SOUTH AFRICA CELEBRATES 365 YEARS OF WINEMAKING

By Rose Murray Brown MW  Published in The Scotsman 30 March 2024

On 2 February 1659, the first wine made from grapes grown in South Africa was crafted by the Governor of the Cape, Jan van Riebeeck.  He had planted vines four years earlier in the Company’s Garden near Cape Town from cuttings imported from France.

Van Riebeeck’s first Cape vintage only yielded 12 bottles, but it sowed seeds for the future – helped by more colonists arriving bringing knowledge of viticulture and winemaking.  His aim had been to make wine to help ward off scurvy for sailors stopping off along the spice route.  By 1662 van Riebeeck seemed pleased with the progress of his vines declaring in his journal that ‘many vine stocks at the foot of the mountain are…thriving…this season very beautifully indeed…better than those planted previously on the mountain summits’.

Picture credit: Klein Constantia

365 years on, the South African wine industry is thriving with 89,384 hectares of vineyards and 524 wineries.  Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most planted white and red grapes.  To celebrate this special anniversary, I selected my favourite Cape dozen to champion this dynamic industry with its 269,000 employees.

Picture credit: Klein Constantia

The Cape wine industry today has a very holistic approach and are world leaders in sustainability.  With recent droughts and heatwaves, this has become ever more poignant as they confront climate change.

Several of the producers listed below, such as Waterkloof, De Wetshof and Spier, are WWF Conservation Champions.  They commit to biodiversity-friendly projects introducing water-wise indigenous riverine species, regenerating indigenous fynbos flora in the vineyards – and in wineries, solar installations, waste recycling and switching to lighter-weight alternative bottles are now part of the course.  Importantly, they are also all very active in providing community care for their workers.

So let us raise a glass to celebrate diversity and inclusion in the Cape wine industry:

SPARKLING

Western Cape, Stellenbosch: SIMONSIG KAAPSE VONKEL BRUT 2022

£14.99 The Wine Society

Cap Classique is one of the fizz world’s best kept secrets and is underpriced compared to other premium traditional method sparkling.  Simonsig were the original pioneers of this style, Kaapse Vonkel (meaning Cape Sparkle) was first made in 1971.  Classy Chardonnay/Pinot Noir with toasty savoury richness.

 

WHITES

Stellenbosch: WATERKLOOF CIRCLE OF LIFE CHENIN BLANC 2022 ***GOOD VALUE***

£14.95 Woodwinters

Waterkloof are regenerative farming pioneers in the Cape.  Their 49% Sauvignon Blanc, 41% Chenin Blanc, 10% Semillon blend dominated by Sauvignon’s green fruits and vibrant acidity.  Whole bunch pressing and mix of barrels and concrete eggs give creamy complex palate texture.

 

Elgin: PAUL CLUVER VILLAGE CHARDONNAY 2022

£14.99 Waitrose

Chardonnay from Elgin’s high plateau has such elegance and finesse; creamy leesy, smoky citric brioche nose, honey and vanilla notes; super fresh with vivid cool-climate acidity.

 

Robertson: SPRINGFIELD ESTATE LIFE FROM STONE SAUVIGNON BLANC 2023

£18 Fine Wine Portobello

Springfield estate in beautiful remote Robertson is one of my favourites run by the Bruwers – this stony limey mineral-rich Sauvignon Blanc is a good introduction to their superb wine range.

Robertson: DE WETSHOF BON VALLON CHARDONNAY 2023 ***GOOD VALUE***

£14.99 Ellies Cellar in Dollar/Auchterarder/Crieff/Linlithgow/Helensburgh

Another sustainability pioneer and WWF Conservation Champion, the de Wets make finely etched Chardonnays, so sleek and elegant with creamy texture from six months lees.

Constantia: CONSTANTIA UITSIG CHARDONNAY RESERVE 2021  ***STAR BUY***

£24.95 Corney & Barrow

This rich oaky Chardonnay is one of the best Cape wines I have tasted recently, a superb white Burgundy-lookalike from granite and sandstone soils in the oldest wine region in South Africa, which benefits from cool Atlantic breezes keeping acidity vibrant and fresh.

Malgas: SIJNN ESTATE WHITE 2019

£26.99 Raeburn Fine Wines

From one of Cape’s remotest wine farms with talented winemaker Charla Bosman at the helm – this is her best white to date: Chenin Blanc with Viognier and Roussanne blend with honey, creamy rich fruit, minerality and spice.

REDS

Walker Bay: NEWTON JOHNSON PINOT NOIR 2022

£20 The Wine Society; Lockett Bros

A leading estate in the region known for top notch Cape Pinot Noir, this small 18 hectare family winery set up by David Johnson is run by his capable sons Gordon and Bevan, who created this elegant example with its bright red fruits and balance.

Stellenbosch: SPIER ‘21 GABLES’ CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2019

£22.50 for mixed six / £25 bt Laithwaites

Spier are impressive WWF conservators with nine solar installations on their winery; I have also been impressed by their wine range quality.  This lush succulent great value example shows how why Cabernet Sauvignon is Stellenbosch’s flagship grape.

Cape Agulhas: MINIMALIST WINES ‘STARS IN THE DARK’ SYRAH 2022  ***STAR BUY***

£29 The Wine Society

Up & coming winemaker Sam Lambson makes wine in Cape’s coolest region in rugged coastal Elim.  Extraordinarily intense Syrah; it reminds me of taut peppery Northern Rhone Syrah, but with additional Cape flavour of smoked biltong alongside the blackcurrant fruits.

Swartland: DAVID & NADIA GRENACHE NOIR 2019

£28 Justerini & Brooks; £28.95 Vino Wines for 2020 vintage

David Sadie and his soil scientist wife Nadia have the midas touch when it comes to Grenache (they also make superb Pinotage but sell it all to Sweden).  This blend of five vineyards was part whole bunch fermented and matured in concrete and old oak – such lovely soft elegant smooth tannins.

Swartland: BOEKENHOUTSKLOOF SYRAH 2018 ***STAR BUY***

£37 Waitrose

Boekenhoutskloof, one of the oldest farms in the Cape, is a renowned Franschhoek-based winery – but their Syrah comes from their Swartland vines.  Maverick winemaker Marc Kent created this fabulous sweet spiced savoury Syrah aged in large Austrian foudres and demi-muids.

 

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