A story of hope: Compagniesdrift Wines

Wednesday, 27 September, 2017
Malu Lambert
A ship cruises along the circular perimeter. There’s an upside-down pig floating above loose wagon wheels and windmills; and in-between the roosters and chickens, farmers toil the land as more wagon wheels and ships roll by. This isn’t some kind of lucid dream I’m describing, but the rich vortex of the Compagniesdrift logo, which doubles as the wine label for their in-house range.

It’s evident the folk at Compagniesdrift love to tell stories: the name itself implies the coming together of people.

“The modern translation of our name talks to the passion, ‘drif’, of a group of people, ‘compagnie’,” explains IIse Ruthford, Managing Director. “The wine label is a circular panorama of deep-etched black silhouettes, reminiscent of Khoisan rock paintings, featuring aspects of farm life with subtle allusions to the history of the people: from cattle, chickens and horses, to ears of wheat, vine leaves and vegetables; a windmill; chains with which one-time slaves were held; and various human figures. It contains a multitude of symbolic references, including an allusion to the circle of life.”

Compagniesdrift primarily offers services of wine storage, bottling and labeling to the South African wine industry at large - and have been wildly successful at it. Having only opened its doors in 2010, they now look after 42 wine producers, with a total of 2.4 million bottles in the warehouse.

Over the last couple of years, they started adding their own in-house wine range to the growing pile of wine bottles. (For now, around 15000 bottles make up the range, split into four wines.)

“The focus on the Compagniesdrift wine range is on fruit expression and purity of flavour,” says Chris Williams, Cellar Master of Meerlust, who’s currently making the wines. “It’s a relaxed, lifestyle range.”

A bit of background: The ‘MWT Investments Pty Ltd, t/a Compagniesdrift’ is a black empowerment business funded by the Myburgh Family Trust (owners of Meerlust Wine Estate in Stellenbosch), Standard Bank and the Land Reform and Development Programme (LRAD) of the Department of Land Affairs; and as such Meerlust acts as a support and mentor to Compagniesdrift.

“Which means they know they have to help me if I phone them,” says Ilse with a smile.

“But seriously. Hannes [Myburgh], together with Albie de Waal, MD of Meerlust are my fellow directors at Compagniesdrift and are also my mentors. They have been so patient with me: teaching, guiding and leading me in the right direction. I have so much respect for them. They allow me to make decisions and they listen to me and support me at all times. Chris, together with other members of the Meerlust management team, respect and support me at all times too and they are always available to assist me.”

In the same spirit of mentorship Chris says he’d like to develop an in-house winemaker for Compagniesdrift. “Once the project gets going we’d like to hand it to a young winemaker - someone who can grab it with both hands and run with it. 

“Quality informs quality; and obviously Meerlust is a big part of it - but it’s not our second range, it’s a stand-alone project.”

The vineyards for Compagniesdrift are also managed and maintained by Meerlust. “We’re able to look for the best parcels of grapes, and this can change from year to year.”

We’re in a sunny room of the Compagniesdrift complex, just a few metres away from the nerve centre - where hundreds of bottles are busy making their way along the labeling line.

Wines are being poured to taste. “It has such a lovely muscat grapeyness,” says Chris nosing the Muscat 2016. Fermented dry, there’s some ripe tropical fruit, rose water and Muscat spice there too, with opulent fruit flavours on the palate and a limey acidity wrapping things up.

“We ferment the wine in stainless steel to preserve the fruit expression. This wine will age quite nicely in the bottle. Muscat develops as it rests and it gets those terpene aromatics like you do in Riesling.

“Enjoy on its own as an aperitif, or pair it with real kaapse kos - —it will go beautifully with a raisin bobotie.

“Unwooded Chardonnay as a category is really popular right now,” muses Chris as we move onto the next wine (the Unwooded Chardonnay 2015). “This was a great vintage. The vineyards where we sourced the grapes are really high up - and you can taste that freshness in the wine.”

The wine offers lifted aromas of lemon, yellow apple and white peach, followed by vibrant fruit on the palate with mouth-filling creaminess and a persistent citrus finish.

Next up is the rose-gold Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2015. "The Pinot Noir gives the wine a blush as well as some red fruit character, which interacts with the flavours of the wooded Chardonnay component," Chris says this while holding his glass up to the light.

The wine sings with summer fruit and wild strawberries, and is rounded out with a creamy mouthfeel, balanced by fresh acidity.

Talking about sourcing grapes, Chris says: “The wines will always be origin of Stellenbosch, and we want to reflect that in the style and the character of the range.”

The Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2016 does the job of reflecting this character beautifully with intense blackcurrant, plum and spice on the nose, leading to rich and juicy fruit on the palate with soft, silky tannins.


“At Meerlust we know one or two things about blending reds,” says Chris with a smile. “This vintage comes mostly from young vines, and was aged for just under a year. It’s fruit-forward but there are still some secondary flavours, along with hint of that herbal character you get in Stellenbosch. You can drink it now, but it will develop.”

There’s a flagship red in the works too, a Bordeaux-style blend called, Nguni Red.

So, where can wine-drinkers find these wines? “We’ve appointed Taste-of-Terroir to assist us with the marketing and distribution of our wines,” says Ilse. “We’d like to see the range in local wine shops, restaurants as well as in specialist stores in and around the Western Cape and Gauteng. It’s great to have the help of a distribution company—they know the markets and they have the contacts. Anton du Toit, MD of Taste-of-Terroir will also help us get the wines into the international markets. So far we export to Norway and Sweden.”

Added to that they also have an e-commerce plug in on their website [www.compagniesdrift.com] for online orders and wines can be delivered anywhere in South Africa. 

When asked what her hopes are for the future of Compagniesdrift Wines, Ilse says: “I want to keep on to inspiring, motivating and uplifting my team. We are positive that in the near future our wine business will be very successful, because I firmly believe ‘Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.’

After tasting their wines and hearing their stories I realise that when you take a step back and look at the wine label again, the various depictions become one; and merge into a symbol of hope.