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stirring the lees with james molesworth

In the Cape: Day 1

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Mar 8, 2007 2:31pm ET

Well, I finally made it. In transit for two days, and not a hitch—that’s got to be a modern-day record for commercial air travel.

After landing in Cape Town, I spent my first hour crawling through traffic on the way to my hotel. That made me feel right at home. That was, until we turned past Table Mountain and saw a small herd of antelope grazing. Then I knew I was in Africa.

After a quick shower and a plate of eggs benedict (is there any better travel hangover food?), I was off to my first appointment. Under warm, sunny skies, I headed to Constantia.

Constantia is only a 20-minute drive away, but it’s quite a change from the bustle of Cape Town. Here the Cape feels like a wine region, with lush green hills set against a backdrop of stark, rocky mountains. Constantia is a cool spot that makes some excellent whites, particularly at the wineries of Klein Constantia and Buitenverwachting (bit-EN-vehr-wok-tung).

Both wineries were part of the former historic Constantia Estate, which fragmented generations ago, and both properties were purchased by their current owners in 1980—the Maack family of Buitenverwachting and the Jooste family at Klein Constantia.

 
The vineyards of Klein Constantia  
At Buitenverwachting, winemaker Brad Paton, who is taking over for longtime winemaker Hermann Kirschbaum, produces two distinctly different Sauvignons. The regular Constantia bottling shows textbook lime, fig and mineral notes, while the Hussys Vlei bottling—sourced from different vines on heavier soils—shows a pronounced jalapeño note with lots of spicy green herbs. Rather than combine the two to make one wine, Paton and Maack prefer to let the two different spots in their vineyards display their own characteristics separately.

While Klein Constantia produces a tasty Sauvignon with a lime and mineral profile as well, it's probably best known for its sweet wine, Vin de Constance, which is made from shriveled Muscat de Frontignan grapes. It’s full of orange peel, persimmon and dried apricot notes, but is also fresh and youthful. Klein Constantia’s owner Lowell Jooste also has a side project, having teamed up with Bordelais Bruno Prats and Hubert de Bouard to make a wine called Anwilka, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah blend sourced from vineyards in Stellenbosch. I liked the modern-styled, plush 2005 I reviewed recently, and found the soon-to-bottled 2006 I tasted today to show more Cabernet character and structure.

I then moved on down the road another 30 minutes to visit with Duncan Savage of Cape Point Vineyards. This young winemaker (just 29) is doing exciting things with Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon at this tiny 40-acre property, tucked up on a hill of similar sandy, granite soils as in Constantia. Its proximity to the coast though makes it an even cooler spot, and the hillside vineyards get their share of wind as well, which helps to concentrate the flavors in the grapes by keeping the vine vigor low.

“If I were going to be a vine, I think just sitting up here all day and looking out at that would be pretty cool,” says Savage as he shows me the view from the top of the hillside. He’s still planting vines and hopes to reach 60 acres by next year.

There are two Sauvignon Blancs here—Ternhaven, which is bottled just a few months after fermentation and meant for immediate consumption, and the Cape Point bottling, which sees nine months of lees aging before bottling, and shows deeper chive, flint and gooseberry flavors. The straight Sémillon bottling is also delicious—with tangerine, persimmon and mineral notes that are textbook for the variety. The top cuvée, a blend of 85 percent Sauvignon and 15 percent Sémillon called Isleidh (I-lay) is a beguiling wine with creamy texture and hints of fig and mineral. It’s tight when young and could use some modest cellaring to show its best.

Though Klein Constantia does produce some red, and Cape Point has one in the works, I consider these three wineries to be white wine producers. They have ideally situated vineyards to exploit the cool climate varietals, and they're doing a very good to outstanding job with their wines.

I’ve been touting South Africa’s Syrahs recently—but there’s more to the country’s wines than just Syrah. Whites have also improved dramatically in recent years and some new faces have popped up as well, as with Cape Point. If you like bright, fresh, acid-driven whites that marry well with seafood and lighter fare, Cape Sauvignon Blanc might be the thing for you.

David Sean Muttillo
Port —  March 8, 2007 8:23pm ET
You have gotten to visit three superb producers on your first day. Quite cool!! I hope you get a chance to visit with de Trafford (South Africa's finest winery), Thelema, the Sadie Family, Boekenhoutskloof, Hamilton Russell, Rustenberg and Mulderbosch while you're there. It should be a great trip. I'll be visiting down there at the end of March and am looking forward to it!!
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  March 8, 2007 9:11pm ET
Thank you for the explanation on how to pronounce Buitenverwachting. Now if I could only find their wines in Chicago...
Jean-luc Achikian
Genva/Switzerland —  March 9, 2007 8:14am ET
To add to David's list, also of interest: Vergelegen, Kanonkop, Jordan, Meerlust (to my surprise their 95 Chardonnay can store and has currently more freshness and fruit than the Hamilton Russel 95)For the time being (De Trafford CIWG 2000, Slaley Shiraz 98, Rustenberg Peter Barlow 99) still toping my list.Btw while down there make sure you visit restaurants such as L'Aubergine, Ginja, Simms (former Blue Danube) and Buitenverwachting.Enjoy your time!
James Browne
Stellenbosch, South Africa —  March 9, 2007 8:44am ET
Welcome to the Cape James. Sorry about the traffic however Sunday will be fun with 35000 cyclists taking part in the Cape Argus Cycle Tour around the Cape Peninsula which sees many road closures for the duration. Is your program cast in stone? It would be a pleasure to show you the results of Alberto Antonini and our work here at Hartenberg on the Bottelary Hill.
Brent Fraser
Vancouver Canada —  March 9, 2007 11:55am ET
I have spent the past four nights in the cape winelands and here are some more should look out for---Ataraxia(ex Hamilton Russell winemaker), Grangehurst, The Foundry, Springfield, Tulbagh Mountain Vineyard and Quoin Rock!! Try to make it to the Quartier Francais for dinner in Franschhoek!!
H L Sutherland Md
miramar beach, fl —  March 9, 2007 4:13pm ET
I recently had the opportunity to ride with Gary Player in a scramble. He told me that he has a winery. Could you help me in finding out what the name is? In case you do not know who Gary Player is, he is a world famous golfer from South Africa now in his 70"s. Thanks
James Molesworth
March 9, 2007 5:27pm ET
James: Thanks for the offer. I will try and reach out to you while here, but please understand that my schedule is a bit overloaded already.

As for all your other tips - thanks, I have most of those places already on my schedule. There's too many wineries and too little time, unfortunately.
James Browne
Stellenbosch, South Africa —  March 10, 2007 3:34am ET
Thanks James. Should you be able to squeeze Hartenberg (and our Shirazes) in, winemaker Carl Schultz, brother of Rudi, is your contact. Have a great trip.
William King
April 2, 2007 12:31pm ET
I, too, was lucky enough to visit Buitenverwachting, last November. FABULOUS stuff, especially their Gewurztraminer. But I was told by the folks there at the time that "uit" was pronounced like the number "eight", so the winery's name would begin sounding like "bait" and not "bit". Is that not correct?

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