Niche MCC market for wine tourism

Friday, 1 March, 2013
Graham Howe
The launch of a Méthode Cap Classique route linking 18 MCC producers in the Franschhoek Wine Valley underlines the drawing power of niche markets in destination marketing in the winelands - and the diversity and maturation of the sparkling wine 
The big bubbly boom is underway. Over the last two decades the Cap Classique Association has grown from 14 founders in 1992 to 82 members today - while annual production of MCC has soared to 5,4 million litres. At the 2012 Amorim Méthode Cap Classique Challenge - which drew a record 75 entries in its 11th year - chairman Pieter Ferreira reported that MCC volumes are doubling every five years, “making it one of the most exciting categories in the South African wine industry”.

Making bubbly was an accident says Roy Andrews, owner of Topiary Wines - who won five Platter stars for the 2008 and 2009 vintages of Blanc de Blancs Brut, their “accidental sparkling wine”. They set out to make a still Chardonnay - but ended up making 800 bottles of bubbly from a bumper maiden crop in 2007. “It was a stunning success for an amateur like me” says Roy who showed it at his first  Franschhoek Cap Classique and Champagne Festival - and was amazed to spot stalls offering tastings of top marques at R100 per glass! Five vintages later, they make 3000 bottles of MCC.

There’s been no looking back for Topiary Wines, one of the eighteen MCC producers on Franschhoek’s new Cap Classique route. Cellar master Mark Carmichael Green, who has worked abroad with top marques like Bollinger, Taittinger and Louis Roederer, comments, “We’re seeing a maturity in the MCC industry. Making MCC is about very refined winemaking. One mistake and it accentuates any other faults. Dosage is the golden thread. No winemaker will share that secret. You either make it to drink young or to age. The longer the hang time, the greater the complexity, especially in cool climate areas. The longer on the lees, the greater the complexity”.

Over a tasting of Topiary Blanc de Blancs MCC 2009, the experienced winemaker explains, “We always seem to be one step behind in South Africa - The MCC group is the exception in terms of branding and viticulture. Villiera laid the groundwork for making top quality MCC today. We are producing better quality MCC all the time. It’s even gone full circle to the point where it’s okay to make slightly sweeter MCC. Younger drinkers start on the sweeter stuff at the entry-level and evolve to drinking MCC. We don’t have the ability to hold back big volumes of reserve wines in SA”.

Franschhoek Wine Valley, an area with a cluster of 25% of the Cape’s MCC producers in convenient proximity, has relaunched a cap classique route which links eighteen cellars from Backsberg and Boschendal to Haute Cabrière and Topiary. Seven new MCC producers on the route include Anthonij Rupert (a new gateway to the valley), Grande Provence, La Motte, Leopard’s Leap, Noble Hill, Plaisir de Merle and Franschhoek Pass. The MCC route consolidates the Franschhoek brand as a lifestyle, gourmet, literary and luxury destination - home of the “Magic of Bubbles” Festival and of Cabrière’s Pierre Jourdan, one of South Africa’s top MCC brands.

At the launch of the new MCC route I visited some of the key producers in the Franschhoek Wine Valley. The diversity of cap classique styles and house-styles - across rosé, blanc de blancs, brut blends and reserve categories - makes a daytrip a fascinating learning curve on MCC trends. Every cellar-door presents a different face of wine tourism from the boutique cellars of Topiary, Morena and Môreson to the brand showcases of Anthonij Rupert (in the old Graham Beck cellar) - the chic new home to the Terra del Capo, Cape of Good Hope and Protea labels - and Leopard’s Leap (a stylish brand window for its new Culinaria, Lookout and Family Collection).

To differentiate between brands at different price-points, the stylish two-tier wine and anti-pasti bars at Anthonij Rupert Wines offer an innovative wine tasting and pairing menu. Visitors can opt for The Unusual (R30 for the tasting) - Terra del Capo’s Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese and Cape of Good Hope Semillon and Pinotage. Or try The Merry Merlot tasting (R40) - surely the only menu focused on this variety in the Cape - and the premium Anthonij Rupert menu (R60) featuring their flagship Optima 2009 blend.

“We’re going to be a serious MCC producer. We’re going big into sparkling wine with three bubblies in the pipeline (blanc de blancs, reserve and rosé)” declared Gary Baumgarten, GM of Anthonij Rupert Wines. We enjoyed a tasting of the new flagship L’Ormarins Brut Classique NV - dedicated to “JR” (Huguenot Jean Roi not Johann Rupert or JR Ewing!) Gary says they are going to bring L’Ormarins back onto the market, relaunch the Optima brand - and establish a “first-class white table-cloth” tasting experience in the old manor-house as a new brand home for AR/L’Ormarins.

Môreson provides a “small is beautiful” contrast on any itinerary on the Franschhoek MCC route. The home to six styles of MCC under the Môreson and Miss Molly labels - and to legendary Bread & Wine bistro - is a great place for pairing Neil Jewell’s legendary charcuterie and MCC. Winemaker Clayton Reabow, Diner’s Club Young Winemaker of the Year (2009) is passionate about making MCC.  He says, “We’re here to build a Franschhoek wine of origin brand, terroir and identity. Apart from sourcing Pinotage from Stellenbosch, we used only Franschhoek grapes this year.”

Over a MCC tasting of Môreson Solitaire Blanc de Blancs - a 100% estate Chardonnay which won a place in the Classic Wine Top Six 2012 - Clayton explains how he makes a “solera style blend” of three vintages. He declares, “I detest a young MCC with biscuity and yeasty character on release. That must come with age. Low PH and high natural acid in the base wine means a sparkling wine will age well”. Môreson MCC One 2007, a vintage blend of Chardonnay and Pinot, spent 36 months on lees and 36 months on cork. The winemaker who likes to take his time crafting MCC, says “I don’t want to express too much fruit. I’m after finesse and restraint”.

The unique Cape spin on sparkling wine is one of the delights for visitors on the cap classique route. Although most of the bottle-fermented MCC in the Franschhoek Wine Valley is made from the classic “champagne” varieties, visitors can also sample Miss Molly Petite Rouge (100% Pinotage) and Môreson Gala Cuvée Cape (a blend of Pinotage - as well as Allée Bleue’s Brut Rosé MCC (Chenin, Pinotage and Pinot). Along the way we also tasted Leapard’s Leap fabulous Culinaria Brut MCC (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) at the cellar’s showpiece kitchen.

And who could pass up a tasting of La Motte Brut 2010 (Chardonnay/Pinot Noir) at Pierneef restaurant, patisserie, art gallery, cellar and Shiraz studio - SA winner of Best of Wine Tourism in 2012 under the auspices of Global Wine Capitals of the World?

And the MCC revolution is not only happening in the Franschhoek Wine Valley. The House of J.C. Le Roux, home to South Africa’s biggest sparkling wine brands, has had a stylish makeover. A wine tourism destination in Stellenbosch’s Devon Valley has developed themed lounge-style tasting and food pairing rooms for three of its best-selling-brands - the flagship Scintilla MCC, off-dry La Vallee and sweet La Fleurette - themed in brand colours with fun shortbread, nougat and meringue pairings. Le Venue, a new restaurant offers pairings as well as champagne breakfasts.

* For more information, contact Franschhoek Wine Valley, tel: 021 876 2861, email: or &