The Rupert family is synonymous with conservation. Among many other things. But it’s not only South Africa’s rich cultural history that they’ve been conserving for decades, they are also helping to conserve the country’s rich and often colourful winemaking heritage through the Old Vine Project (OVP).
The OVP is the brainchild of Johann Rupert and aimed at preserving South Africa’s wine heritage. It’s an initiative whereby vines older than 35 years are nurtured and revived to make what many believe could be the best way yet to make wine in South Africa.
It is thanks to this effort that the initiative has seen Anthonij Rupert Wyne’s Cape of Good Hope wines produced from bushvine semillon planted in the Citrusdal mountain in 1950 on the farm now owned by Henk Laing, bushvine pinotage planted on top of the Paardeberg Mountain in 1956 on the farm now owned by Stefan Basson, bushvine chenin blanc planted in the Citrusdal mountain in 1964 on farms now owned by Bassie van Lill of Arbeidsend and Jozua Visser of Oudam, and hanepoot planted in Breedekloof in 1882 on a farm owned today by Neels Boonzaaier.
The tale of how each vine was located is fascinating in itself considering the very limited written historical record. Johan Nel tells, for example, of one small vine block flourishing in a remote wasteland thanks to roots that burrowed over decades deep into the earth, bush vines the size of trees and tell-tale vine arrangements planted in the higgledy-piggledy fashion of early farmers.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. An invitation to visit Anthonij Rupert Wyne (ARW) in the picturesque Franschhoek Valley is one you simpy do not turn down. Their wonderful wines and delicious food, not to mention the picturesque environment and the wonderful blend of old and new one experiences on the estate, makes a visit highly memorable.
One enters the estate to the sight of the stunning and modern cellar complex to the left that also houses the estate’s bottling plant; a luxurious, multi-level tasting room; antipasto bar and gourmet emporium. Drive further up the tree-lined road and you’ll come upon the original Manor House, restored to its former glory, which now houses the ARW Tasting Room. It features beautiful wooden beam ceilings, yellow wood floors and spacious areas for entertaining, furnished throughout in the style of the mid-nineteenth century in the Cape. The rooms all feature carefully sourced items which include marble fireplaces, several antique furniture pieces, as well as a beautiful collection of art depicting landscapes of the Cape during that period.
The front rooms lead out onto a large patio area with breathtaking views of a large well-manicured lawn, among other visual delights. Sitting here under an umbrella sipping and savouring the estate’s wines is like relaxing at a halfway house to heaven!
But again, I digress! During our most recent visit, towards the end of last year, we were given the “royal treatment” with a personal trip through the many vineyards, right up to those on the foothills of the Groot Drakenstein Mountain that overlooks ARW and its sister estate, L’Ormarins. And it’s up here, with the proverbial bird’s eye view, that one can truly witness, enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the estate AND the valley.
Incidentally, the 452 hectares of land (including 72 hectares of vineyards) adjoining L’Ormarins, formerly known as Graham Beck Wines, was acquired in February 2011 and renamed Anthonij Rupert Wyne in honour of the youngest son of the late Dr Anton Rupert, well-known industrialist, businessman, philanthropist and conservationist, who tragically died in a car accident in 2001 in the age of 49.
After admiring the magnificent views, we drove down to an old chenin blanc bush vine vineyard, carefully and meticulously transplanted from elsewhere, where we enjoyed a chenin, made from the fruit of those old “gentlemen”, with white wine maker, Mark van Buuren.
I love listening to passionate and committed wine makers explain the complexities, intricacies and challenges of their craft. For example, finding the right soil before a single vine is planted, the location of the site, the variety and clone/s to be used, the type of trellising (or not), the nurturing of the young vines till “adulthood”. Then the choice of cooperage (if wood comes into play), the type of wood (French, American, Hungarian), the size of the barrels, the grain and toasting of the wood, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
When one realises what really goes into making good wine, right from the very start until it ends up in one’s glass, you suddenly see the winemaker as an artist and the wine cellar as his studio, or maybe he’s an alchemist and the cellar his laboratory! Take your pick.
Then it was off to the Manor House for a tasting of the estate’s Cape of Good Hope range, the main goal of our visit.
The American author Kermit Lynch once said: “Great wine is about nuance, surprise, subtlety, expression; qualities that keep you coming back for another taste.” I was about to experience that for myself!
In a nutshell, Cape of Good Hope is an exciting range made from grapes from some of the oldest South African vines. The range comprises terroir-specific wines created in recognition of the country’s 350-year-old vinous heritage. Their first vintage was launched in 2011, the result of the OVP.
I had the privilege (and honour) to taste 10 of the Cape of Good Hope’s range of 12 superb wines with Mark and ARW’s Hospitality Manager, Gidi Caetano. Here are my impressions (with more than a little help from Mark!):
Altima Sauvignon Blanc 2019: After the nose is overwhelmed by aromas of asparagus, green pepper, passion fruit and gooseberry, the rich and full palate enjoys these flavours which are beautifully balanced by a tangy acidity. This is a lip-smacking wine with a long finish.
Laing Groendruif 2019: A wine that promises much … and does not disappoint. On the contrary! This beautiful semillon entices the nose with nettle, lemon zest and flinty aromas with hints of flowers, while the palate is rewarded with flavours of grapefruit zest and lees and a slight flintiness. It is crisp and refreshing with a lingering finish.
Serruria Chardonnay 2018: Hints of orange blossom, lime zest, vanilla and biscuits, combined with a bright acidity, notes of citrus zest and beautifully integrated oak result in a refined, balanced and poised wine.
Riebeeksrivier Chenin Blanc 2018: A powerful and yet refined and structured wine. Both nose and palate experience oatmeal, macadamia nuts and creamy stone fruit in this fresh and lively wine with its wonderful oak support. The long finish ends with a delightful citrus twist.
Van Lill & Visser Chenin Blanc 2019: Wisps of spice add a tempting note to the ripe pear, quince and nectarine flavours experienced in both the nose and on the palate, supported by an understated oak creaminess. This wine oozes poise, balance and elegance.
Riebeeksrivier Caroline 2018: This wonderful blend of chenin blanc, viognier, roussanne and marsanne has a rich and layered palate with yellow stone fruit, dried peaches, macadamia nuts and whiffs of vanilla rewarding both the nose and palate. It’s a well-balanced wine with gentle acidity and a pithy, dry texture.
And then Mark had to put me on the spot by asking me for my favourite! I ask you, how does a parent pick their favourite from 6 beautiful kids? Reluctantly, very reluctantly, I decided on the Laing Groendruif.
And then it was on to the reds:
Sneeuwkrans Pinot Noir 2017: Bright and fresh berries with subtle spice and oak were my very first impressions when I tasted this superb wine. Succulent, elegant and poised were my second impressions. Then I thought, the oak frames the fruit so beautifully. Okay, I’m a big pinot noir fan!
Riebeeksrivier Syrah 2015: This is a bold wine, yet surprisingly elegant and refined. Supple oak tannins provide a lovely framework for the plum fruit flavour and complements the light, peppery spiciness. With a savoury, appealing palate and a velvety texture, the wine is layered and complex and has a lingering, defined finish.
Riebeeksrivier Southern Slopes 2015: This shiraz driven blend, with other varieties including mourvèdre and petite syrah, offers up black cherries with cedar and a hint of tobacco and light pepper spices. There are also ripe blackberries and plums. Voluptuous is one way to describe it.
Parel Vallei Farmstead Merlot 2014: Often described as the “unsung hero of Bordeaux”, merlot is still one of the most popular red varietals in South Africa, and for good reason. This one proves why! It is characterised by attractive cherry fruitcake and black berry aromas tinged with just a hint of choc mint. On the tongue expect cherry, blueberry and black hedgerow fruit supported by a deep cocoa note. Subtle oak spice underpins and cradles the fruit and adds length.
I was pleased that Mark did not push me for a favourite here, but if push came to shove, the Riebeeksrivier Syrah would probably have edged the others.
With the tasting done, it was time for lunch and we headed to the Terra del Capo Antipasti Bar for another of the estate’s highlights, food! We had the upstairs area all to ourselves as we indulged in mouth-watering dish after mouth-watering dish.
We kicked off with an “Artisanal Bread Selection with Terra Del Capo Olive Oil”. This I enjoyed with a glass of that sublime Groendruif. The second course was “Burata, Grilled Zucchini, Rocket, Pine Nuts and Truffle Vinaigrette” which required a second glass of the Cape of Good Hope Groendruif. I was looking for excuses!
The third course, “Black Angus Beef Braciole with Fresh Asparagus”, was enjoyed with no fewer than two of ARW’s popular Terra del Capo wines and that divine “unsung hero of Bordeaux”.
By the time the “Sweet Sensations” came around, we were ready to start the day all over again!
As we left this wonderful experience behind and headed for home, I couldn’t help but ponder the old question: Why do good things have to come to an end? The answer still eludes me.
But, we’ll be back! Cape of Good Hope ain’t seen the last of me!
Cheers to life’s golden moments!