Simonsig Estate Winery

South Africa

One of the most reputable estates producing top quality wines

While the world wine revolution has been well documented, perhaps the finest example of upscale wine ascendancy can be found in South Africa. Its roots trace back as a supply station for the Dutch East India Company, who used (in error) South African wines to ward off scurvy for sailors continuing on the historic spice route.

Even though its beginnings can be traced back to 1655, and its first export attempts to 1669, it is the post-Apartheid (1994 onward) period that has propelled South Africa to its present position as a world leader in top quality wine production. Many insiders consider this evolution as something of a modern viticultural miracle that South Africa has accomplished so much in such a relatively short period of time. If it was not the country’s rich historical wine history, (Remember, the South African wine industry is more than 350 years old) this would not have been possible.

The actual scope of South Africa’s wine production has also changed during the immediate past with actual emphasis on planting and producing both sauvignon blanc and syrah. Additionally, South Africa’s matchless gift to the wine world, the pinotage grape (a cross between the venerable pinot noir and the cinsault), is still produced in limited quantities and is considered a remarkable representative of the newly-fueled exploding South African wine industry.

The South African equivalent of appellation is called the Wines of Origin or, WO, was enacted in 1973, and currently applies to around 60 different locations. It classifies wines by geographical units, regions, districts and wards and is based on the French appellation laws. Regions and districts are based largely on political boundaries while wards are mostly defined by terroir characteristics. This WO system is diligently applied and assures quality on the labels and in the wines themselves.

The first decade of the 21st Century has produced a plethora of high quality wines and wineries according to most industry insiders. It has also brought into the country a number of internationally-respected wine figures (Zelma Long {Long Vineyards, Robert Mondavi Estates, Simi Winery, Chandon Estates} and Phil Freese {Robert Mondavi Estates} and winery magnate Charles Banks {Screaming Eagle} of California come to mind) along with a host of younger and hungrier South African winemakers. Some of this latter group have benefited from the fact that some of the older vineyards have been overlooked in the country’s larger wineries’ race to quality and quantity.

Today, South Africa exports about 6.35 million cases annually from slightly more than 245,000 acres under vine. Chenin blanc (over 18 per cent)and cabernet sauvignon (over 12 per cent) are the most planted varietals along with colombard (11 per cent) shiraz (almost 10 per cent) sauvignon blanc (9 per cent) chardonnay (8 per cent) pinotage 6.5 percent) and merlot (6 per cent) round out the other top varietals.

The changing of the political climate in South Africa has also brought about the existence of black-owned wineries in the country. Through various Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) programs, black ownership and involvement in wineries and vineyards has steadily increased. Sometime in 1997, a new winery called New Beginnings was founded in the Paarl Valley and was soon followed by Thandi (Paul Culver Estate) in Elgin. In 2001, the Mont Rochelle Mountain Winery in the Franschhoek Valley became the first wholly black-owned winery in South Africa. It was purchased by a Congolese businessman named Miko Rwayitare and continues operation today.

Such is the diversity associated with the modern South African wine industry. On one hand, the old traditions are still in place that produce top quality wines for worldwide consumption. When you add a multitude of new vintners and winemakers all eager for improvement and bent on innovation, the entire wine industry is forced to keep pace and progress forward.

Johan Malan & Debbie Thompson - Winemakers

Johan Malan:

Johan Malan, one of the three Malan brothers, is the winemaker for his family’s wine estate. An enology graduate of the acclaimed Stellenbosch University, Malan had guided the winemaking efforts of Simonsig Estate for the past 31 vintages. Having grown up on the vineyard that was founded by his father Frans, Malan feels that he knows the potential of every vineyard and that knowledge helps him decide what wine that each batch of grapes will be used.

Malan is a proponent of the ‘Quality originates in the vineyards’ axiom. “The winemaker must have an intimate knowledge and experience with vineyards and soils,” he began. “The winemaker must nurture what nature provides so the wine becomes an extension of the vineyard and reflects its sense of origin and place.”

Johan Malan had been a frequent traveler to most European wine producing countries, while also including California and Australia. He believes that his winemaking has been influenced by the concepts he encountered on his travels. Malan also admits that France’s Cote Rotie has inspired his winemaking for a long time. “I enjoy the perfumed elegance of their shiraz. It has always been a benchmark to aspire to. I also admire the intricacies of Burgundy and its understated elegance,” he added. Johan Malan is also a collector of wines and has entertained other winemakers in his small cellar room that is in the very heart of Simonsig Estate’s larger vault.

Malan credits his father for his accumulated successes, along with his former Professor of Oenology at Stellenbosch University, Joel van Wyk. Johan Malan asserts a firm and classical hand to Simonsig’s established portfolio of wines.

Debbie Thompson:

Debbie Thompson joined the legendary Malan family in 1999 and since become their red winemaker. She has a strong practical streak and follows a winemaking philosophy of keeping things as simple and true to their original state. She firmly belives that one shouldn't manipulate the grapes too much through mechanical, chemical, or technical means.

Debbie earned her Bachelors of Science degree in Oenology at the University of Stellenbosch and has become an incredibly talented winemaker in her own right.

Stellenbosch Region, South Africa

Geographically speaking, the entire growing area is part of the Western Cape Province, the fourth largest of South Africa’s nine provinces. It is L-shaped, and covers an area of around 50,000 square miles, roughly the size of the State of Louisiana. It is bordered by both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and benefits from the varied diversity of waters (the warm Indian Ocean and cold Atlantic Ocean). It also features a Mediterranean-type climate, with cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers, ideal for growing highest quality grapevines. It is always associated with California’s Napa Valley which is possibly the finest growing region in the world.

The City of Stellenbosch is located some 30 miles east of Cape Town and is the home to more than 140 wineries, many endorsed as ultra-premium wineries. Stellenbosch Valley is bounded by several mountains including the Simonsberg Mountains to the southeast. The soils of the area range from dark alluvium to clay and take advantage of the well-drained and hilly terrain.

Along with the Paarl and Franschhoek Valleys, Stellenbosch Valley forms the Cape Winelands, the largest of the South African wine growing regions. No visit to Cape Town, the capital city of the region, is complete without a visit to one or more of the viticultural pockets that ring the City of Stellenbosch, more correctly referred to as the Stellenbosch Wine Route.

Simonsig Estate Winery

The view from the famous Simonsberg Mountain gives name to Simonsig Estate, our International Selection Winery. The estate, located some 30 miles southeast of Cape Town, traces its roots back to 1688, when French Huguenot Jacques Malan first set foot on the Cape (as it is known in South Africa). Many generations of the Malan Family later, the late Frans Malan became one of the true pioneers of the South African wine industry. He purchased the property that is today’s Simonsig Estate in 1964, and produced the first bottled Simonsig Estate wines in 1968. In 1970, he introduced three European varietals-- chardonnay, gewurtztraminer and Wieser-riesling to South Africa and also introduced the concept of utilizing small French oak barrels to age his wines. Malan also produced South Africa’s first sparkling wine, the famous Kaapse Vonkle, modeled after the great Champagnes of Northern France.

His innovations and desire to produce superior wines have cemented the Simonsig Estate’s legacy in the area locally known as the Cape Winelands. Frans Malan’s sons, Pieter, Francois and Johan carry on their father’s lasting legacy. A grandson, Francois-Jacques is the fourth generation of his family currently working at the winery. Pieter is the administrative and marketing head of the company, while Francois is the viticulturist. Johan is the cellar master and winemaker (see Winemaker Feature) of the more than 72,000 case annual production winery. Simonsig is also the largest privately-held estate in South Africa.

Along the way, Simonsig Estate has captured a bevy of national and international awards for its collection of superior quality wines. Simonsig’s ‘Tiara’ Bordeaux-style bend won Best Estate Blend in the World Wine Championships and the company’s red and white entries won Best South African Red and White category at the Wine and Spirit Championships several years ago. In 2005, the winery took the top Veritas awards with three Double Gold Veritas along with a single Gold Medal. The first Wine Magazine Cap Classique Challenge went to Simonsig’s Kaapse Vonkle in 2003.

Simonsig Estate is a model for many of today’s top South African wine producers. It continues to produce extremely high quality wines that excel in international competitions.