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© Cape Times Friday 13th November 2015 I’ve been thinking a lot about friends and family these past weeks, partly...

Fruitful families

© Cape Times Friday 13th November 2015

I’ve been thinking a lot about friends and family these past weeks, partly from personal circumstances, but also because a couple of recent events have reinforced the importance of both within the SA wine industry. This industry (like every other industry) is all about money – we all know that – dictating what kinds of wines we can make, how we sell them and for how much, but the things it produces are social products, to be enjoyed at our leisure, drunk with our friends and family. So here’s to the link between the people who make it and we who drink it, as we relish the personalities and contributions from a few of the people involved in making our favourite tipple.

One family with a long and honourable place in the SA wine history is the Sperling family from Delheim. Spatz Sperling was one of the pioneers of wine tourism, setting up SA’s first ever wine route along with Spier and Simonsig and has been making wine in the Simonsberg for decades. The farm was originally started by his uncle and aunt in 1949 before he joined them fresh from his studies at Geisenheim in Germany. Nowadays, his children Victor and Nora are in charge of the farm along with the very able assistance of winemaker Reg Holder and viticulturist Etienne Terblanche.

Delheim’s flagship red, the Grand Reserve, is only released in stellar years and it was a cause for celebration when the latest 2013 version (R285 cellar door) was launched last week. It’s Reg’s first Grand Reserve and he’s crafted it in classic style using Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the cool slopes of Delheim’s Vera Cruz property. The wine is aged in small French oak barrels, all of them new, and is meant for the long term with firm but ripe tannins supporting concentrated black-berried fruit. At the launch, Reg also showed older Grand Reserves, with the stars of the show being the 2006 and 2007 – delicious wines, just beginning to open up. The 2013 is a worthy successor and should easily last another decade or more.

From one colourful character on the north side of Stellenbosch to another, equally-colourful, who made his name on the Helderberg and is now to be found in the town centre. Giorgio Dalla Cia was the man behind many decades of Meerlust excellence before he followed in his father’s footsteps and set up his own label producing wine and husk spirit (grappa now being a legally-protected term reserved for Italian spirits). The wines have done very well with the 2007 Giorgio red blend winning five stars from the Platter Guide in 2013, but it’s now the turn of their spirits to take centre stage.

Made by Giorgio’s son George (with more than a few robust, wine-fuelled discussions from his father no doubt!), the Dalla Cia 10 Year Old Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot Husk Spirit has just won the very first Platter Five star plaudit for a husk spirit. Most grappas are clear, but this one has been aged for a decade in small new French oak barrels, picking up a deep gold colour as well as plenty of aromas of toasted apricots, marzipan, orange peel and smoke. Handcrafted by George, it’s also been hand-bottled, hand labelled and each 500ml bottle is signed and numbered by him as well. Only 1,000 bottles have been made and at R2,325 each, it’s a pricy but very special present for a lucky someone this Christmas.

From families with long winemaking histories to new families forging the future – congratulations are in order to Chris and Andrea Mullineux for their thoroughly well-deserved success at the Platter launch the other week. Their wines won five 5 Star gongs, two of them also garnering Wine of the Year awards as well. All this meant that Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines is Platter Winery of the Year for the second time in three years. Wonderful wines lovingly handmade by passionate individuals – long live family winemaking in the Cape!

© Cape Times Friday 13th June 2014 2014 is definitely the Year of Anniversaries. Of course the most important...

Celebrating a landmark

© Cape Times Friday 13th June 2014

2014 is definitely the Year of Anniversaries. Of course the most important one is the celebrations of Twenty Years of Freedom, remembering the 1994 elections which signalled a new era of hope and excitement for many. So it’s probably no coincidence that a lot of businesses date their inception back to the same date and are thus celebrating special occasions of their own this year as well.

One such is Ken Forrester Wines, officially begun the year before when Ken and wife Teresa moved their family down from Johannesburg, but since the first wines were made in 1994, this is a coming of age story whichever year you choose. Ken and Teresa wanted to raise their daughters in a country environment and settled on a dilapidated seventeenth century farm and buildings in the Helderberg. Over the following two decades, they revamped the historic manor house, replanted the vineyards and rejuvenated some of the last remaining Chenin Blanc bushvines in Stellenbosch.

Now known as the King of Chenin, it’s kind of ironic that the first wine made by Ken (with friends and neighbours Mike Dobrovic and Larry Jacobs) was actually a Sauvignon Blanc, but in his second year of production, he made a Chenin and he’s been making it ever since. In fact, the vines used for his premium Chenin, the FMC, are actually celebrating an anniversary of their own, planted as they were 40 years ago in 1974. Ken is a tireless advocate for his favourite grape, and it’s thanks to the persistence of players such as him, Bruwer Raats, Irina von Holdt and others, that Chenin is finally getting the recognition it deserves after twenty years of increasingly great wines.

Twenty years - it is almost hard to believe that so much change has taken place in such a short time. For example – can you imagine a restaurant wine list without Haute Cabrière Chardonnay/Pinot Noir? But in 1994, the von Arnim’s were still awaiting bank approval to buy their mountain cellar home and the pressure was on when the annual harvest of grapes for their burgeoning MCC brand seemed disastrous. “The crop was very small” recalls Achim von Arnim “and the base wine was 12% alcohol by volume, making it unsuitable for the MCC, but we had to market our crop somehow in order to repay our bank loan.” Their solution was to make a still wine from the grapes and it proved so popular, they’ve been making it ever since to the delight of their millions of adoring fans.

It’s quite a feat to create such an enduring brand, particularly when it seemed that financial ruin was staring them in the face, and it took an unusual amount of determination and faith on the part of the von Arnims to make the best of a difficult situation. Similar determination and focus fuelled the creation of another brand, also celebrating an anniversary this year (albeit slightly more than 20 years), – the legendary Spatzendreck from Delheim.

It is more than 50 years since this Late Harvest wine with its cheeky label of a sparrow pooping in the barrel was launched, and yet it could easily have been the end of winemaking at Delheim if owner/winemaker Spatz Sperling had taken a comment the wrong way. When his wine was likened to the less-than-complimentary German word ‘dreck’, rather than be downcast, Spatz decided that failures are the base of eventual success. More than 50 years later, South Africa and the rest of the world have taken this wine to their hearts (although not everyone has taken to the label, twice-awarded ‘Worst Wine Label in the World’!) and the newly re-launched 2013 version is an utterly delicious mouthful of fresh litchis and flowers. A splendid way to celebrate any anniversary!

© Cape Times Friday 15th July 2011 The Stellenbosch Wine Route turns forty this year. Looking at the onsite...

Stellenbosch festival fun!

© Cape Times Friday 15th July 2011
The Stellenbosch Wine Route turns forty this year. Looking at the onsite attractions, the marvellous winery restaurants, the tasting experiences, the views and the ease of access directly to the farms, the winemakers and the wines, it seems amazing that there can have been a life without it. A life where a visit to a wine farm had to be planned well in advance merely in order to drive up an unmarked dirt road and meet a grumpy farmer who would reluctantly sell you bottles over his kitchen table - how times have changed!

The Stellenbosch Wine Route was the brainchild of Frans Malan from Simonsig, Spatz Sperling from Delheim and Neil Joubert from Spier. Surprisingly enough, they faced stiff opposition in their efforts to start a wine marketing and tourism association, becoming known as the ‘The Three Angry Men with a Cause’, as wineries disagreed about the importance and scope of such a venture. When the route was launched, there was any number of rules and regulations in place restricting the sale of wine. Farms weren’t permitted to be signposted off the main road, any wine bought from a farm required a form completed in triplicate and newly-opened tasting rooms had to close at 3pm on Saturday and all day Sunday.

Offering food was also tricky – it had to be brought in rather than cooked on the premises, so the first farm to offer food (Delheim in 1973) stuck to simple cheese platters. As Delheim matriarch, Vera Sperling recalls, a further complication for them was that they were unable to obtain a licence to drink wine on the premises, so customers had to buy a bottle from the cellar door which was then sneakily swapped for a chilled one. Still, at least that did away with problems of excessive mark-ups – something quite a few winery restaurants could look at today.

Forty years and a further eighteen wine routes later, it seems inconceivable that anyone could visit the Cape and not spend a day in the Winelands. You can taste all manner of different things with your wine including biltong and chocolate. Shops and markets are hosted on a regular basis, there are kids activities, amazing restaurants, museums, art galleries, beautiful gardens, cultural events and, of course, fantastic wines. What started out as a mere sales outlet has turned into a wonderful hospitality opportunity for many wineries who are delighted to share their wines, their farms and, very often, their homes as well with visitors from around the world.

Starting next Friday 22nd July is the Stellenbosch Festival Wine Week with nine days of fun and wine-filled activities taking place all over the entire Stellenbosch area. Want something foodie? Then visit Neethlinghof where Katinka van Niekerk will host a three course dinner with reminiscences of her favourite food and wine pairings. Fancy some fizz? Then off to Simonsig, where the Malans are having a double celebration this year – 40 years of the first Cap Classique in SA, the Kaapse Vonkel. They’re offering vertical tastings and a special two-course meal in their restaurant, Cuvée. Got kids? Then get yourself to Middelvlei who are hosting ‘Boeresports’ with egg and spoon races, wheelbarrow races, flour-diving and more, whilst parents nibble on venison delights and drink their gorgeous Pinotage.

There are film evenings, ‘30 Seconds’ gaming nights, chipping competitions (at Ernie Els Wines, although it is unlikely that the man himself will be there to give you any tips!) and more, all culminating in a three day festival at the Paul Roos Centre from 28th to 31st July. Over 500 wines will be available to taste there, along with food stalls, demonstrations and other entertainment. For details on the actual festival and on events throughout the whole week, go to www.wineroute.co.za. If you are heading out from Cape Town, I would strongly urge you to use the shuttle buses running from the V&A, Canal Walk and Tyger Valley in order to get there and back safely and still enjoy all the wine on offer. And a further shuttle bus is running from strategic locations within Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, dropping you right at the door and taking you home afterwards. I wonder if Frans, Spatz and Neil ever thought their little idea would get so grandiose?!

One lucky reader can win a two-night stay at L’Avenir’s Guest House for two with a wine tasting. Answer this: How many years old is the Stellenbosch Wine Route this year? Email your answer, name and phone number by 6pm tonight to info@gc-com.co.za with “Stellenbosch Festival Giveaway/Cape Times” as the subject.

Me and Meloncino restaurant are not getting on. I love the place, I have had completely delish food and...

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Killer Tomato!

Killer Tomato ?

Me and Meloncino restaurant are not getting on. I love the place, I have had completely delish food and wonderful service on the two occasions I have eaten there, but it is just costing me too much money to go again because every time I go – I have to buy a new shirt.

It ‘s not that it is too smart for my current wardrobe or anything, but every time I go there, I have been viciously attacked by marauding, killer cherry tomatoes which have exploded like evil slime bombs and deposited juice and seeds all down my front. I leave that place looking like a budgerigar  has thrown up on me and however completely untrendy I may be, I do at least know that budgie vomit is not a good look this season. But as I say, the food is gorge, the waiters are delightful and the wine – on the last occasion I went – was divine. Maybe I just need to buy a large bib.

Van Zyl Du ToitSo my last visit to Meloncino was a lovely spring day lunch (awesome beef fillet dish with rocket, those cherry tomatoes and parmesan) with Allée Bleue who were keen to show off their smiley, hunky, chunky new winemaker to the world. Van Zyl du Toit ( I really don’t get this surname as Christian name thing – where does it end?) was previously winemaker at high-flying Simonsig and is relishing his first chance to go it alone at Allée Bleue. To be fair to the previous winemaker, most of the wines on show were hers, but Van Zyl has had a big hand in the blending and bottling of the new whites and my favourite wine of the day was the result.

A slight digression here - a decade or two ago, the Australians discovered Chardonnay. So delighted were they by this, that they proceeded to put it in everything they could with the result that most of it got diluted by Semillon (of which the Aussies had a heap) to become the ubiquitous ‘Sem-Chard’. Here in SA, we are equally infatuated with Sauvignon Blanc at the moment, and so in order to share it around evenly and use up all the masses of bog-standard Chenin which is around, we have come up with our own ‘house’ blend – Sauvignon Blanc-Chenin Blanc.

AlleeBleueStarletteBleue_2And this is where we have scored over the Aussies, because these two grapes are a match made in heaven. This is my absolute, tip-top, best summer glugging blend and – back to the point (finally!!!) – the Allée Bleue Starlette Blanc is a completely wonderful example of why I love it so much. It’s dry but doesn’t take the skin off your teeth like straight sauvignons do, it’s nearly always unwooded (which is helpful to know), it is crisp, fresh and fruity (perfect for summer quaffing) and it is CHEAP!!! Which means you can drink lots of it. Start searching out Sauv-Chens, people – these are THE wines of summer!!

Top Five Sauv-Chen Blends

  1. Allée Bleue Starlette Blanc
  2. Morgenhof Fantail White
  3. Nabygelegen Lady Anna
  4. Delheim Sauvignon Blanc/Chenin Blanc
  5. Groote Post Old Man’s Blend White

And there are plenty more out there, so all other suggestions very welcome!!