Tag Archives: Stellenbosch Wine Routes

Meeting the Vintners: Warwick Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Warwick's logo is a wedding cup from which two persons can drink at the same time

Warwick’s logo is a wedding cup from which two persons can drink at the same time

One of the first wines I picked up when I lived in Botswana six years ago was Warwick’s Three Cape Ladies, mainly because of the fabulous label, but also because it is a Cape Blend, which by law has to include 30% of Pinotage, that is usually blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and then Shiraz or any other of the French usual suspects. I like Pinotage, and I wanted to try something unique. I liked the wine a lot back then, so when it was time to go to Stellenbosch, I put it high on my list.

Warwick Estate is a family-owned winery that was bought in 1964 by Stan Ratcliff, but the winery dates back to the 1700s. His wife Norma decided to learn how to make wines from other winemakers in the region, and initially produced only wines for friends and family. Norma became one of the first female winemakers in South Africa. Since 1981, winemaking has become more commercial and today the estate maintains about 60 ha under vine and about 110 ha in total, and produces a wide range of wines from whites to Pinotage to a flagship Bordeaux blend. The current managing director is the third generation of the Ratcliff family managing the estate. The grounds boast wide lawns around a water basin, and you can have picnics there while you taste their wines. One curio as you enter the gardens is a larger than life Nelson Mandela statue made completely from beads…

Paying our respects to Nelson Mandela

Paying our respects to Nelson Mandela

We met Warwick’s winemaker Nic van Aarde over lunch in the winery’s garden. We were about two hours late because we had had such a grand time with Dirk Coetzee at L’Avenir. Luckily, the chef had prepared tapas food, with most of the ingredients coming from the region. There was chicken liver pate that was to die for, and the pulled pork sandwiches were delicious as well. Even local olives were served.

Very tasty tapas

Very tasty tapas

Nic is an easy going, very likable guy. He’s quick, full of stories, loves to laugh and keeps any taster on his toes with what seemed like constant questions about how I would describe the wines. He has consulted for a while with a Mumbai-region based winery in India…I didn’t know there was winemaking in India, and his tales were amusing but also horrifying at times. Talk about an interesting fellow.

Nic’s winemaking “philosophy”, if you want to call it that, is to try to avoid overly herbaceous wines, a flavor characteristic that one can find in many South African reds. He doesn’t like softening his wines, and prefers to present them the way they come, with some edges and character. The wine he considers most in line with that philosophy is his Cabernet Franc which comes in a small batch and is only available at the winery.

Us with Nic

Us with Nic

We tried a host of Warwick’s wines and started with the 2013 Prof. Black Sauvignon blanc. The wine is named after Prof. Black, who planted a peach orchard on the premises in the 20th century, but that didn’t work out so well. Now, the area that used to be the orchard hosts Warwick’s Sauvignon blanc vines. They are among the oldest vines on the property. For this vintage, 14% Semillon joined the Sauvignon blanc, and it worked out well. The wine showed a very light yellow color, with a restrained nose of grass and citrus aromas. The palate was surprisingly expressive given the nose, with minerality, low acidity and great citrus fruits. I was very partial to this wine!

Next up were the 2013 First Lady Unoaked Chardonnay and the 2013 White Lady Chardonnay (which is oaked). The first one is made in the Chablis-style with partial spontaneous fermentation. The color was slightly golden, and the nose showed grapefruit, lees and grass aromas. The mouthfeel was as full as one would expect from an oaked Chardonnay, but it had very clean and light flavors. The oaked Chardonnay is fully spontaneously fermented and after fermentation, the barrels are being rolled to stir the wine. Nic called it great exercise. The vines for this wine are 32 years old, and combined with the wood they clearly produced a more intense nose which also was dominated by citrus aromas. The mouthfeel was fuller than the unoaked (surprise, surprise), and while the wood was noticeable, it still showed good freshness, mainly driven by good acidity. I still preferred the unoaked version though.

We then tried the 2012 First Lady Cabernet Sauvignon, which sometimes gets blended with Shiraz, but not in 2012. The grapes come from younger vineyards and the wine spends 18 months in older barrels. The wine poured in a purplish red color and smelled of ripe red fruit, tobacco and leather. It was an interesting mix of very expressive fruit and tartness, which reminded more of a Cabernet Franc rather than a Cabernet Sauvignon. It confused me a bit too much, I am afraid to say.

The reds lined up

The reds lined up

Up next was the 2012 Pinotage, which hails from old bush vines (vines that are not tied to posts and wire). It is produced in old barrels with a soft approach that does not try to extract too much from the grapes (in order to not get too many tannins). It poured in a dark purple, and the nose was very expressive with cassis, sandalwood and cake batter. We loved it! On the palate, it was light and refined in texture, with cassis being the dominant aroma in this fruit driven version of a Pinotage. Great to drink, very easily accessible. Would recommend this to fall in love with the fruitier side of Pinotage.

After that, it was time for the 2011 Three Cape Ladies, which is a third each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Pinotage. The wine smelled of red berries, sour cherry and tobacco leaves, a combo I like a lot. In the mouth, it felt silky and had good tannins. The most wonderful thing though was the combination of raspberries and dark chocolate with a whiff of sweetness, and then a bitter chocolate finish. Love, love, love it!

The final wine was the 2010 Trilogy, Warwick’s flagship Bordeaux blend, which sells as Barrique Estate in the U.S. due to copyright problems. The grapes come from two Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards (60%), two Cabernet Franc vineyards (30%) and one Merlot vineyard (10%) and spend 24 months in 60% new oak barrels. The color is dark and brooding, and the nose very complex: There is ripe cherry, definite coffee aromas, and hints of cooked meat. The texture is wonderfully silky, and the flavors are carried by just enough acidity. I found the wine to be very balanced in its play between red fruit and leather aromas. It leans towards the Cabernet Franc side in taste more than in the nose. Very good length on the finish. I was quite impressed with this wine.

All in all we were quite happy with the line-up, which is marked by wines that are ready for consumption, but should also do well in the longer run. The food was great and just what we needed and dealt with Nina’s food allergies very well. Nic is a great guy, and I hope for anyone that they can run into him either at the estate or at an event!

Warwick's iconic and easy to recognize labels, Three Cape Ladies in the center

Warwick’s iconic and easy to recognize labels, Three Cape Ladies in the center

 

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Stellenbosch: First Impressions Part II (more photos)

This is Part II of my first impressions of Stellenbosch. You can find the first part here. We visited Stellenbosch as guests of Stellenbosch Wine Routes.

We left the previous post with our tasting at Stellekaya, from which we headed over to Middelvlei Wine Estate. Middelvlei’s Jeanneret and Ben Momberg waited for us with a special treat: We got to make our own Cape Blend from basic 2013 Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz wines!

Winegetters and Ben Momberg

We had so much fun figuring out what percentages should go into the “Winegetter Selection” (in this one I am adding some sugar).

Blending at Middelvlei

After we’d found our blend, I got to fill it into a bottle and personally cork it. The bottle awaited us, with a personal label and properly capped, at our next hotel.

Corking our Cuvee

After Middelvlei, we had some time left on our hands, so I decided to make use of the gorgeous bathtub in our room at Evergreen Manor and Spa. Abrie, the winemaker at Kanonkop, had given us the open bottle of 1999 Pinotage from the tasting, and it was perfect…

Kanonkop Bathtub

After this short respite, we headed over to Kleine Zalze where the assistant winemaker Dirk led us through a tasting, which once more showed strong Chenin blancs.

Kleine Zalze

Dinner that night was at Terroir, which is the restaurant at Kleine Zalze. The food was stunning visually and how it was executed. This is a lemon bar for dessert.

Dessert at Terroir

This is a random sunset, taken at Kanonkop.

Sunset at Kanonkop

The next morning, we took a tour with Hanli Fourier of Bites and Sites. She offers walking history and food tours, and man were we in for a treat. We got Biltong (the South African version of beef jerky) and Droewors (a dried sausage) at Eikeboom Butchery, the oldest in town (we’re posing with the butcher here).

At the Butcher Shop

After coffee, we headed to ZAR Tea Emporium for a Roibos tea tasting and class with Fazlin Railoun. What great fun and how tasty! We bought a kilo to take home. ‘nuff said.

Rooibos Tasting at ZAR Tea Emporium

Also, apparently I was getting a little sick of all those photo takings…:) The other two look splendid.

ZAR Tea Emporium

From there, we headed to Rustenberg winery with its stunning views set among the hills of Stellenbosch. Murray Barlow took us on a vineyard tour and then shared some of their treasures with us.

Rustenberg Vineyard Tour

Next stop was Delheim Wine Estate, another gorgeously set winery. They pride themselves in accessibility and family-friendliness and their pancake and wine pairing as well as the cupcake and wine pairing was fun, educating and super tasty.

Pancake Pairing at Delheim

Our last night we stayed at Wedgeview Country House and Spa, where they gave us the honeymoon suite just in time to prevent a break up that was a definite priority before kickoff of the US v. Germany game in the World Cup that night. The US lost, but advanced, so no breaking up was necessary. And no, I didn’t wear this sweater for photo purposes.

At Wedgeview

We had dinner at Spier Wine Farm’s restaurant, where we reminisced about the trip and started saying good bye to Stellenbosch in style…

Dinner at Spier

The next morning we did a surprise visit to Ken Forrester Vineyards after my German friend Christian of the Mosel winery Dr. Hermann told me they sold their wines. I just love our worldwide wine friendships…

Wine friends around the world

While there, we were treated to some of the best Chenin blancs I have had, most notably the FMC.

At the Chenin Man Ken Forrester

We also headed back to Kanonkop to take a few bottles of the currently re-released 2004 Pinotage we tried at the tasting. While there, Nina took a photo of me with my new best friend: Paul Sauer in its 18 liter version.

Winegetter and 18 liters of Paul Sauer

We then tried to figure out the logistics of taking wines back to Europe…not an easy task, really. Turns out we had to drink a bunch of them while still here…

Logistics of packing our stash

After that it was time to say good bye as we headed to Cape Town for more adventures. But most of all: rehydration.

The Winegetter in Cape Town

If all of these photos haven’t given you ample reasons to visit Stellenbosch, I seriously don’t know what’s wrong with you…;)

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Stellenbosch: First Impressions Part I (lots of photos)

As I mentioned before, Nina and I have been spending last week in Stellenbosch as guests of Stellenbosch Wine Routes. Needless to say, we had a fantastic time and there will be plenty of posts coming up over the next weeks dealing with every aspect of it in more depth, but for now I just wanted to share first impressions by photos.

Stellenbosch is what appears to be the pinnacle of South Africa’s Cape Province’s wine growing (I only say appears because we haven’t had a chance to try any other wines…and what we tried was outstanding!). Situated gorgeously along a range of mountains, most notably the Simonsberg, Stellenbosch is a bustling university town that developed from a Dutch settlement in the 1700s. Even if you have seen photos of the landscape, nothing prepares you for how stunning the mountains are in real life.

We came to explore the wines of Stellenbosch, most notably its Pinotage, but we soon realized, as is all too often the case when it comes to wine regions, the true stars of Stellenbosch are its people: From the cellar aide to the venerated winery owner, from the hostess at restaurants to the bus boys, everyone was so friendly. I wrote why I love Southern Africa in my previous post, and Stellenbosch seemed to be on a mission to prove me right – and more.

We did our fair share of wine tastings, ate fantastic food, and stayed in beautiful hotels, we met interesting and warm people, and we were treated like family everywhere. How blessed (there, Tracy, I said it!) are we really?

But let’s not get too sentimental, so, without further ado, this is the first part of just some photo impressions of our time in Stellenbosch. Installment two will follow soon…also, I realized during this trip how insanely inadequate my photo taking skills truly are, so forgive my amateurism.

Our suite at Majeka House, a beautiful boutique hotel just south of town in the aptly named quarter Paradyskloof.

Majeka House

As we got back to our room from a swim, the sun was just setting.

Sunset at Majeka House

A 2001 Straw Wine made from Chenin blanc (yes, what looks like stale Coke was made from a white grape) served during dinner at the excellent Makaron Restaurant. My first of many seriously impressive Chenin blancs.

2001 Straw Wine

We were alone in the restaurant that night (it’s low season here), so we had lots of time to bond with the sommelier, Esme.

Nina and Esme at Majeka House

We woke up to this vista on Tuesday morning.

Sunrise at Majeka House

Breakfast at Majeka House with Annareth Bolton, the CEO of Stellenbosch Wine Routes, that set us off on our journey. Annareth immediately made us feel part of this awesome community.

With Annareth Bolton

We headed off to L’Avenir winery in the morning, where winemaker Dirk took us on a vineyard tour first.

In the vineyards at L'Avenir

More vineyards at L’Avenir.

Vineyards at L'Avenir

After that, Dirk took us on a barrel tasting in his cellars, where we tasted the different barrels and their influence on the batches that go into their Pinotage. This barrel, however, contains a Chenin blanc in Acacia wood. A freaky crazy pine needle and honey flavored batch.

Barrel tasting at L'Avenir

From L’Avenir we headed to Warwick, where winemaker Nic treated us to tapas, great wines, and we got to hang out with a beads Madiba.

Paying our respects to Madiba at Warwick

After Warwick, we did the few minutes drive to Kanonkop, where winemaker Aabrie was awaiting us with a vertical Pinotage tasting from 1999-2012 in their treasure chamber. Nina clearly was in awe. We hit it off and stayed way after the estate’s closing time.

Vertical at Kanonkop

From there, we checked in at Evergreen Manor and Spa, a wonderfully preserved Stellenbosch villa in the university area of town.

Evergreen Manor

Dinner was served at Tokara Restaurant which during daylight offers stunning views over Stellenbosch all the way to Cape Town. Try to be there for sunset. The chef serves outstanding, creative food. This is a “Baked Alaska” (a typical dessert, I am told) as a starter, with Alaskan salmon, ice cream and a citrus relish.

Dinner at Tokara

The next morning, we had a tasting at Stellekaya with the winemaker Ntsiki, who had been down with a flu the day before but she hurled herself out of bed to present her intriguing line of accessible wines, some of which contain Sangiovese which adds a cool twist to the standard Cape blends.

With winemaker at Stellekaya

More to follow soon…

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