South Africa's wine regions find world-class potential with diverse, value-driven wines.
While practically all of South Africa’s significant wine regions are located within the area known as the Western Cape, or more precisely with close proximity to the city of Capetown, it is important to identify the actual regions that differ significantly with respect to soils, climates and other wine-important characteristics. The Western Cape reminds of California and Capetown of Napa Valley in particular. Both are considered among the world’s top wine-growing and producing areas for numerous reasons.
About one hour’s drive northeast from Capetown is the Swatland (who couldn’t love a place with a name like Swartland?) Region, often called the bread basket of South Africa for its seemingly endless acres of wheat. Swartland is perhaps the most emblematic example of the great growth in new South African wineries as growers and vintners seek to take advantage of its unique Mediterranean climate.
Swartland contains some excellent vineyard land, particularly along the banks of the Berg River where the mountain foothills provide some distinctive soil/climate conditions for producing exceptional grapes. Swatland is also a harbor for new growing techniques and biodynamic farming, a combination that has proven quite successful in many international growing venues. It is clear that the many emerging wineries and their extensive wine portfolios will eventually afford Swatland a seat at the table of great South African growing regions.
In many experts’ minds, Stellenbosch is the most recognizable of South Africa’s top wine producing regions. In many ways, it is the Napa Valley of South Africa. Built around the charming town of Stellenbosch (South Africa’s second oldest city), the area contains more than 160 wineries as well as a winemaking tradition that traces its origins back to the late 17th Century. Stellenbosch contains all the prerequisites for growing great grapes; ample rainfall, well-drained soils, mountainous terrain and great soil diversity. The area is a virtual “who’s who” of large wine estates and the best examples of Cape Dutch architecture that exist within South Africa. More awards have been garnered by Stellenbosch wineries than in any other wine region. There is also a growing legion of contemporary wineries and winemakers who are carving their own niche in the old Stellenbosch historical tradition. Utilizing modern techniques, on both the growing and production sides of the business, their wines are gaining critical acclaim from the international wine community while repeatedly turning heads within South Africa itself.
One of the newest appellations within the Western Cape growing area is the picturesque Elgin Valley that is located south southeast of Capetown, and east of the much larger Stellenbosch Region. It is a rural and picturesque growing area located not far from the confines of Walker Bay. It is among South Africa’s coolest growing climates due to its proximity to the ocean and that fact makes Elgin Valley capable of producing truly great fruit in the Burgundian manner of France. The Elgin Valley Appellation is home to some twelve growers who are producing quality wines at a much higher level than was first expected.
The Elgin Valley is at higher elevation (some 400-500 meters) than Stellenbosch and is about three degrees cooler than its better known neighbor. It gets less rainfall than Stellenbosch and must be watered, much like practically all sections of Napa Valley. Since most of the wineries located in the Elgin Valley are contemporary, they rely on the latest growing techniques and features. Even though total planted acreage is still quite small with relation to other Western Cape wine growing regions, the Elgin Valley has nonetheless served notice that it will produce extremely high quality wines for the foreseeable future.
With the resurrection of the South African wine industry, comes a trifecta of diverse, ultra-premium wineries.
Anyone who keeps tabs on the rapid growth of the South African wine industry can tell you the country’s export progress is on the far side of amazing. Most of the country’s developmental aspect can be traced to the demise of South Africa’s constraining political mandate, Apartheid, which restricted export growth by its very nature. During its dominance, the South African wine industry was reduced to almost bystander status due to Apartheid’s negative global influence.
After Apartheid’s demise, the simple fact that South Africa’s lovely and diversified assortment of wines had been generally unavailable for many years fueled renewed interest from the international wine community. A new movement of contemporary wineries emerged in practically every wine growing region. In rapid fire sequence a large number of South Africa’s high quality wines were reinstated to the top rungs of international wine circles.
To show you the diversity level which some of these wines have achieved, a trio of extraordinary South African wines has been selected for this International Series release. It is our pleasure to bring these important wines to your attention and enjoyment.
Its name comes from the Latin and means an arid, dry place of great purity, a fitting description of a wine from the Swartland Region. Sequillo was formed around 2001 by both the Sadie family and the Cornet Spies Family Trust, both longtime wine-related families with deep roots in South African wine circles. Winemaker and rising star Eben Sadie decided on utilizing Southern Rhone varietals in producing the first Sequillo wines from vines planted on 8 hectares (slightly over 19 ¾ acres) that are all organically farmed. As such, Sequillo wines are never refined or filtered and are as close to natural tasting as is possible.
Eben Sadie is himself an outspoken critic of wood barrels. He chooses to make his wines in cement vats and age them in a variety of ancient oak barrels at his winery. ‘I want to make wine,” he was recently quoted saying, ‘that tastes like wine and not wood.”
Whatever the approach, Sequillo has proved an instant success on the international wine scene with top competition marks and supportive endorsements from the international wine press. Not only does Sequillo represent a top emerging wine region but also one of the present and future stars of South African winemaking.
Jardin Reserve, Stellenbosch
The Jordan Winery is unique to South Africa for two reasons. First of all, it is the only husband and wife team to own and operate a South African winery and, secondly, the farm on which Jordan’s grapes are grown has the amazing aspect that it faces all four directions, North, South East and West, a rarity among vineyard operations. Gary Jordan and his wife Kathy, spent two years at the famed University of California Davis developing their knowledge of both growing and selling their product. In 1993, they returned to South Africa and began making wines on the three hundred-year-old farm with a related wine history. Gary’s parents, Ted and Sheelagh, had bought the 146 (slightly less than 360 acres) hectare property in 1982, and had replanted the place with classical varietals that were suited to different soils and slopes. Under the Jordan Winery label, Gary Jordan soon became a stellar name in South African wines and received numerous awards on the international wine scene. In the United States, California’s famed Jordan Winery agreed to sell Gary Jordan’s wines, a fitting tribute to the accomplished South African. On the business side, Kathy Jordan was the driving force in opening a London restaurant venture earlier this year, named High Timber. High Timber is located on the banks of the River Thames just off the St. Paul’s Cathedral side of the Millennium Bridge (London’s famous wobbly bridge). Kathy and Gary feel the exposure from the new restaurant will help their ongoing winery in the capital considered the number one wine city in the world.
Paul Cluver, Elgin Valley
No single individual is more important to a wine growing region than Dr. Paul Cluver is to the Elgin Valley appellation. Acknowledged as a leading force as well as most accomplished grower, Cluver, a respected neurosurgeon, is also among South Africa’s most respected vintners.
Four generations of the Cluver Family are represented by today’s wines at the spacious De Rust Estate, property dating back to 1896,which was once an apple orchard. Paul Cluver IV is Paul Cluver Wines’ managing director, Liesl Cluver Rust is marketing manager, Inge Cluver Burger is financial manager and Karin Cluver is production manager. Inge’s husband, Andries Burger, is an oenology graduate of Stellenbosch University and the actual winemaker for Paul Cluver wines.
Dr. Cluver is also a champion of biodiversity projects. More than 1000 hectares of the De Rust Estate are deeded as part of the Groelandberg Conversancy, a green space project of more than 34,000 hectares (almost 145,000 acres) that will keep the property in a pristine condition into perpetuity.
Paul Cluver Wines’ interest in outside projects is matched by its wine’s incredible results at the international level. The wines are a great tribute to a wonderful family that has involved itself in numerous outside projects while continuing to produce world class wines.