World-class wines on the rack

Friday, 2 April, 2004
Juliet Cullinan
Despite their traditional, old school approach, all wineries keep abreast of the modern wine world
Wine is becoming more and more about marketing - about brands, about buzzwords, about image. We buy the wine, we buy the dream. So what if it's an illusion? We cherish our dream.

Stellenbosch, the spiritual home of wine, relies on its history, tradition and heritage as an established marketing tool. The homesteads on Vergelegen, Klein Constantia and Rustenberg are all national monuments that date back centuries. Their manicured gardens are famous around the world. Simon Barlow felt so moved by his heritage at Rustenberg that he encapsulated its historical beauty in a book for his parents' wedding anniversary.

Despite their traditional, old school 'wine as art' approach, all these wineries know the value of keeping abreast of the modern wine world and today's consumer. To this end, Barlow had a state-of-the-art modern cellar built that emulates the historic lines of the Cape Dutch originals, enhancing the magnificence of the estate.

Rupert and Rothschild
Founded in 1995, Rupert and Rothschild is a partnership between the South African Rupert family and Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, son of the late Baron Edmond de Rothschild of France. Both parties have devoted their lives to producing world-class wines and both own wineries. The Ruperts have L'Ormarins and La Motte in Franschoek while the Rothschilds own Chateau Clarke, Peyre-Lebade, Malmaison and Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in Bordeaux. Their family traditions are reflected in their philosophy, marketing and stylish architecture. Their international connections and recognized brand name, represents to this drinker, consistency, excellence, good value and above all, a reassurance, that is not betrayed by any gap between perception and reality: in other words, the perfect brand. Cellarmaster Schalk-Willem Joubert's wines are blended to his standards and do not speak of chemicals and therefore he does not have to correct their flavours. He says his wines literally create themselves. Their unique style appeals to both local and international markets.

Bouchard Finlayson
While not new world in style, the wines from Bouchard Finlayson clean up in global awards. Peter Finlayson's wines are similar to his character - big and modest but with great integrity. The pinot noir is soft textured with a depth of flavour that evolves in the glass. The intensity does not overpower the elegance or complexity of the wine and leaves you with a rewarding finish of violets, cherries and a mushroom meatiness. Its classic French dryness and lingering aftertaste finds you extending your arm for more even before your mouthful has been swallowed . Cellarmaster Finlayson has overseen every aspect of the business since he and Michael Clarke left the neighbouring farm Hamilton Russell in 1990. The labels and brochures depict the elegance, finesse and understated charm that his wines display. Paul Bouchard from Bouchard Ain et Fils in Burgundy, is the 'Bouchard' partner and the Tollmans, of the Twelve Apostles in Camps Bay and international hotel chain fame are the major shareholders.

As a child, lunches with my aunt - the esteemed glass blower, Shirley Cloete - used to thrill me to the marrow. The large voorkamer of the Morgenster manor house with its wooden panelled doors, the garden that stretched into the distance, the pond with its crisp white ducks, and then my first experience of Cape cuisine - leg of lamb, roasted sweet potatoes and pumpkin with ladles of sugar and cinnamon. On learning that Italian textile magnate Giulio Bertrand had converted the interior, I imagined a modern Tuscan villa, huge and out of context with its surroundings. On meeting the man, his Italian sense of style, design, appreciation of the arts and most importantly his passion for wine and olive oil was refreshingly reassuring. Morgenster - 'the morning star' - has been filled with priceless artworks, sculptures, rich textiles and his Linnware pottery collection.

Like Rustenberg, Morgenster's new barrel cellar displays a versatility of architectural style, introducing a large open-plan room, with antique amphora, marbled floors and floor-to-ceiling glass doors that separate the tasting room from the rows of oak barrels. The current Morgenster Blend 2001 vintage of has a classic profile, with a blend of berry, spice and pepper flavours with elegance, balance and finesse on the palate. Consulting French winemaker Pierre Lurton from Chateau Cheval Blanc, describes it as having 'pashmina silks'. Quite right! There is a measure of mouth-filling sensuality as the integrated fruit and flavours slip down like velvet.

Hugel & Fils
Wine labels develop with time and like eighth generation Hannes Myburgh of Meerlust, Etienne Hugel of the Alsace Hugel & Fils promotes his winery with pride. Having a brand recognized worldwide is a bonus and he is light years away from those launching their maiden vintage. Even so, the quest to establish new markets is a reality to modern and older wineries alike. The additional sugar, captivating spice and nuances of litchi, quince or mango captured in the Hugel wines only enhance the a la mode cuisine with influences from Asia, Thailand, India and the Pacific Rim. There is a depth of flavour and intensity using natural sugars and no added acids. The finish is exceptionally dry yet aromatic.

Ed, the grand dame of Thelema and mother-in-law of Gyles Webb, entertains tasters all day with her warmth and humour. Ask her a question and her standard answer is invariably: 'Gyles made it and it is just right'. Quite so. And 'Just right' is exactly how we can describe these wineries. These unique cellars with wines that reflect the individuality of their terroir and represent a specific style of the cellarmaster, are South Africa's finest. Today they are international icons.

Juliet Cullinan
Tel: +27 (0) 11 447-1885