SA Trailblazers: Simelia Wines

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.

Today it’s not in the embrace of those gentle green peaks that we find ourselves. Rather it’s in the bustle of foodie haven, Table 7 in Woodstock. We’re here for the launch of the 2017 single vineyard merlot and syrah (named Fluvius and Senectus, respectively), which make up their ‘Reserve Range’. While t-bones grill in the background Celia and Simon tell us their story, and we quickly realise we’re in the presence of regte Boland royalty.

“My grandfather, CP Hoogenhout, left Amsterdam in 1860 to make the Groenberg his home,” Celia shares. “He is well documented for having a huge influence at the Groenberg school, where the South African Afrikaans language movement was thought to originate.”

This love for language evolved to lyricism with the next generation, with his son, PI Hoogenhout penning beloved Afrikaans songs, among them Kom ons gaan blomme pluk in die vlei .

The next scion took root in the vineyard. “My grandfather was a wine farmer, and loved all things to do with Boland culture. He also continued the tradition of broadcasting original Afrikaans songs from his farm on Groenberg in the 1940s.”

Yet another son followed, Celia’s father, Ben Hoogenhout. Ben also took to wine farming, stepping up his game even further, becoming renowned for vine-grafting and operating a successful nursery. (Wellington is still responsible for the majority of the Cape’s stokke.)

“Our generation was next,” says Celia with a smile. “All four of us were girls… with not that much interest in farming; then, in any case.”

The family farm was sold, and another acquired higher up on the Groenberg slopes, where Ben continued in his meticulous farming practices ensuring a high demand for the grapes of Woestkloof.

Enter Simon Obholzer, a plucky German entrepreneur who landed in South Africa in the early 2000s. Sharing a love for food and wine, Celia and Simon’s paths crossed in 2008 and were married shortly thereafter.

“I may just have been to every wine farm in the Cape,” Simon says laughing. The wine bug bit, and bit hard. Upon seeing his father-in-law’s vineyards, he proposed the idea that instead of selling the grapes that they as a husband and wife team bring them to bottle.

“I said I’d never marry a farmer…” says Celia with a smile. “He wasn’t, but then he became one.”

“The goal was immediately to produce a high quality merlot. I saw a gap in the market for more high-end bottlings of the grape in South Africa.”

And a premium wine it is. The Fluvius 2017 abounds with opulent red and black cherries, grounded in crushed rocks, oystershell, and hint of cedarwood. Plums and roasted fennel join the cherries on the palate, wrapped up as if with a bow in the silkiest of tannins.

Simelia (a joining of the founders’ names..) has achieved this by allowing a period of bottle-age before release, hence the 2017s being released now in 2023. The Woetskloof terroir also plays its part, the micro-climate of the region offering a distinct diurnal swing with warm days refreshed by cool, mountain winds at night. There are human hands too that aid in excellence, from the viticulture - still looked after by patriarch Ben Hoogenhout as well as winemaker, Louis Nel who works closely with Simon in the cellar.

Louis, a seasoned winemaker and Cape Winemakers Guild member, has quite the C.V with tenures at Vergelegen, Neil Ellis, Warwick and Hidden Valley under his belt. He started his own wine label in 2006 and now also consults. 

The final puzzle in this equation is consultant Johann Innerhofer, who by chance met Celia and Simon on their safari honeymoon. They quickly struck up a friendship, which evolved into a fine wine mentorship. ‘Hansi’ as he is fondly known, consults for Simelia and brings formidable expertise to the table, including his role as an ambassador for powerhouse Sassicaia in Italy.

As bottles are uncorked, and platters of perfectly cooked steak are passed around the table Simon says, “No matter the vintage, smelling the wines always brings back memories of beautiful days spent under the summer sun in the Boland.”

And with that, the latest succession of Boland royalty is set to make its mark.

- Blog by Malu Lambert