My last day in South Africa was a busy one, and a truly amazing way to close this fast-but-furious trip. I spent the morning with Chris Edge of Cape Legends, a company that represents farms such as Neetlingshof, Cederberg, and Tukulu. Chris was kind enough to take me out for a few tours, which culminated in a serendipitous lunch experience.
We began at the beautiful Plaisir du Merle estate in Franschhoek, which features a gorgeous manor house and gardens and a tasty sauvignon blanc and shiraz. From there we made a stop at Le Bonheur in Stellenbosch, also a beautiful estate that offered very nice sauvignon blanc and chardonnay and a delightful pinot noir rose, which had a full, luscious nose of strawberry and watermelon but a dry and snappy finish. Le Bonheur is quite successful in Canada, particularly Quebec, and with the French influence on the estate and wine stylings I can see why.
At this point Chris mentioned that he had to drop a few pinotage samples from Cape Legends farms at a private tasting that was being held in the afternoon for a couple of Quebecois journalists. He asked if I might be interested in hanging out for the tasting. I never say no to pinotage, and before I knew it we were heading up the lovely Beyerskloof diveway for a pinotage extravaganza.
It seems the Quebecois journalists were interested in the pinotage story, and they were in for a treat – I entered the Beyerskloof dining patio to meet an assembly of some of the greatest ambassadors for the cultivar in South Africa. Our host was Beyers Truter himself, patriarch of Beyerskloof and pinotage pioneer, along with his young son Andre. Kanonkop winemaker Abrie Beeslar was in attendance with what appeared to be a very exciting lineup of samples. I also got to meet Dierdre of Diemersfontein in Wellington, famed for the “Coffee Chocolate Pinotage” as well as more high-end examples. This admirable crew was kind enough to let me crash their event, and before I knew it I was sitting next to the journos in a private room waiting for the winemakers and representatives to present us with their pinotage.
The unrivaled highlight for me was Abrie Beeslar's presentation of Kanonkop 2008 pinotage as well as two treats: the 1999 pinotage and the 1995 Paul Sauer. The ’99 showed beautiful earthy mushroom and herb notes with plum and black cherry fruit that was still amazingly lively, backed up by the muscular, veiny tannins that I admire in all Kanonkop reds. But it was the Paul Sauer 1995 that was truly haunting: aging beautifully and just right, with bloody earthiness and a seamless structure. It’s amazing to think that this wine was made just as apartheid was ending, and with it the economic sanctions that prevented South Africa from sharing its wines with the outside world. I was overwhelmed by the experience and thanked Abrie for this rare taste.
Deirdre got a bit of flack for the Coffee Chocolate Pinotage from the Quebecois, but I think they missed the point: this wine wasn’t made for them. It is big, fruity, chocolatey, and friendly, and it will get non-wine drinkers into wine and Australia drinkers into South Africa. I’m okay with that. Having worked retail, I understand that not all wines are made for geeky, sophisticated palates; if they’re well made and turn new drinkers on to wine, they are serving an important purpose in the industry, and I don’t have to like them to respect what they’re doing. The Coffee Chocolate Pinotage is not my style, but it’s a quality product with a niche in the market.
Of Chris’s wines I most liked the Stellenzicht and Tukulu examples, both of which showed good structure. Tukulu, a black economic empowerment farm, is a producer I’ve been looking to try for some time, and I was pleased with a layer of clay/chalk minerality in their pinotage.
After the tasting we enjoyed a fantastic lunch from the Beyerskloof kitchen; I chose an open-faced salami and olive tapanade sandwich which paired famously with the remaining Kanonkop Paul Sauer. At one point Beyers Truter bought out tank samples of his 2011 pinotage, which already shows amazing concentration and powerful fruit. As I looked around the table at the passionate, talented ambassadors for this much-maligned and misunderstood cultivar, I couldn’t help but feel pinotage pride. Does it need to be South Africa’s signature grape? No – I believe that South Africa’s signature is diversity. But pinotage deserves respect, and I think the quality coming from producers like Kanonkop and Beyerskloof speaks for itself.
After lunch Chris dropped me off at Blaauwklippen for a quick hello to my old friends and the cellar team (who immediately wanted to put me to work shoveling out a tank). It was amazing to see everyone and to get updates on the big changes at the farm, from a new restaurant addition to a completely renovated tasting room to a new baby daughter for cellarmaster Leon and the wedding of my 65-year-old shoveling buddy Daantjie to his longtime girlfriend. Times are good for the Blaauwklippen crowd, it seems, and I was thrilled at the chance to see everyone.
After sad goodbyes to my De Toren family and “South African mom” Elmien, Albie drove me to Cape Town. There, my goodbyes turned into a long-awaited hello: I met up with my freshman year roommate from Reed College, Jenny, who I haven’t seen in six years! Jenny, an amazing force of energy, passion and creativity, spent last year raising money to bring bikes to kids in rural South Africa in a program called Bicycles for Humanity and is now getting her master’s at UCT. We got to spend several hours catching up and hanging out with friends – an incredible ending to an incredible trip.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the warmth, love, hospitality, friendship, and generosity I encounter in South Africa continue to overwhelm and inspire me. I want to thank each and every person who shared with me their talents, their love of wine, their sense of humor, their cooking, and, in the case of the Bothas, their home this past few weeks. I feel endlessly grateful to have this beautiful country as a second home, and I have no doubt I’ll be back very soon! Cheers – and stay tuned for more SA wine coverage from the U.S.!