonsberg, Helderberg, Stellenbosch Valley, Tulbagh and Wellington.  Advice is provided on getting around on the wine routes, and drinking and driving is strongly  advised against. Tour guides specialising in wine are recommended.  A Top 10 ‘Things to do’ list is presented, which includes lunch at Jordan wine estae, Staying in a tented camp at Clara Anna Fontein Game Reserve, seeing a show and eating at Die Boer Theatre Restaurant, viewing the Hess Collection at the Glen Carlou art gallery, tasting Jorgensen Distillery’s ‘artisanal drinks’, visiting the first biodynamic farm Bloublommetjieskloof, making wine at Stellenrust, enjoying a braai at Midddelvlei, and going on a game drive at Villiera Wildlife Sanctuary.

Highlights of the Constantia Region include Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia, Buitenverwachting, Eagle’s Nest, Constantia Glen, Constantia Uitsig, Steenberg, and Cape Point Vineyards, and the restaurants La Colombe, Bistro Sixteen82, and Buitenverwachting.  Some top Durbanville wine estates include De Grendel, Durbanville Hills, Meerendal, and Nitida.  The Franschhoek wine route includes Allée Bleue, Boekenhoutskloof, Boschendal, Cape Chamonix, Colmant Cap Classique & Champagne, Morena, Graham Beck, Grande Provence, Haute Cabrière, Holden Manz, La Motte, Rickety Bridge, Solms-Delta, Stony Brook and Vrede en Lust. Restaurants on this Route include Pierneef à La Motte, Fyndraai, Haute Cabrière Cellar Restaurant, and Babel.  The Paarl wine route includes Babylonstoren, Backsberg, Fairview, Glen Carlou, KWV Wine Emporium, Laborie, Landskroon, Nederburg, Noble Hill Wines, Perdeberg Winery, Scali, Veenwouden, Val de Vie,  and Vondeling.

Stellenbosch is the oldest and largest wine region, and has a number oif wine routes. Some of the best known estates on these routes include Waterford, Blaauwklippen, De Trafford, Flagstone, Kleine Zalze, Neil Ellis, Stark-Condé, Beyerskloof, Hartenberg, Hazendal, Villiera, Delaire Graff, De Meye, Bartinney, Kanonkop, Mont Destin, Rustenberg, Slaley, Thelema, Tokara, Uitkyk, Warwick, Alto, Dombeya/Haskell, Graceland, Ken Forrester, Longridge, Rust en Vrede, Vergelegen, Waterkloof, De Toren, Dalla Cia, Jordan, Meerlust, Spier, and Vilafonté. Recommended restaurants are the Postcard Café, Terroir, Delaire Graff, Towerbosch, Overture, and Jordan Restaurant by George Jardine.

The Inland region consists of the Breedekloof, Klein Karoo (Boplaas is one of the best known), Swartland, Robertson (dominated by Graham Beck, but also with Zandvliet, De Wetshof, and Van Loveren being better known) and Worcester wine routes.  The Swartland wine route is growing in stature, and very fine wines are being made in this region, including Mullineux, Sadie, AA Badenhorst, and Allesverloren.

Agulhas and Elim (Jean Daneel and Raka are best known), Bot River (Beaumont is best known), Elgin (a wine route with increasing recognition for Almenkerk, Paul Cluver, Shannon, and Iona), and Walker Bay are the wine routes classified under East Coast in the book.  The new Hermanus Wine Route has excellent wineries, including Creation, Hermanuspietersfontein, Ataraxia, Bouchard Finlayson, and Hamilton Russell.

The West Coast region consists of the Darling (Cloof is best known) and Olifants River (Cederberg and Stellar better known) wine routes.  The Garden Route is not well-known as a wine region, and Bramon makes an organic sparkling wine in Plettenberg Bay.  In KwaZulu-Natal Abingdon and Meander wines are made.

Twenty-seven wine-related festivals are also listed, with dates for the year ahead.

The Wine Tourism Handbook is a wealth of wine information, and should ideally be given to all tourists arriving in Cape Town, as compulsory reading about the excellent and extensive wine range on its doorstep.

Wine Tourism Handbook 2012: Enjoying Wine at the Source, World Focus Media, Tel 083 631 3393 www.winetourismhandbook.co.za

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

Eco Wine Tours showcases excellent work of ‘green’ wine industry

A new guided tour of the wine farms, focusing on those wine estates that are ‘green’, organic, support biodiversity and generally care for nature, has been launched.  Eco Wine Tours is a joint venture between Charles Lourens of BottlePillowPlate and Pieter Geldenhuys of PG TOPS, and drives to the Winelands every Wednesday.   The tour raised the question amongst its participants as to how each one of us can make a difference too, and recycling is the first obvious step.

The tour highlighted how much work is being done by individual wine estates to give something back to nature, and how each of them do something (often more than one action) to ensure that their farming practices do not add to the carbon overload the world already faces.   It is clear that this good work is being done out of a genuine interest in and love for the environment, rather than for marketing purposes.  It also indicated what diversity there is in being a ‘green’ wine estate, with the wide range of different actions wine estates undertake to be environmentally friendly, each following their own way.  The highlights of our tour, on a grey wintry day yesterday, were the following:

Avondale  is outside Paarl, and attracted attention with its ads featuring naked persons in the vineyards, as well as their famous ducks.  Due to a fire in 1999, the wine farming practices of the estate were turned on their head, and the new cellar that was built, the grape farming as well as all aspects of production were changed to meet an environmentally friendly and non-mass production philosophy.  The welcome we received from Jonathan, the warm crackling fireplace in the tasting room, and the enthusiasm shown to our group was impressive.   Avondale focuses on the natural balance of the environment, and believes in feeding the soil, and not the vines.  No herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are used at all, and its workforce of more than 100 ducks is employed to eat snails and other pests, to maintain the ecological balance.  They apply natural farming methods, and focus on premium quality wine production, of which organic wine is an end-result, and not the other way round. 

They have branded their work as “BioLogic”, reflecting that they use organic and biodynamic farming methods and with that want to restore the land to what it would have been centuries ago, and want to keep in balance what nature has given the wine estate.  We drank their wonderful spring water, tasting as fresh as water can.  Using gravity, Avondale irrigates its vines from its six natural dams.   Grey water is re-used, not by adding chemicals but by adding yeast.  A minimum 40mm of sulphur is added to the wine just before bottling.   Weeds are used positively, to control the soil.  They indicate what is needed to improve the quality of the soil.  Wasps are hooked up in the vineyards, where they hatch, and they take care of the mieliebugs.   Special owl houses have been made from wine barrels to house the collection of owls, who take care of rodents and snakes on the estate.  Increasingly, Avondale  is seeing small buck and lynx coming back to the estate.  Gravity is used in the cellar to reduce the usage of electricity as much as possible.  A natural riverbed runs alongside the cellar, and its clay bottom ensures that the cellar is naturally cold without any airconditioning, even on 45 C days in Paarl.  Avondale only uses pumps for its bottling.   Salt water is brought in, and the salt extracted from it, to add to the soil, salt containing 90 nutrients.  Cover-crops, such as lupins, are planted to create an eco-system, adding nitrogen to the soil.  On good weather days guests are driven into the vineyard, and one tastes the wine in the vineyard block from which it is made.

The Avondale MCC Brut is the only organic sparking wine in South Africa.   Other wines in the Avondale range are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc (organic), The Weir Chardonnay, Rosé (organic), Jonty’s Ducks (organic), Julia, Camissa Syrah, The Owl House Cabernet Sauvignon, Graham, Muscat Blanc, Les Pleurs Chenin Blanc and Les Pleurs Merlot.  Prices start at R58 for the Rosé and Chenin Blanc, up to over R 200 for the Les Pleurs range.  A new advertising campaign is to be launched, and the naked ladies will no longer feature, but the ducks will.  The wine estate impressed in being the only one to provide a folder of information, summarising its wine farming philosophy (“Wines approved by Mother Nature”), combining natural farming with 21st century science, technology and research.  The organic certification comes from the Dutch Control Union, and is accredited by Bio Nach EG-Öko Verordnung( Germany), Soil Association (UK) and USDA (USA). 

The Avondale building is mock Cape Dutch and its interior is too.  It is a very spacious building, and its interior is functional but not as attractive as that of many other wine estates.  It probably demonstrates that the wines, the farming methods and wine production are the heroes at Avondale.   A most impressively green wine estate.

Backsberg is well-known for its work in enhancing its carbon footprint, but until my visit I was not sure what it was doing, other than that it had recently launched its “Tread Lightly” range of wines in a plastic bottle.  Simon Back traced the history of the farm, to 1916, when his grandfather CL Back had bought the farm, first farming fruit before switching to grapes.  All grapes were sent to the KWV in early days, and it was Simon’s grandfather Sydney who made the first wines at Backsberg in the Sixties.   Michael Back, Simon’s father, studied viticulture and winemaking, and is the passionate owner who is driving the environmentally friendly approach of Backsberg.  He is currently attending a conference in Rio de Janeiro on renewable energy.  Backsberg became so passionate about being environmentally responsible about its wine farming, production and sales that it started by measuring the impact its operation has on the environment, in terms of fuel usage, water and electricity, and many more factors that they could quantify.  The CO2 emissions caused by their operation is offset by a dedicated program to restore their carbon footprint by tree planting, and by changing how they do things.  Energy-saving light bulbs are used; holes were cut in the roof to let in natural light; Michael drives a Ford Bantam bakkie because it is less environmentally damaging and lighter on fuel than a heavy-weight one; fresh dam water is used to cut out on refrigeration costs; smaller tractors are used; barrelwood is re-used and furniture made from it, which is for sale;  a massive counter was made from barrelwood; light-weight glass bottles are used, now weighing 450g compared to the previous 650g; the 50g plastic bottle is a huge step forward, and all indications are that the market is accepting the new ‘Tread Lightly’ range, the first wine brand to use plastic bottles in South Africa, and follows France and Australia as countries that are using such bottles with success.  The long-term goal is to become completely energy self-sufficient in future.  Simon says that the debate that may have been generated about the advisability of using plastic bottles is similar to the one five years ago of using screw caps on wine bottles.   The plastic bottles can be recycled.  A glass-blowing pair of brothers re-uses Backsberg bottles in its glass art. 

The Tread Lightly brand is exactly the same wine as is in the glass bottles, with a shelf life of two years.   Its range consists of Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, and is only sold through Pick ‘n Pay, at R49,99 and R39,99, respectively.  The Backsberg range is extensive, and consists of the Backsberg Family Reserve Range, a Kosher range, Sydney Back brandy range, Hanepoot, Port, a Mediterranean Range (Aldorina, Bella Rosa and Elbar),   Black label Range (Sparkling Brut MCC, John Martin, Pumphouse Shiraz, Klein Babylonstoren) and the Premium Range (Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosé, Dry Red, Pinotage, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon).  Wine prices start at R31 for the Chenin Blanc, Rosé and Dry Red, up to R 161 for the Backsberg Family Reserve Red Blend.

We were surprised at how old-fashioned things appear at Backsberg in terms of its building and interior, but perhaps it is environmentally friendly to leave the buildings in the way they have always been.  The dedication to the environment is clear and they are saluted for this.   No written information was supplied proactively, and the pricelist does not contain any contact details, should one wish to order or have queries.

Mooiplaas  needs perseverance to get to in terms of its bumpy road, but again this may be a sign of the environmental orientation of this wine estate.  Tielman Roos is a passionate co-owner of the farm, and says that there is a lot of confusion about environmentally-friendly farming. One can farm organically, follow the guidelines of the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative launched by Wines of South Africa, and/or follow the Integrated Production of Wines of the University of Stellenbosch.   The challenge is to use farming methods that harm the environment (like spraying) and then to offset this with environmentally friendly actions.  He explained that there was no point in farming in a purely organic way and then lose one’s crop in not having sprayed.  It is the carbon footprint that counts.  Mooiplaas does this in having created a private nature reserve of Renosterveld on the farm, which can never be used for wine farming.  He said: “We must be responsible to keep our business in business”.  South Africa has the oldest soils in the world, and this makes its biodiversity so special.   Tielman challenged every wine farmer to dedicate 5-10 % of the farm to indigenous plants, to so contribute to the environment.   The Mooiplaas wines carry the ‘Integrity and Sustainability’ seal on the neck of its bottles, and gives traceability to that particular wine. 

The wine estate has a beautiful historic manor house, built in 1833, hidden from the tasting room.  The tasting room feels environmentally friendly, its floor made from rocks and cement (making for a very uneven walk) and walls that show the original building style, only partly plastered.   It is a “plaas” winefarm, with little that shows modernity, except for a good brochure lying in the Tasting Room, and for Tielman’s dedication to the environment.   He organises walks through the nature reserve.  The Mooiplaas range consists of Langtafel Wit, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Langtafel Rosé, Pinotage, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Rosalind and Duel MCC, ranging in price from R32 – R 127.

Signal Hill Winery is in the middle of the city, in Heritage Square, and our guide Kyle Zulch clearly loves his job, demonstrated by his enthusiasm and generosity in the tasting.  He took the group to the pavement, where he disgorged a bottle of their MCC, the process that bubbly producers use to take the lees off the MCC before labelling and corking the bottle.  The grapes for their wines come from vines on pockets of land in Cape Town (Camps Bay, Kalk Bay and Oranjezicht), leading to a small quantity of only 6 barrels produced.  In addition, grapes are bought in from Stellenbosch, Constantia and Somerset West.  Kyle and Signal Hill Winery founder Jean-Vincent Ridon are passionate about ‘fighting urbanisation’, and are looking for more pockets of land in the city on which they can plant vines.   The Premier’s residence Leeuwenhof may become a mini-wine farm soon too. They clean up weeds by hand, rather than the quick and easy spraying method, have an earthworm farm, and they plant lavender and basil in-between the vines.       

The range of 25 Signal Hill wines consists of Tutuka Shiraz (R39), The Threesome, Petit Verdot, Grenache Noir, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz/Syrah Helderberg, Pinot Noir, Clos D’Oranje Shiraz/Syrah R750), Grenache Blanc, Rosé de Saignée (R38), Empereur Rouge, Vin de L’emperuer, Straw Wine, Creme de Tete, Eszencia (R2000), Red Le Signal, White Le Signal and Muscat de Rivesaltes.

It was a most impressive day, seeing wine estates from a completely different angle.  The wine tastings were generous, and one must pace oneself and spit more than swallow, with an average of five wines tasted per wine estate, making about 20 in total!   The wonderful lunch we had at Towerbosch on the Knorhoek wine estate will be featured in a restaurant review next week.

Eco Wine Tours: Charles Lourens, Bottle Plate Pillow Tel 082 375 2884 and Pieter Geldenhuys, PG Tops Tel 083 288 4944.

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