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There can be little sadder view than driving into a farm where the vineyards, untended for several years, look unkempt, if not dead. This was the scene as we entered Solms-Delta, the Franschhoek wine farm that has been through troubled times in recent times.
Merlot grapes are grown in many regions around the world, but the Western Cape is home to several renowned merlot-producing wine farms. Some of the most popular include Groot Constantia, Uva Mira Mountain Vineyards, and more. These farms produce complex, full-bodied merlots that are perfect for pairing with hearty meals or sipping on their own. On November 7th, wine lovers around the world celebrated International Merlot Day, raising a glass to this beloved varietal and we’re sure, continuing celebrations for the entire month of November.
Where is the love?,
November 2023
It was the kind of picture or visual artistry which could have featured in the recent Trevor Noah/South Africa Tourism promo. Towering rugged mountains, trellised vines resplendent in springtime green garb in orderly rows, growing vigorously after exceptional winter rains, a sunny day with blue skies – and groups of happy, chatting and laughing people arranged at various tables in a spectacular architect-designed tasting room in the Banghoek outside Stellenbosch. The only thing missing was the witty or humorous little twist in the tail, wryly observed by Noah.
MR De Compostella and Epicurean Wines approach their 20 year anniversaries with powerful parallels.
Though Celia and Simon Obholzer may be relatively new to the winemaking game – the debut vintage for Simelia Wines was in 2013 – wine farming is in their bloodline. They rear their grapes from Woestkloof Estate on Wellington’s Groenberg mountain, a ward Celia’s family has been sewing music and magic across since the mid-1800s.
Chardonnay reviewed,
November 2023
During a recent tasting of South African wines in London, Jancis Robinson introduced her first chardonnay tasting note by noting; ‘Chardonnay is very rare at this tasting.’ White wines were, indeed, dominated by chenin blanc, which continues to steal the limelight.
The South African wine industry is an inspiring indication to the magnificent tapestry of cultural diversity that has woven itself into the nation's viticultural heritage. Rooted in a history that spans centuries, the vineyards of South Africa reflect the vibrant relationship of indigenous traditions and a global exchange of winemaking techniques. From the rolling hills of Stellenbosch to the rugged terrain of the Swartland, a mosaic of cultures, languages, and flavours converge. Here, Dutch, French, and British influences intertwine with South Africa's indigenous Khoikhoi and San cultures, all harmoniously expressed through the art of winemaking. Our wine industry not only produces exceptional and award-winning wines but also embodies the South African spirit of unity in diversity, where every bottle tells a story of resilience and transformation.
Subtle and refined,
October 2023
It’s controversial. Wine lovers the world over appear to have entrenched views when it comes to Pinotage. And because the Rugby World Cup is nearing its pinnacle, it would be remiss not to toss in a rugby analogy … it’s like differing views on referee performance in a tightly-contested game! People see different things. South Africans will always believe that New Zealand’s All Blacks under Richie McCaw “got away” with side entries and questionable tactics at the breakdown which refs overlooked, while New Zealanders will hold the view that South African players are dirty pugilistic bastards and are whingers who blame the ref every opportunity they’re given! Somewhere in between lies the truth – in the middle ground.
The Cape Winemakers Guild reveals the power of the pour and potential protégés.
For lovers of nature and wine, the South African winelands has plenty to offer. This Heritage Month, celebrate the magnificence of the natural heritage that is the Cape Floral Kingdom with these interesting fynbos and wine pairings and other fynbos-related attractions. Curious about how fynbos contributes to the aroma and complexity of South African wine? You can read more on Wine Enthusiast.
If there’s any variety whose time has come, it’s cabernet franc. Although it covers just on 824 ha, as compared with cabernet sauvignon’s 9510 ha, winemakers’ enthusiasm for and success with cabernet franc more than compensates.
A rising tide …,
September 2023
September heralds the changing of the seasons. Vines are pruned, green buds start to shoot and the winelands are once again covered in a cloak of vibrant green. Theoretically, the cold, wet days of winter are past and warmer, longer days filled with new life and new prospects beckon. As does a new potential harvest.
How Hartenberg has adapted to regenerative agricultural practices.
“If it excites you and scares you at the same time, it probably means you should do it,” says a visibly emotional Erika Obermeyer to the gathered crowd at the Cape Winemaker’s Guild VIP auction tasting. “Which is why, after many years of making the still wines at Graham Beck, I took the leap of faith; and set out to produce my own range of wines. A journey that required the spirit of a lion.”
August is women’s month, it’s also International Cabernet Sauvignon Day on the 30th, opportune timing to learn about cabernet from three lady winemakers. The three work with grapes sourced from across Stellenbosch, the area connected with many of South Africa’s top cabernets.
Women have been making an increasingly significant impact in the wine industry in the Western Cape of South Africa, both as winemakers and as business owners. Here are a few examples of a female-led wine businesses... Women who are dedicated to producing high-quality wines from the region. These women bring a fresh perspective and innovative ideas to the industry, helping to shape the future of winemaking in the Western Cape.
“Our situation in South Africa is that we have a young fine wine culture with old geology,” said Dr Etienne Terblanche at Stellenbosch Wine Routes’ recent Terroir Tasting. “In Europe, it’s the opposite. They have a centuries old fine wine culture with relatively young geology.”
“The name ‘Graft’ has several meanings,” says own-label winemaker Lukas van Loggerenberg of his cult-status syrah, perched on a stool at his new Stellenbosch home. The soft-spoken winemaker is drawn to symbolism; his collection of wines all feature collage-like labels, a visual mapping (and over-lapping) of his life stories. Even the directions here were enigmatic ‘turn left at the white gate’.
The Start-Up Grind,
July 2023
Wine is full of stories of ingenuity, and of resilience.
After the flood,
July 2023
It’s winter in South Africa, a time in the Cape when vines enjoy their annual rest during the cold, wet months. There’s always concern that anticipated rainfall will be sufficient to fill dams and top up the water table to sustain the vines over the next hot, dry summer.
It is officially Shiraz month, with International Shiraz day falling on the 28th July this year, and so we raise our glasses in honour of this perfect for Winter, full-bodied, decadently dark red wines! To get you in the mood (as if you needed any encouragement...), we’ve compiled a shortlist of wonderful wine farms at which to celebrate this auspicious occasion.
Nearly two decades ago, Wines of South Africa (Wosa) had the catchy phrase “diversity is in our nature” as its slogan. Because of the growing awareness of climate change and benefits of regenerative agriculture and the importance of soil, those words resonate far more nowadays than they did in the early 2000s.
Making the Cut,
June 2023
Nederburg partners with Harvesting Heritage and Socio Tech to celebrate local flavour.
“Chenin represents versatility and adaptability,” shares winemaker Nongcebo “Noni” Langa at the recent Drink Chenin Day held at Backsberg in Franschhoek. “That parallels what I see within myself. I hope Chenin continues to break even more boundaries.”
During the 1970s and ‘80s, alcohols of around 11% to 12.5% were typical in red wines; these were, in part, due to virus-infected vines which struggled to produce sugar. With the arrival of virus-free vine material, sugar levels swiftly rose to 14% and beyond; the wines became richer, new small oak was used more generously and the high level of ripeness often resulted in a few grams of residual sugar. The style gathered, and still appeals to, many fans. For a new generation of winemakers, these big, powerful wines have palled. An emerging trend suggests a return to those moderate alcohols of the 1970s and ‘80s; not just lower alcohol, but less extraction and oak with an increase in texture and freshness.
With Youth Day and a long weekend coming up in the month of June, I thought I’d share a handy list of wonderful wine farms that you can enjoy with the whole family.
“Chardonnay was a pleasure to judge,” the doyenne of international wine writing Jancis Robinson said in her summation at the annual Investec Trophy Wine Show (TWS) feedback session in Somerset West recently.
South African sommelier wins coveted international scholarship.
“2023 is my 35th harvest,” says Carl Schultz, cellarmaster of Hartenberg Estate in Stellenbosch. “And, one of the most fascinating. If ever there was a vintage where global warming started to flex its muscles at us, this is it,” he says referring to the unseasonal rains that washed across the winelands late during the season. With over three decades under his belt, Schultz offers that while the rains were certainly unfortunate, the moderate, cool growing season was an asset, especially if you understood your vineyards.
Like the vines themselves, the Old Vine Project is far from static; statistics are kept updated, as is the website (oldvineproject.co.za); new information and expertise ensure the heritage vines receive the best possible care for their well-being and future crops.
When it comes to good wine farming practices, conservation and sustainability is always a high priority for these wine farms. From conserving water and energy, maintaining healthy soil, to preserving local ecosystems and wildlife habitat of vineyards and wineries, these wine estates are committed to protecting the biodiversity in their surrounding areas.
Modern life is ruled by an algorithm of some sort. Whether it’s a mundane Google search or a few minutes spent on Instagram, Tik-Tok,Twitter or Facebook there’s an algorithm dictating which searches or posts are best suited to your specific profile. They allegedly keep everyone socially connected but it’s also equally likely that negativity can be entrenched because of something seen online. So, it was heart-warming recently to see a post from Reyneke Wines celebrating something positive for one of their team.
Land of Hope wines endeavour to inspire through education.
“We grew up amongst the vines, swapping stories while we picked the grapes. Wine and viticulture have always been about stories for me,” shares Denzel Swarts. “I loved being in the vineyards harvesting with my parents, extended family and friends. We all lived on the farm, we knew each other. There was always a sense of community.”
Riesling champions,
March 2023
How easy it would be for winemakers to stick to the Big Five: chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, cabernet and shiraz. A mind-shift change, growing confidence and enthusiasm ensure they are breaking those bounds. Exploring other varieties is a pursuit of an increasing number of winemakers.
The wine industry in the Western Cape has been actively engaged in conservation activities to not only preserve the natural environment and resources that are vital to the production of world-renowned wines but also to uplift and support the farming communities. From sustainable farming practices to transforming lives, the industry has been taking significant steps to reduce its environmental impact and ensure a sustainable future for the region's vineyards and people. Here are some feel good social stories to pay attention to when choosing to support the wonderful efforts of these wineries and wine regions.
It’s been less than a decade since Graham Beck wines took the dramatic step of jettisoning their still wine portfolio – with some notable category leaders among them! – in favour of sparkling wine. It was a bold R150 million move but was smart in that it allowed them to focus purely on Cap Classique.
The harvest season is an exciting time of year, full of fun activities for people of all ages to enjoy. Whether you’re looking for an unique way to spend time with family and friends or just have a relaxing time enjoying your favourite wines, you can always find something interesting to do during Cape Town’s harvest season. Whatever you decide to do, you’ll be sure to have a brilliant time and make memories that will last a lifetime. Here are a few to get you started…
Rydal Jeftha awarded the Growing Inclusivity award at the 2023 Wine Harvest Commemorative Event.
Being born and bred in Paarl means you’re surrounded by vineyards; it would be difficult not to be curious about the vines themselves and the wines they produce. This is precisely what piqued Erna Blancquaert’s interest; growing up, she was fascinated by how it’s possible to smell fruits such as guava and cherry, or even the scent of tobacco in wine, if these weren’t present in the grapes.
7th place for Jo Wessels The South African candidate is one of the ten best sommeliers in the world.
Efficiency recognised,
February 2023
There are people for whom their day jobs are a means to an end. Clock in at 8.30, punch out at 5pm, Monday to Friday. Collect the pay check. Rinse and repeat.
Ken Forrester of the eponymous Stellenbosch estate receives the 1659 Visionary Leadership Award at the Wine Harvest Commemorative Event 2 February, 2023
Since at least 2014, South African vineyards have been dominated by the same seven grape varieties. According to SAWIS (South African Wine Industry Information & Systems), in descending order of area they are: chenin blanc, colombard (mainly distilling), sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, pinotage, chardonnay.
If you didn’t know it, the South African wine industry celebrates a whopping 364 years of grape wine harvesting on Thursday, the 2nd of February 2023. A fantastic reason to raise a glass of your favourite tipple and toast to this significant milestone. Possibly an even better way to celebrate is to make a day of it, or weekend if you’re so inclined, and visit your favourite wine farms or a few of those you’ve had on your bucket list for forever!
Crystal ball gazing,
January 2023
Listening to Cornish chef and keen South African wine importer Ben Prior of VinoSA tell an amusing tale of how his enthusiasm sometimes leads him astray, had my thoughts turning to the impending 2023 harvest.