Representing KZN Wine of Origin: Abingdon Estate

Monday, 28 January, 2013
Joseph Perez
The KZN Midlands is famous for many things – leatherwork, beading, lunch – but wine is not usually among them. It’s a surprise, then, to stumble on a farm of manicured vines in Lions River, down an avenue of tall oaks and dusty grass.
Just 3 hectares under vines, Abingdon Estate is one of the Meander’s worst-kept secrets, attracting droves of thirsty travellers every weekend from Pietermartizburg and Durban to sample the delicious wine-and-food pairings on offer.

As the only certified Single Vineyard Estate wine producer in the province, Abingdon hand harvests its own grapes and basket presses them on the farm. In fact, as Jane Smorthwaite (one half of Abingdon Wines) explains, they’ve often had to rely on their powers of invention.

“We have had to cut, weld and modify dairy tanks and beer tanks to create wine tanks and we have created our own cooling systems. Where a Cape winemaker can just pop into the lab for analysis, we have to courier samples down to the Cape and wait on results until we can move forward again – very frustrating as it can take days!

“It is very much a “make a plan“ operation. But all this aside, we get massive advice and encouragement from other Cape winemakers, who have been so supportive from day one in our quest to put ourselves on the South African wine map.”

Abingdon’s maiden vintage, a Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2007, was the first certified estate wine made in KwaZulu-Natal, and priced at R110, it sold out in three weeks. This year the estate will release eight wines, including a new Blanc Fume.

“Ian (Jane’s husband and Abingdon’s winemaker) is completely self taught, something that I think has helped him, particularly on the viticultural side. Because he is so passionate about what he is doing, he studies up on the science of oenology nonstop, but then adds a lot of gut feeling.”

The farm, which is near Howick, has a remarkably different environment from the Cape. The temperature dips below freezing in the winter and there’s summer rainfall. At an altitude of over 1100 metres, the humidity is kept at bay by a constant mountain breeze.

“We have rich fertile, deep top soils interspersed with dolerite and decomposed dolerite on a bed of blue shale. The uniqueness of our terroir is tasted in our wines giving them a crisp, fresh, Old World elegance, full of minerality. A good example of this is our 2012 Sauvignon Blanc that has uncanny similarities to the flint-based vineyards of Sancerre – a statement often heard in our tasting room.”

Turning twelve this year, Abingdon Wines has yet another appeal: a restaurant that serves fresh, local and rustic fare, effortlessly complementing the wines through a selection of mezze platters and decadent desserts. The style of their wines may be European, but they’re 100 per cent KZN.

Abingdon Wines is open Saturdays, Sundays & Public Holidays. Monday - Friday only by prior arrangement. Tel: 083 463 8503 or 033 2344335, email for bookings. To book your wedding, birthday party or corporate function at Abingdon Estate, visit