Tag Archives: Simon Back

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

Food Blogger Relax-with-Dax paired with Wine Blogger Hein Koegelenberg of La Motte

The fifth Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting takes place on Wednesday 22 September, from 6 – 8 pm, at the Salt Vodka Bar in Bantry Bay, and will pair Dax Villanueva of Relax with Dax blog , and Hein Koegelenberg of La Motte and of Hein on Wine Blog.

Hein Koegelenberg grew up in the Karoo, and then on a family wine farm in Vredendal. He has an Honours degree in viticulture cellar technology from Elsenberg outside Stellenbosch. He became a winemaker, and then CEO of Windheuwel Cellars in Paarl. He was appointed as a director of La Motte in 1998. In 2000 he launched the Leopard’s Leap wine brand, a mass market product produced from the grapes of three Rupert wine farms in the Franschhoek area, selling 600 000 cases a year, largely through Meridian Wines, which he established to distribute his and 27 other top South African wine brands internationally. Under Hein’s guidance, the La Motte wine estate has recently undergone extensive changes, with an art gallery as well as a dedicated Pierneef Gallery, a Rupert family museum, and the Pierneef Ã  La Motte restaurant opening – he has created a world-class wine tourism destination at La Motte, and still finds time to blog and Tweet actively, understanding that social media marketing is the marketing force of the future.

Dax Villanueva writes the popular Relax-with-Dax blog, which documents what is happening in Cape Town. Dax moved to Cape Town, after growing up in Port Elizabeth and working in Durban, and loves Cape Town for its beauty, diversity and cultural wealth, loving to share what he is experiencing with others. His blog started as a newsletter seven years ago, and is one of the oldest in South Africa. He was a runner-up in the 2009 SA Blog Awards, and is a Finalist in the 2010 SA Blog Awards in the Twitter Microblogger category. He serves on the Slow Food Mother City Convivium committee. During the World Cup he was a blogger for the V&A Waterfront. He has more than 150 restaurant reviews on his blog.

The Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club was formed to reflect the tremendous growth in and power of food and wine blogs in forming opinion about food, restaurants and wines.  Most bloggers do not have any formal training in blogging, and learnt from others.   Each of the two bloggers will talk for about half an hour about their blog, and what they have learnt about blogging.  The Club will give fledgling as well as experienced bloggers the opportunity to learn from each other and to share their knowledge with others.  Attendees can ask questions, and get to know fellow bloggers.  The Club meetings are informal and fun.

Other writers that will be talking at future Bloggers Club meetings are the following:

Wednesday 20 October: Simon Back of Backsberg Blog

Wednesday 24 November:  Marisa Hendricks of The Creative Pot Blog, and Emile Joubert of Wine Goggle Blog

Wines are brought along by the wine blogging speaker, and Hein will introduce the La Motte wines served.  Snacks will be served.  The cost of attendance is R100.  Bookings can be made by e-mailing info@whalecottage.com.

Venue: Salt Vodka Bar, above Salt Deli, across the road from Ambassador Hotel, Victoria Road, Bantry Bay.

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

Sam Wilson of Food24 Blogs “paired” with Rob Armstrong of Haut Espoir

The fourth Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting takes place on Wednesday 18 August, from 18h00 – 20h00, at Brio Restaurant, and will pair Sam Wilson of Food24 food blogs, and Rob Armstrong of Haut Espoir wines in Franschhoek.

Sam Wilson is the Editor-in-Chief of Woman24, Parent24 and Food24.  Food24 has a special page on its website to provide a platform for 440 food bloggers, with 50000 readers and 200000 page impressions per month.  Sam was previously a commercial lawyer, and turned to freelance writing after the birth of her sons, before joining Media24. She was a speaker at the Food Bloggers’ Conference earlier this year.  She has also worked as a copywriter, a customer publishing strategist, a columnist and a cocktail bartender. Her websites collectively attract over 500 000 readers, and she says she “specialises in community management and the art of oversharing”.

Rob Armstrong has a BA in Archeology and Environmental and Geographical Science, and runs Haut Espoir in Franschhoek.  It is celebrating the 10th anniversary of turning this family farm into a red wine farm and planting it with Franschhoek Fynbos.  Rob is committed to “minimal intervention” with “mother earth”, both in terms of winemaking and their farming.  He is a proud member of the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative.

The Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club was formed to reflect the tremendous growth in and power of food and wine blogs in forming opinion about food, restaurants and wines.  Most bloggers do not have any formal training in blogging, and learnt from others.   Each of the two bloggers will talk for about half an hour about their blog, and what they have learnt about blogging.  The Club will give fledgling as well as experienced bloggers the opportunity to learn from each other and to share their knowledge with others.  Attendees can ask questions, and get to know fellow bloggers.  The Club meetings are informal and fun.

Other writers that will be talking at future Bloggers Club meetings are the following:

Wednesday 22 September: Dax Villanueva of Relax-with-Dax Blog, and Hein Koegelenberg of La Motte and Hein Koegelenberg Blog

Wednesday 20 October: Clare Mack of Spill Blog, and Simon Back of Backsberg Blog

Wednesday 24 November:  Marisa Hendricks of The Creative Pot Blog, and Emile Joubert of Wine Goggle Blog

Wines are brought along by the wine blogging speaker, and Rob will introduce the Haut Espoir wines served.  Snacks will be served.  The cost of attendance is R 100.  Bookings can be made by e-mailing info@whalecottage.com.

Venue: Brio Restaurant, 130 Adderley Street (ex-Riboville), two doors down from the Twankey Bar of the Taj Hotel.

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

Warwick/Vilafonte wine and Scrumptious food bloggers paired

The third Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting takes place next Wednesday 28 July, from 18h00 – 20h00, and will pair Jane-Anne Hobbs Rayner of Scrumptious food blog, and Mike Ratcliffe of Warwick and Vilafonte wine blog.

Mike Ratcliffe is the Managing Director of Warwick wine estate and Managing Partner of Vilafonte.  He has a B.Comm (Economics) from the University of Stellenbosch and a Graduate Diploma in Wine Marketing from the University of Adelaide. He is a Board member of Wines of South Africa (WOSA), has been involved on the marketing committee of the Stellenbosch Wine Route, is the Deputy Chairman of the South African Wine Industry Trust (encouraging black economic empowerment and land redistribution), and is President of the United States/South Africa Foundation, a fundraising charity based in the USA.  He is an international wine judge, industry commentator and marketing co-ordinator, and is an industry leader in embracing social media marketing in the marketing of his wines.

Jane-Anne Hobbs Rayner of Scrumptious blog is a freelance journalist, editor, author of three books (on local touring routes, and on raising toddlers), cook, food writer and recipe developer.  She writes as Juno, and her blog is independent, in that she does not accept any advertising or sponsorship, nor does she accept freebies.  She does use Google Adsense.  She is passionate about “food, fresh local ingredients and punchy flavours”. She loves writing recipes.  Jane-Anne was a speaker at the Food Bloggers’ Conference earlier this year. 

The Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club was formed to reflect the tremendous growth in and power of food and wine blogs in forming opinion about food, restaurants and wines.  Most bloggers do not have any formal training in blogging, and learnt from others.   Each of the two bloggers will talk for about half an hour about their blog, and what they have learnt about blogging.  The Club will give fledgling as well as experienced bloggers the opportunity to learn from each other and to share their knowledge with others.  Attendees can ask questions, and get to know fellow bloggers.  The Club meetings are informal and fun.

Other writers that will be talking at future Bloggers Club meetings are the following:

Wednesday 18 August:       Sam Wilson of Food24 Blogs, and Rob Armstrong of Haut Espoir 

Wednesday 22 September: Dax Villanueva of Relax-with-Dax Blog, and Hein Koegelenberg of La Motte and Hein Koegelenberg Blog

Wednesday 20 October:     Clare Mack of Spill Blog, and Simon Back of Backsberg Blog

Wednesday 24 November:  Marisa Hendricks of The Creative Pot Blog, and Emile Joubert of Wine Goggle Blog

Wines are brought along by the wine blogging speaker, and Mike will introduce the Warwick wines served.  Snacks will be served to match the Warwick wines.  The cost of attendance is R 150.  Bookings can be made by e-mailing info@whalecottage.com.

The meeting of the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club will be held at Cafe Max, 126 Waterkant Street, in De Waterkant, Cape Town.   From Somerset Road turn up Highfield Street (opposite Green Point Traffic Department), alongside the Tafelberg Furnishers/Kfm building, and turn left into Waterkant Street.  Cafe Max is about 200 meters further down the road, on the left.

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