Veuve Clicquot docks in Cape Town

Veuve Clicquot docks in Cape Town.


Wine Goggle » Let’s Honour the Fallen Heroes of SA Wine

Wine Goggle » Let’s Honour the Fallen Heroes of SA Wine

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In Memoriam – Ross Gower

By John Ford

We were so sad to hear of the death, today, of Ross Gower, one of the most talented winemakers South Africa has seen. He has fought a long, hard & courageous battle against cancer, and we all hoped he would win it.

Lynne first met Ross at Klein Constantia in 1986 when she came back to Cape Town from London to visit her family and after the first meeting and tasting of his marvellous wines, it became a ritual to go there whenever she was here to taste them again and buy some to take back to London. She had a standing joke with them that she was working on ‘Aunty’ to get that knighthood for Ross for his services to wine. He was a big man in every way but gentle and quiet and unassuming. He was worthy of all the awards and accolades he received in his career, and there were many. Being in the wine trade, we were delighted when he went out on his own with his family and set up Ross Gower Wines in the Elgin valley and we loved visiting the farm to see the Gowers and drink their wines. One really stunning memory we have is, just a couple of years ago, of drinking a bottle of Ross’s 1989 Klein Constantia Chardonnay and finding that all the character had lasted, just as he had expected it to. This wine was awarded a double gold Veritas, 4½ stars in Platter in 1991 and was selling on the farm that year for R19, when Vin de Constance was selling for R25 a bottle. We were so disappointed to discover, on receiving a copy of Vin de Constance, the book that covered the history of this special dessert wine and its rediscovery, that Ross Gower was not mentioned once. This was a huge mistake, given his major role in the renaissance of this wine. We remember the very dignified letter he wrote to Wine magazine after the book was published in which he told the story of the renaissance of the wine and gave credit to all the influences which led to it.

Another, lighter, memory is of meeting Ross, Sally and Rob at Vinexpo in Bordeaux in 2007, and being invited to attend a tasting of vintage Bruno Paillard champagnes with them. Ross had notoriously bad handwriting and his badge had been printed with the name Raul Gomez.

We still have some of his wine in our personal cellar and over the years it has become our custom to drink what we think is one of the best, a bottle of Ross’s Marlbrook, at Christmas dinner. We have never been disappointed with its quality, depth and finesse. We will continue to drink them as long as we can.

Our wine world has lost a very special, talented man. Sally and their children will no doubt continue the fine family tradition he established. We grieve with them and wish them solace and comfort in his memory.

The Renaissance of South Africa Wines

By Jim Seder – Editor and publisher of the Wine Inquirer – Arizona

When it comes to wine, chances are that South Africa does not come to mind.  What most do not appreciate, however, is that the country has been producing wine since the 1659 and serving the spirit to European nobility since the 18th century.  While the economic sanctions imposed by apartheid suppressed the industry, it was the political reform of the system and the advent of democracy that once again opened the door to progress.  With the end of apartheid came a surge in financial and intellectual capital that spilled over to the wine industry.  This allowed for rapid development of plant materials, search for new winegrowing geography, improved winemaking techniques and new applied technologies.

Today, the modern South Africa wine industry is only in its infancy, just 15 years of age.  Despite its youth, it has made astounding progress, receiving deserved attention and winning awards from several international events.  As of this writing, the country boasts over 600 wine producers, double the number year 2000.  Wine exports surged over 300% between 1995 and 2007 placing the country in the overall ninth in international wine production.  Nearly 4000 farmers cultivate almost 102,000 hectares of land.

With South Africa home to as many as 9600 plant species in the very small Cape Floral Kingdom, more than the entire Northern Hemisphere, the local wine industry has created the Biodiversity & Wine Initiative (BWI) to minimize losses that could otherwise threaten the Kingdom.  This initiative aims to reduce CFK losses through biodiversity best practices such as preventing loss to any micro-habitat in critical sites and increased total area set aside as natural habitat in contractual protected areas.  By creating such a focus on biodiversity, South Africa is positioning itself as a unique wine producing entity.  In 2006, over 90% of the harvest was said to be compliant with an environmentally sustainable system of wine production called the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW).

While the wine industry in still quite young, the country’s geology speaks of a very distant past, yielding some of the most ancient vitacultural soils on the planet.  The Precambrian deposits of shale and schist are dated back some 550-1,000 million years.  Massive geological upheavals has resulted in one of the most scenic wine producing regions in the world, offering majestic mountain ranges interspersed with deep valleys, all creating a myriad of mesoclimates and soils.

Soils in the region, as you might expect, can be quite diverse due to differences in topography and geology.  The coastal regions have sandstone mountains resting at times upon a granite foundation while lower elevations see shale.  This yields both sandy soils with poor nutrient and water retaining properties if from the sandstone mountains and/or red-yellow and acidic soil from granite with good physical and water retention properties.  Soils from shale tend to have good nutrient and water retentive properties.

The highly regarded red and brown soils, usually found in granite hills and foot slopes, located at elevations of 150-400m, are highly weathered, acidic, well drained and very stable, offering excellent water retention properties.  Other soil composition consists of sand, gravel and clay.

As varied as is the topography of the region, so are the locations of the vineyards, ranging from the valley floors, to the hills, to steep mountain slopes.  The diversity of terrain produces a multitude of mesoclimes.  A given farm may have one vineyard at nearly sea level and another some 600m in elevation.  In general, northern and western slopes are warmer than the southern and eastern due to increased sunlight.  Vineyards planted in the mountainous terrain can be challenged with adequate sunlight due to deep shadows in the early morning and late afternoon.

The overall climate of South Africa is Mediterranean, with the coastal regions receiving a cooling sea breeze, the result of ocean currents flowing northward from the Antarctica, while the inland regions are more temperate.  While winters can be cool, frost is a rare visitor.  While the coastal regions receive adequate rainfall from May through August, inland regions to the north and northwest require irrigation.  In general, the climate is described as three tiered: macro, meso and micro.  Macro refers to the climate of the region, micro as that of the vineyard and micro, the conditions surrounding bunches of grapes and flow around the vine canopy.

Analgous to the Mistral wind that roars through the Rhone region of France, at times with speeds up to 90 mph, the Cape has its version called the Cape Doctor.  This legendary southeast wind blows across the southwestern Cape region in the spring and summer, drying out the vineyards and inhibiting disease.  It can, however, occasionally bring rains to the southern most coastal zone vineyards.

Varietal Production:

White varieties constitute about 55% of the total grape plantings, Chenin Blanc comprising nearly 20% of the total.  Red varieties account for the remainder with Cabernet Sauvignon accounting for 13%, Shiraz at 10%, Merlot at 7% and the indigenous Pinotage (blend of Pinot Noir and Cinsault) 6%.  With shortages of the white varietals over the last couple of years, plantings of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay has increased.

Wine Growing Regions:

Bot River:  Cool maritime climate; Varieties include Chenin Blanc,
Sauvignon Blanc, Pinotage, Shiraz, Rhone varietals.


Cape Agulhas:  Maritime influence; Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Shiraz

Cape Point: Maritime influence; Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon

Constantia:  Site of 17th century wine farm and 18th century Constantia dessert wines;  Sauvignon Blanc

Darling:  Sauvignon Blanc

Durbanville:  Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon

Klein Karoo:  Muscat, Merlot, Port style wines, brandy


Lower Orange:  Most northerly winegrowing sub-region; Chenin Blanc,
Colombard, Chardonnay, Pinotage, Shiraz, Cabernet
Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Tannat, Muscadel, Muscat


Overberg:  Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Shiraz

Paarl ( translated= Pearl, named after a large famous granite outcrop):
Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon,
Pinotage, Shiraz
Contains the gourmet capital of the Cape

Philadelphia:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot

Plettenberg Bay:  Maritime; Sauvignon Blanc

Robertson:  Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz
(outstanding red wine region)

Stellenbosch:  17th century winemaking, renown for its terroir, highly sought
after region, known for red blends and most noble wine
varieties.  Center of wine education and research and the
Stellenbosch Wine Route for tourists.

Swartland (translated=the black land, from color of the rhino bush certain time of year):   Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvigon, Pinotage, Shiraz, port style wines

Tulbagh:  Cool region due to cold air trapping between mountains; Shiraz

Walker Bay:  Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinotage, Merlot,
Shiraz;  a side treat is outstanding whale watching

Worcester:  Important brandy producer

Some producer names to look for are: Boekenhoutslkoof, Morgenhof, De Trafford, Mulderbosch, Ken Forrester, Finlayson, Graham Beck (Sparkling Wine), Ernie Els, and Thelma Mountain,

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Graham Beck Wines’ ultra premium Cuvée Clive goes nationwide

Lovers of fine fizz are undoubtedly bubbling over at the news that the crème de la crème of South Africa’s Cap Classique style wines is now enjoying increased availability. . Graham Beck Wines’ maiden vintage Cuvée Clive 2003 (from the cellar’s Prestige Collection) is distributed exclusively throughout the country by DGB (Pty) Ltd, South Africa’s largest independent wine and spirit producer and distributor.

Although this spectacular sparkler has been available directly from the Graham Beck Wines cellar doors since its release in 2009, the decision to make it more widely available is sure to be hailed as an excellent move by wine lovers everywhere.

“Over the years Graham Beck Wines has definitely earned its status as one of South Africa’s leading Cap Classique producers, while establishing a loyal following amongst lovers of this time honoured style of wine across the globe. We are thrilled that our bubblies are the drink of choice to mark milestones, celebrate special moments and bear witness to memories in the making. Cuvée Clive represents the pinnacle of our Cap Classique artistic inspiration and creative endeavours – the culmination of meticulous planning, determined effort and tenacious dedication in the pursuit of the perfect bubble,” comments Graham Beck Wines celebrated cellarmaster Pieter “Bubbles” Ferreira.

In 1991 Graham Beck Wines commenced the quest to produce world class Cap Classiques. Their soils possess a unique limestone character which ensures natural acidity in the grapes. On the Beck family farm, Madeba, in Robertson the team has been hard at work renewing their Cap Classique vineyards – planting better, more virus resistant material to improve the overall quality of the grapes harvested.

Since 2002 they have consistently reaped the benefits of these improvements and witnessed a considerable shift towards producing increased quality on both the Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay – the traditional building blocks of their award winning range of Cap Classique wines. The Cuvée Clive 2003 is a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, with the former contributing elegance and fruit finesse, while the latter lends body, structure and length of flavour.

In the cellar both hand-picked varietals for this exclusive Cap Classique were separately bunch pressed. Only the highest quality juice (tête de cuvée which means ‘head of the class’) was selected and allowed to settle overnight. The juice was then fermented in stainless steel tanks at 16ºC with a small portion of the Chardonnay fermented in specially designated Piece Champenoise (205-liter) French oak barrels.

After fermentation only the very best portions were chosen for their minerality, elegance and finesse. The wine was then bottled for the secondary fermentation to take place, after which it benefited from no less than 60 months yeast contact before disgorgement. The Cuvée Clive is made in the brut style with only a minimal amount of sugar added at disgorgement.

Unquestionably the wines which elicit the greatest admiration in a sparkling wine range are the prestige cuvées or cuvée speciale. These wines are the result of a favourable vintage and only produced in exceptional years. They represent stricter selection than for the normal vintage wine and reflect extreme care in the cellar and the pursuit of even greater excellence.

“How can this remarkable bubbly be so complex, so subtle and, yet, so mature? That’s the alluring paradox of Cuvée Clive Vintage 2003! The wine is irresistibly approachable and well rounded – youthful and gorgeous from the get-go, but with the potential to age. It’s exceptionally versatile – the perfect partner to a wide variety of dishes. Cuvée Clive has undoubtedly achieved the fundamental requirement of that which defines a prestige cuvée – complexity,” explains Pieter.

Prestige Cuvées are often named after prominent characters with a connection to that producer, for instance Veuve Clicquot’s La Grande Dame and Pol Roger’s Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. Cuvée Clive is named in honour of Graham and Rhona Beck’s oldest son, Clive, who died tragically in his 30’s. As a committed family wine business Graham Beck Wines felt it only fitting to dub this iconic wine Clive.

Cuvée Clive 2003 is available at bespoke retailers and restaurants, including Makro Woodmead, Norman Goodfellows, Carolines Fine Wine, Wine Concepts on Kloof, Cellars Hohenort Hotel, Cape Grace, Mount Nelson, Parklane Cellars (PMB), etc.  Approximate retail price:  R450 (Incl VAT) per bottle.

All creatures great and small

Graham Beck Wines unveils an exciting ‘new’ label

Out with the old and in with the new! Aficionados of the popular Graham Beck Wines  Gamekeeper’s Reserve range will be thrilled to discover a sophisticated new makeover to this eye-catching and distinctive label. Whilst the message behind the wine and the outstanding quality in the bottle remain unchanged, the name has been altered to better reflect this innovative producer’s unswerving concern for the environment.

The 2009 Chenin Blanc and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon in this range now sport the new name ‘The Game Reserve’, which more aptly expresses this well loved cellar’s commitment to conservation and biodiversity. Over the years Graham Beck Wines has become an internationally recognized leader in sustainable wine production and most recently was lauded for their efforts in the high profile inaugural Drinks Business Green Awards.

The label design for both The Game Reserve wines has also been subtly tweaked to be more contemporary and appealing, while still remaining authentic to the theme of conservation. The Chenin features the endangered and highly elusive South African Riverine Rabbit and taking pride of place on the Cab is the majestic kudu (antelope) – both are fitting symbols of Graham Beck Wines’ commitment to preserving the country’s unique fauna and flora.

“At Graham Beck Wines we believe in giving nothing less than our very best. Our dedication to farming sustainably and producing environmentally and ethically responsible wines in harmony with nature is a long term commitment to safeguarding the health and welfare of our planet,” maintains Graham Beck Wines GM, Gary Baumgarten.

“In recognition of our dedication to reducing the environmental impact of our activities and ensuring the preservation of our ecological future, Graham Beck Wines holds no less than Champion Status from the Biodiversity in Wine Initiative (BWI), a partnership between the South African wine industry and conservationist concerns,” comments celebrated Graham Beck Wines cellarmaster Pieter Ferreira.

The wildlife reserve situated on Graham and Rhona Beck’s Robertson estate, Madeba, is an unparalleled success story. Around 1885 hectares of natural vegetation have been demarcated for conservation, inspiring many neighbouring farms to follow suit. The Reserve is home to many endangered animal and plant species and comprises large tracts of highly sensitive succulent Karoo veld, one of the three major types of vegetation found within the world famous Cape Floral Kingdom. By purchasing The Game Reserve wines, wine lovers are making a tangible contribution towards the preservation of South Africa’s precious natural heritage.

The Game Reserve Chenin Blanc 2009

The Game Reserve Chenin Blanc 2009 is a 100% Chenin Blanc. The fruit for this wine was harvested from 40 – 50 year old dryland low yielding bush vines planted on very deep soils. The grapes were left to ripen fully to ensure the development of rich, ripe flavours and complexity.

Aromas of upfront tropical fruit, ripe melon, pineapple, peaches and honey abound, while on the palate delicate flavours of ripe tropical fruit intermingle. The final product is a rich, full-bodied wine with a juicy palate and long, clean and crisp aftertaste. It’s an ideal food wine, great company for alfresco lunches and perfectly suited to a wide variety of dishes such as grilled chicken or fish, rich pasta dishes and spicy food.

“I love Chenin Blanc as it’s such a rewarding varietal. Chenin loves the South African climate and is an extremely versatile grape. The older vineyards deliver some of the best fruit and can undoubtedly produce world class wines,” comments Erika Obermeyer, Graham Beck Wines Franschhoek winemaker.

The Game Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

The Game Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 is a 100% Cab. The fruit for this wine was sourced from a selection of prime Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards from the Robertson Estate including a site located on the South-East facing slope of the Rooiberg Mountain that incorporates the game reserve on the Graham Beck property. The vines are planted on red Karoo soil which is also home to the delicate, yet resilient fynbos which the game feed on adjacent to the vineyard. These vines yield around eight tons per hectare.

The grapes for this wine were handpicked at full phenolic ripeness during the second week of March 2008. In the cellar they were destalked, gently crushed and fermented with four daily pump overs to ensure maximum extraction. Once dry, the juice was pressed and transferred into 2nd fill French and American oak for malolactic fermentation in barrel. The wine spent a further 10 months in barrel to develop complexity and a full mouthfeel.

“It’s a wine with gorgeous aromas of black berry fruit, dark chocolate and cassis on the nose complemented by secondary cigar box whiffs and spicy mineral flavours. This classy Cab delivers a rich, juicy entry and elegant palate with a long satisfying finish,” says Irene Waller, Graham Beck Wines Robertson winemaker. “It’s divine with roast meat dishes, barbeques, venison or even as an excellent match for a robust and creamy mushroom risotto,” she reveals.

Both wines are available from the Graham Beck Wines cellar door at  R50.00 (Incl VAT) per bottle for The Game Reserve Chenin Blanc 2009 and  R80.00 (Incl VAT) per bottle for the The Game Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008. These wines, distributed by DGB on behalf of Graham Beck Wines, are also available at Makro, Ultra Liquors and other selected retailers as well as bespoke restaurants. For more information contact Etienne Heyns on 021 874 1258 or