– Top 10 Wineries in South Africa –
Prior to Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, South Africa’s wine industry was unsophisticated and nearly unheard of in the international market. The ushering of the new multiracial democracy brought in boundless economic opportunities and many credit Mandela as having, both direct and indirect, influence on the Cape Winelands’ transformation into a more modern globalized industry. South Africa’s wine industry is now ranked 8th in global production and the Mandela family has also entered the business, producing a line under the name House of Mandela. Makaziwe Mandela, daughter to Nelson Mandela and Tukwini Mandela, grand-daughter, have even traveled to the US to showcase their own brand of Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Sauvignon Blanc. The South African wine business is booming and the competition for best winery and vineyards is stiff. Here are ALUX’s top ten picks.
Kanonkop: One of South Africa’s foremost wine producers is a family-owned estate situated on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in the Stellenbosch Region of the Cape. The Kanonkop Estate was first to prove that Pinotage grapes could make good wine; its Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet-based blend Paul Sauer have been a mainstay for a generation. This vineyard is widely respected for its traditional approach, and has gained notoriety for its Pinotage and Paul Sauer wines. It has 120 hectares of vineyards, all of them red.
Vergelegen: This magnificent historic estate near Somerset West, now owned by Anglo American, has been around since the early 1700s. “Among the many projects undertaken on the Estate by Anglo American was an extensive programme of clearing invasive alien vegetation, land rehabilitation and restoration of the Estate’s historic core. The vineyards were re-established following intensive climatic and soil tests. A detailed master plan was drawn up for the development of the farm and in 1992, an impressive, multi-leveled, sunken hilltop winery was built and opened by Baron Eric de Rothschild, owner of Chateau Lafitte (Bordeaux) in France. Today, Vergelegen competes with the top 100 wines of the world and positions itself among the leading conservers of Cape cultural heritage. Throughout its history and especially during the last two decades, heads of state and celebrities of international renown have been visiting Vergelegen. The first unbanned meeting of the caucus of the ANC took place in the seclusion of Vergelegen before it was opened to the public, with amongst others, Nelson Mandela and Thabo M’Beki attending (1990).” Award-winning winemaker André van Rensburg is now at the helm of creating fantastic and classic whites and reds
Chamonix: Believes that good food and good wine go hand in hand. Headed by Gottfried Mocke for ten years this well-established wine producer has been dazzling critics and wine-lovers over its spectacular Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Located in the Franschhoek vineyards, hard work, sensitivity and flair in the cellar have worked like magic on the reds as well, especially the Pinot Noir, now among the Cape’s best.
Tokara: “Picture perfect destination which offers visitors a unique combination of award-winning wines, brandy and olive oils, a gallery of fine art, a restaurant featuring one of South Africa’s leading chefs as well as a delicatessen. The winery, on the R310 outside Stellenbosch, is nestled among vineyards and olive groves on the crest of the Helshoogte Pass with sweeping views across False Bay and all the way to Table Mountain. Tokara prides itself on making wines that are site specific. Even though vineyards were initially planted on the southern slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain at the Stellenbosch property, two other farms, Highlands in the Elgin district and Siberia in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley near Hermanus, were additionally acquired. In doing so Tokara is able to produce wines which express the distinct characteristics of these three prime wine producing regions.”
Hamilton Russell: “the most southerly wine estate in Africa and the closest to the sea – is located in the cool, maritime Walker Bay wine appellation, in a beautiful valley behind the old fishing village of Hermanus. The estate specialises in producing highly individual, terroir driven Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which are widely regarded as the best in South Africa and among the best in the New World. Founder, Tim Hamilton Russell purchased the undeveloped 170 hectare property in 1975, after an exhaustive search for the most southerly site on which to make South Africa’s top cool climate wines from a selection of noble varieties. His son Anthony, who took over in 1991, narrowed the range to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay only and registered Hamilton Russell Vineyards as an Estate, committing to work only with grapes from their terroir. Extensive soil research initiated in 1994 identified 52 hectares of stony, clay-rich, shale-derived soil as optimal for the individual, origin expressive style they aim for and all plantings have now been limited to this soil type.” This early champion of chardonnay and pinot noir remains among the leaders of the Hemel-en-Aarde region, just inland from Hermanus.
Paul Cluver: “This family-owned, family-run wine business is located in the cool-climate Elgin Valley, approximately 70km south-east of Cape Town. The property has been in ownership of the Cluver Family since 1896. Recognised as pioneers of wine in the area, the focus is on producing elegant wines that are expressive of the terroir. The wine business forms part of larger holistic farming business called ‘De Rust Estate’. In addition to the vineyards and cellar, there are apple and pear orchards, a Hereford stud and eco-tourism activities, including amphitheatre concerts, on the farm. This 2000+ hectare estate forms part of the UNESCO world heritage site, the Kogelberg Biosphere. Half of the estate has been set aside for conservation into perpetuity.” It is hard to believe, with Elgin now replete with good wineries, that the first bottling of pioneer Paul Cluver was only in 1997. Not a dud in the mostly white range—the Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Riesling (a brilliant Noble Late Harvest version) and Sauvignon Blanc are all among the Cape’s leaders. The sole red is Pinot Noir and it is equally starry.
Mullineux Family Wines: “Based in Swartland, an area that has traditionally been overlooked as a region capable of producing great wine, but this is rapidly changing. The winemaking is focused on what they believe the Swartland does best, and produce just three wines: A barrel fermented white blend of Chenin blanc, Grenache blanc, Clairette and Viognier; a perfumed Syrah, sourced from nine different vineyards, matured in second and third fill demi-muids; and a super rich straw wine made from air dried Chenin Blanc, fermented and matured in old barriques.”
Boekenhoutskloof: “Established in 1776. Located in the furthest corner of the beautiful Franschhoek valley, the farm’s name means “ravine of the Boekenhout” (pronounced Book-n-Howed). Boekenhout is an indigenous Cape Beech tree greatly prized for furniture making. In 1993 the farm and homestead was bought and restored and a new vineyard planting programme was established that now includes Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Semillon and Viognier.” Boekenhoutskloof’s phenomenal success owes much to both its cellarmaster from the start, Marc Kent, and Tim Rands, founder. Its signature Chocolate Block red blend is made locally in unmatched quantities given its price and quality; at more easily affordable levels the Porcupine Ridge and Wolftrap wines deliver more than expected at their price points.
Waterford: “Waterford Wine Estate is situated in one of the world’s most visually arresting pockets of paradise. Nestled in the picturesque Blaauwklippen Valley, in the world-renowned Stellenbosch region, this 120-hectare property boasts ancient citrus groves, rolling lawns, water features and fragrant lavender beds. The winery was designed by architect Alex Walker and created from quarried local bedrock, stones from the vineyard and timber grown on the estate. It was styled along the engaging terracotta design of the classic Bordeaux chateaus of France. The Jem is among the more convincing of local super-priced reds, but the whole range offers reliable high quality—including the cheaper Pecan Stream wines.”
Cape Point Vineyards: “Cape Point Vineyards is located on a narrow strip of peninsula, and between the disparate icy Atlantic and the warm currents of False Bay, resulting in a unique maritime climate that is ideal for superior winemaking. Perched high above the peninsula, and embraced by a neighbouring nature reserve, Cape Point Vineyards is set in a backdrop of magnificent panoramas and breathtaking sea views that form part of the signature presence of this prestigious estate.” The vineyards, a mere shout from Noordhoek beach on the Cape Peninsula, are planted mostly to Sauvignon blanc, but there is also Chardonnay and Semillon for the excellent Isliedh blend. Duncan Savage’s amazing work on the wind-battered vines that allows his wines increased ripeness and complexity as well as finesse.”