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28 Sep 2016
Posted by Wade

Emphasising the positive

Lots of doom and gloom could be avoided by not reading newspapers, listening to news reports – or by heading into the Kalahari and cutting off the world!

How about good news? South African wine is climbing an ever steepening curve of positivity. Commentators far and wide are praising its quality, the dynamism of its producers and its value.

Writing for the influential Wall Street Journal recently, Will Lyons hailed SA for its fine wine – not value or branded wine, fine wine. Lyons singled out Bordeaux-style red blends for attention saying that of all New World producers, SA was best. Australia and the USA had good individual examples while both Chile and Argentina were able to deliver volumes of decent quality at a good price but hadn’t really mastered the fine wine segment.

Neal Martin, the influential reviewer for, is on record as saying this country is the most dynamic and exciting wine region in the world today. And in the last month Tim Atkin produced his annual South Africa Report, even going so far as to classify wine producers modelled on the famous Bordeaux classification of 1855. It got tongues wagging since 13 of his top 15 producers only started up after 1994!

(Stalwarts Kanonkop and Klein Constantia were included in that top bracket, alongside Alheit, Boekenhoutskloof, Cape Point, Delaire Graff, David & Nadia, Keermont, Mullineux & Leeu, Newton Johnson, Paul Cluver, Porseleingberg, Rall and Reyneke.)

There is a palpable energy and excitement in the local wine fraternity. A new generation of winemakers are emerging – and they’re not hairy hipsters from the Swartland but a second generation whose fathers are passing on the baton and wisdom.

Neil Ellis is an eminence grise of the local industry and his son Warren is showing the same measured calmness and attention to quality. Similarly, Peter de Wet of De Wetshof is impressing with his deft touch in the cellar. The transition was managed some time ago when Chardonnay pioneer Danie encouraged his son to study winemaking at Geisenheim in Germany.

Thomas Webb, son of the more famous Gyles who established Thelema Mountain Vineyards in 1983, opted to go the marketing rather than production route – but he’s already making smart decisions about the label’s future.

Etienne le Riche is probably one of the quietest and most unsung rocks of SA wine, responsible for some great Rustenberg wines before establishing his own Cabernet-focussed range which hasn’t wavered from its perch at the top since inception in 1997. Son Christo is now handling the winemaking although Etienne is guiding him … gently, and passing on his experience of working with old SA staples like Cinsaut. As they say in the classics, “watch this space” about a new release from Le Riche in the future.

Jacques Borman was one of the early fans of Shiraz while still in harness at La Motte. His son, Reenen, must have almost been weaned on it so adept is he at making it! Boschkloof is not a well known label but is one to watch and seek out, with its Epilogue Syrah 2014 having been rated 98/100 by Atkin who called it: “a stunning achievement”, making it his SA red wine of the year and likened it to top Hermitage.

South African wine is in safe hands and exciting times lie ahead for consumers.


Article written by 

Fiona McDonald who is the former Editor of Wine Magazine and serves as a taster on numerous international competitions,including the International Wine Challenge and the International Wine & Spirit Competition