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South Africa: Day 12—More Than a Handful

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Mar 19, 2007 12:37pm ET

Usually when I travel to a region for the first time, I meet with two, maybe three winemakers a day. Today I broke the rules and went for a lucky seven.

My first stop was at De Toren, where winemaker Albie Koch has been turning out a consistently polished, outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon–based blend called Fusion V. In addition, owner Emil den Dulk has a joint venture with Burgundy’s Domaine Bertagna, producing a spice- and mineral-filled Syrah. (They use a yeast strain brought in from the Northern Rhône, and the aromatics of the wine are very Rhône-like.) De Toren debuted in the ’99 vintage, and their performance in such a short time is due in large part to the effort and care put into their vineyards by viticulturist Ernest Manuel, whose ideas seem to come from the Gyles Webb school of precision planting.

I then got caught up with one of the country’s wine pioneers, Mulderbosch’s Mike Dobrovic. His Sauvignon Blanc has been a flag bearer for South Africa in the U.S. market for over a decade now, and he also produces excellent Chenin Blanc and Syrah as well (under the Mulderbosch label, as well as a Syrah under his Sanctum label). My visit started off with an enthusiastic greeting from Small Change, his pet dog, followed by a meeting with Luke Skywalker, the favorite of his exotic chickens. After a few bread crumbs, Skywalker was proud to show off his vocals.

We then hopped in the bakkie (the local name for a pickup truck) and eventually got to the top of the hill on Dobrovic’s farm, at about 350 meters of elevation, which affords a terrific view of the entire Stellenbosch area. After the vineyard tour, Dobrovic opened a number of older vintages of his rapier Sauvignon Blanc, before heading downstairs to the cellar for a tasting of Chardonnays and Chenin Blancs being aged in barrels from different coopers.

In the afternoon, I met with a few folks in the cellar at Beyers Truter’s Beyerskloof winery, including Edmund Terblanche of La Motte (who is adding in Syrah to the estate’s production of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon), and some of Pinotage’s biggest supporters, Abrie Beeslaar of Kanonkop (who took over from Beyers Truter) and Johan Malan of Simonsig. While I haven’t been the world’s biggest fan of the grape, it’s not due to the efforts of these guys: The ’04 Kanonkop Pinotage and ’03 Simonsig Redhill Pinotage are about as good as the grape can get, with rich currant and fig flavors and beefy, briary finishes.

Workers bring in grapes at Beyerskloof winery.  

Truter is Pinotage’s biggest proponent, having made his name after 20-plus vintages at Kanonkop, and it takes center stage at his winery now. His Cape Blend, made from Cabernet, Pinotage and Merlot has a mouthfilling briary character with blue and black fruits, while his Reserve Pinotage is a structured, blue fruit- and mineral-driven version of the grape. It seems everyone in the Cape wine business knows and likes Truter, an affable, down-to-earth guy who set an example for others by treating his employees and farm workers as family, before it was considered politically correct to do so.

My last stop was Kanu, Mulderbosch’s sister farm, where Richard Kershaw, a transplanted Brit, is now making the wines (he took over in 2004 when Teddy Hall left to start his own project). Kanu is cranking out large numbers of solid values: The Chenin Blanc and Syrah are my favorites in their user-friendly lineup, along with a soft, easygoing Chardonnay and a tasty Noble Late Harvest made from partially botrytised Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc.

It was a full day to say the least, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel now, as my trip winds down. Tomorrow I head out to Hermanus in the Walker Bay area, where cool-climate varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir rule ...

Mike Vessa
East Williston,NY —  March 20, 2007 7:07am ET
James, If you could please help..will be going to Turks during Easter...read your recent blog re: dining there(thanks for the heads-up)..I was going to bring a 6-pack of some of my best Califonia cabs, chards and pinots...do the restaurants have a corkage policy?? Would immensely appreciate a response though I know this is out of synch. Thanks, Mike
James Molesworth
March 20, 2007 3:28pm ET
Mike: Not sure (I never enquired) - my guess is they haven't been asked about corkage too often down there so best to just call ahead...

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