Not only are the winelands of South Africa visually stunning, we are consistently impressed by the quality of wines coming out of this dynamic region. South Africa’s wine industry “officially” begun in 1659, when commander of the Dutch East India Company, Jan van Riebeeck, declared on the 2nd of February: ‘Today, praise be to God, wine was made for the first time from Cape grapes’. Safe to say, we definitely share that optimism today! Despite a tumultuous history, from phylloxera outbreaks to Apartheid, the future looks very bright for South African wine. The country is the eight largest producer of wine in the world according to 2015 figures, producing 4.1% of the world’s total. The slogan ‘variety is in our nature’ certainly holds true; from rugged mountain sides to sweeping plains, South Africa’s producers boast a huge variety of terroir, grape varieties and styles.
One could say that we are spoiled for choice; selecting our South African wine is certainly a lengthy but enjoyable task! With the release of the coveted Platter’s Wine Guide for 2017, we certainly have a great indication of where they might be found. The Platter’s Guide was first released in 1980 and is widely considered the go-to guide for South African wines – alongside Tim Atkin’s MW annual South Africa Report. South Africa’s answer to Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book, year after year Platter and his team manage to cram over 8000 wines from this rich and varied region into this miniature manual. With 950 reviewed producers, they represent the top 10% of South Africa winemakers.
WineTrust is delighted to feature five 5* star wines from this year’s guide, as well as a Viognier from the 2016 Guide, each showcasing the very best South Africa has to offer. We also feature one of the country’s most iconic dessert wines, which received 5*s for its 2012 vintage – watch this space for the 2013!
Beaumont Family Wines
Beaumont is an historic farm and wine estate, located in the Bot River region. This small ward lies south-east of Stellenbosch, famous for its cool climate white wines. Beaumont was an outpost for the Dutch East India trading company in the 18th century; it wasn’t until Jayne Beaumont and her late husband, Raoul, liberated themselves from the co-operative system in 1994 that the farm was refurbished and began producing wine under their own label. Today, the cellar is under the tenure of their son, Sebastian.
Beaumont is most highly regarded for their production of Chenin Blanc, for which there are three expressions. The first is raised in concrete and stainless steel tank, charmingly rustic yet serious and durable. The second included a very limited release of a Noble Late Harvest Chenin called Goutte d’Or – just 4 barrels produced in the 2015 vintage! Finally, the Hope Marguerite (named after Sebastian’s grandmother) is considered the estate’s flagship white wine; first released in 1996 it continues to be adorned with Platter stars! This wine is consistently ranked as one of the Cape’s best examples in that category.
Botanica Wines is located at Protea Heights Farm in the Devon Valley, just 10 minutes from Stellenbosch. As the name might suggest, the farm cultivates flowers. Back in the late 1940s, it was the first farm in South Africa to cultivate protea flowers; four of the varieties grown here were hybridized by a former manager and are unique to the estate. In keeping with the botanical theme, the wines carry the name of the 18th Century British artist, Mary Delany, whose floral cut-paper collages adorn the label.
American-born Ginny Povall is in charge of winemaking. Ginny arrived in the Cape back in 2008 with some basic knowledge of winemaking through part-time courses at the University of California and plentiful background reading. Winning Platter 5 Stars from the outset and having to adapt to South African winemaking practices, she really has hit the ground running! She can now add her the 2015 Semillon to her impressive repertoire, scooping another 5 star for this maiden release – she certainly got it right first time!
The Foundry Winery
The Foundry was a project launched in 2000 by winemaker Chris Williams, from Meerlust estate, and James Reid. To say it took off is an understatement; after its maiden year, their Syrah was awarded 5*’s in the 2004 Platter’s Guide, one of only 17 wines! The Foundry works by sourcing grapes from affiliated growers across the Cape, with access to number of parcels from which grapes can be selected according to the variety and the desired result. The wines are then vinified, bottled and matured at Meerlust Estate
Interestingly, the Viognier had quite experimental beginnings. Originally brought into the winery as a blending partner for the Syrah, at the last moment winemaker Chris Williams fermented the grapes in second hand Chardonnay barrels. And here we are! The Viognier however comes from a single vineyard near False Bay, with a cool maritime climate and frequent Atlantic breezes. Granite-clay loam soil restricts yields and allows the retention of acidity and aromas in the grapes.
One of South Africa’s most iconic and historic estates. It was the first governor of the Dutch Cape Colony, Simon van de Stel, who came across the decomposed granite soils on the slopes of Constantiaberg overlooking False Bay – where the estate’s vineyards have stood for the best part of three and a half centuries. Klein Constantia has enjoyed an illustrious history: its sweet wines are celebrated in the literature of Austen, Dickens and Baudelaire; sought after by Napoleon during his exile; and its wines supplied the courts of Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The 2012 Vin de Constance, their iconic dessert wine still beautifully packaged in its original 18th century bottle design, achieved 5 Stars in the most recent Platter’s Guide; we have high hopes for the 2013! Selected vineyards are located up to 350 metres above sea level, east and north facing, and are exposed to constant sea breeze. This cool climate presents the ideal growing conditions for Muscat de Frontignan, which are able to ripen fully and yield the desired concentrated flavours.
Founded by Cape Wine Master, Dave Johnson and his wife, Felicity (née Newton), Newton Johnson Family Vineyards has solidly built its reputation over the past 20 years. They are currently producing some of the Cape’s finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from their own 15 hectares of vines. Three Five Stars in Platter’s Wine Guide 2016 says it all!
Newton Johnson’s vineyards are found in the small but increasing popular Hemel-en-Aarde valley. Despite only 15 estates in the area, it is regarded as one of the best cool climate locations in South Africa. Hemmed in by the surrounding mountains funneling cool Atlantic breezes, vineyards experience lower summer temperatures and a longer growing season then their inland counterparts. Vines grow on well-draining soil with low fertility, aiding the development of high quality fruit. Hemel-en-Aarde is most revered for producing Burgundian style, premium quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. With excellent estates like Newton Johnson producing wines of consistently high quality, this sub region continues to build a worldwide reputation.
Thorne & Daughters
Last but certainly not least comes this flagship white blend. Grapes are sourced from across the Western Cape, using Rosa Kruger as a conduit to finding some of the most interesting vines on offer. The Rocking Horse Cape White involves a careful selection from parcels in the Overberg, Franschhoek, Voor-Paardeberg and Stellenbosch. The blend changes every year and for the 2015 it was the Roussanne that took the lead role. It proved third time lucky for winemaker John Seccombe, achieving 5 stars in the 2017 Platter’s Guide.
The project started in 2012 with John and wife Tasha taking inspiration from their two young daughters. Seccombe has a well traveled CV, including harvest work in the Alsace, Barossa, California, Languedoc and even a consultancy role at Ridgeview, an English Sparkling Wine producer. However, it was choosing to settle in his home country, where he and Tasha first met, with his new family that kick-started this current venture. This blend is named after a wooden rocking horse made for their daughters out of old oak barrels.
Want to find out more about South Africa’s winelands and its producers? Visit the Wines of South Africa (WOSA) website