Now Ernie Els, the Wine Farmer

Tuesday, 27 April, 2004
Melvyn Minnaar
Golfer buys Webersburg
Barely two weeks after Phil Mickelson putted a 10 metre at the 18th to snatch the green blazer of the American Masters from him with a single stroke, Ernie Els is in the news again ... this time for finding a home for his already highly acclaimed wine.

The whisperings on the grapevine about the golfer’s plans to set up an own cellar for his wine were confirmed by his partner in the venture, Jean Engelbrecht of Rust en Vrede.

They have acquired the neighbouring Webersburg from the Weber family. Webersburg, an established, quiet gem of a wine farm with some 40 hectares of existing vineyards in a spectacular setting, is known for its 4-star plus Cabernet Sauvignon, made under supervision of Giorgio Dalla Cia. It is not even a kilometre from Rust en Vrede where Louis Strydom has made the Ernie Els wines.

The two vintages of Ernie Els, a wine in the Bordeaux style blended from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, have had spectacular international success. At R500 a bottle, its is in a South African league of its own.

Both the 2000 and 2001 have achieved ratings of 93/100 in the influential American Wine Spectator, and jumped from a debuting 4-star to a full 5 in the latest John Platter Wine Guide. The 2001 got 4½-stars in WINE magazine's April ratings.

Wine Spectator described the Ernie Els 2001 as a 'Terrific modern-style wine. Confidently rendered, with blackberry, black currant and boysenberry fruit that oozes along the palate, while cocoa powder, Lapsang souchong tea, black fig and Kona coffee notes ripple through the finish.’

With the acquisition of the Webersburg vineyards (Engelbrecht says they will change the name) in the famed Helderberg Golden Triangle, the basic fruit – subject to the highest selection for the high-end Els wine – will come from the same terroir as before. Working within a known environment will allow them to continue in the established style and character, says Engelbrecht. Targeted for the premium, high-profile market, especially the US, they have been very precise in the details and meticulous in the manner of creating a very classy wine – which has been endorsed by the accolades. Obviously the Ernie Els brand is in the superior range.

A carefully strategised marketing effort has placed the wine exactly where they want it, but it is also essential to maintain that to grow the brand. Engelbrecht said that it has always been their plan to have a base for the Ernie Els wines. With his own cellar, Ernie Els is now well established in the company of other golfing greats with their own wine labels. Whether he’s wearing the green blazer or not, he is in the master company of chaps such as Greg Norman and David Frost.