Which country has the most beautiful wine-producing region/s in the world? Although the jury is still out on that one, South Africa should certainly be considered for that honour. Simply visit Oldenburg in the Banghoek Valley outside Stellenbosch and you’ll believe you have stepped into a piece of heaven.
Incidentally, Banghoek means “scary corner” and it got the name thanks to the leopards that roamed the area many, many moons ago.
Oldenburg lies in a stunningly beautiful amphitheatre created by three mountains above Stellenbosch. It’s a premium boutique winery which focuses on quality over quantity, producing small quantities of red and white wine. Needless to say, it has reaped many awards since the maiden vintage was launched in 2017.
For example, both the 2011 Chenin Blanc and 2009 Cabernet Franc were included in Top 100 South African Wines list, and 4-star Platter ratings have also been bestowed on their 2009 and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as an IWC Gold rating for their 2010 Chenin Blanc.
But how did all this heavenly bliss come about?
“In 2003, I decided that the time had come to bring the Oldenburg vineyards back to life,” says proprietor Adrian Vanderspuy. “I was born on an adjacent property but left a turbulent South Africa around 1967. I would return to the Cape almost every year for Christmas to visit family and have always found the beauty of the valley captivating. To my mind the chance of capturing Oldenburg’s enormous potential by producing high quality wines seemed like an opportunity too good to miss. The decision was made to completely replant all the vineyards on the farm. This created the opportunity for us to leverage our terroir through planting specific varieties in appropriate soils and areas – maximising the potential for grapes of exceptional quality.
“In 2007 we produced our maiden vintages. Despite the vineyards being so young, they truly showed their potential by producing some exciting wines. Our first Syrah was named Joshua after my son as he celebrated his sixth birthday on our first ever harvest day. Our maiden Cabernet Franc was called Les Quatre Enfants as a celebration of my four children.”
Oldenburg has approximately 30 hectares under vine, with Rondekop Hill as centrepiece. The estate produces smaller quantities of hand-crafted wines. Low bunch loading on the vines through stringent crop thinning procedures ensure that only the best grapes make it to the new, state-of-the-art winery. The harvest provides the nexus between the vineyards and the making of the wine. Extensive pre-harvest fruit analysis ensures the correct level of sugar ripeness (correct sugar-acid balance) and phenolic ripeness (correct tannic structure of the seeds and skins) to provide the perfect fruit.
“Once the grapes are picked, they are refrigerated and moved into the cellar, and once there, they are hand-sorted prior to crushing,” explains Nic van Aarde, winemaker. “During vinification we use natural processes with maximum respect shown to the fruit. Gravity plays a big role in order to minimise mechanical grape handling. Correct yeast selection is essential to emphasize the aromas, and in combination with cooperage selection showcase the intrinsic characteristics of the grapes.
“The maturation and the final blending of the wine is an intricate and closely monitored process with the ultimate aim of creating uniquely Oldenburg wines, which are characteristic of their variety and the soils which bore them, true to their terroir and sense of place.”
Incidentally, Nic holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture (Oenology and Viticulture) as well as a Bachelor of Commerce Degree, both from Stellenbosch University.
Oldenburg offers two “entry level” wines, the CL White and CL Red, the first being a blend of chenin blanc and chardonnay and the second a blend of syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. And they are “entry level” in price only!
Then there’s the Oldenburg Vineyard Series, an “exploration” of single varietal wines. “The confluence of the 8 Natural Elements that determine our unique terroir has been explored to offer wines that have a real sense of place,” explains Nic. “The cooler microclimate that plays such an important role in our vineyards influences each wine, offering a softness of mouthfeel and tannins, combined with a fresh acidity to express the richness of our fruit.
“The white wines in the series – chenin blanc, chardonnay, viognier – are all from vineyards bordering the river – an area where the dramatic night-time cooling effect of the surrounding mountain amphitheater is most pronounced. Crisp acidity, freshness of fruit and minerality are characteristics readily presented by the grapes.
“The red wines in the series – cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, syrah, merlot, Grenache noir – are all from the vineyards around Rondekop – our perfectly round hill. These vineyards benefit from sunlit warmth during the day, but cool significantly in the evenings, allowing the perfect combination of phenolic ripeness, sugars, fruit expression and soft tannins – creating wines of distinctive balance.”
At the top of the pyramid is the Rondekop Series, wines that represent a small selection of the best barrels from either a single variety or a blend of varieties from Oldenburg’s iconic Rondekop Hill.
“We believe that there are eight natural elements which uniquely impact our vineyards, creating quintessential wine-producing conditions – with our perfectly round hill, Rondekop, at the center of it all, the eighth natural element. Rondekop forms the centerpiece of our vineyards, rising to an elevation of 410m. The soils on Rondekop are mineral rich: weathered sandstones and granites, with iron, manganese and various other rare trace elements. Varying from rocky to intensely rocky, our soil has high water retention levels due to the clay sub-surface.
“The shape of the hill itself generates a gentle breeze, allowing beneficial air movement through the vines even on warm, windless days. The vines are juxtaposed between warm sunlight and the cooling impact of elevation and cool breezes. This confluence of natural elements is rarely found in a single location. The interplay between them create a rich biodiversity, and this richness in turn creates complexity – a deep and wide flavour spectrum in our wines. The coolness brings a fresh, balanced acidity while the warm sunshine develops phenolic ripeness (the ripeness of the whole bunch, including tannin changes in the skin and seeds, as opposed to only the ripeness in terms of the sugar in the juice).
“Put simply, these are delicious wines with ideal structure and balance, combined with great aging potential and their own distinct personality.”
There are three wines in the Rondekop Series, Rhodium (a blend of merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot), Per Se (a 100% cabernet sauvignon) and Stone Axe (a 100% syrah).
Incidentally, until the 2018 harvest Oldenburg had been using various other cellars, generally in close proximity to the estate, to produce its wines, but as from 2019 its wines are made in its own brand new facility on the farm. The new cellar provides the benefit of smaller fermentation tanks, and also different types of tanks, for example concrete egg-shaped tanks which allow better circulation of the wine as it ferments and ages, allowing the wine to be more homogenous, while the thicker tank walls allow for natural and stable temperatures during fermentation, all of which are believed to create a better mouthfeel to the wine. The additional smaller fermentation tanks allow the processing of smaller batches and the discovery of exceptional parcels.
The new cellar building houses a fermentation cellar, a barrel maturation cellar and a storage area for finished goods, vinoteque stock and global dispatch.
When visiting the estate, relax in the tasting room with its uninterrupted views of the vineyards and stunning surroundings. Sample a Dalewood Fromage cheese platter along with their affordable wines such as Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Syrah.
Finally, the Oldenburg homestead offers exclusive luxury villa accommodation. It is fully staffed with a butler and housekeepers to provide guests with the comforts of a premium hotel and the privacy of their own home. With the majestic, wrap around mountain and vineyard views, guest can relax in a private, secluded environment.
For more information, call the estate on 021 885 1618 or visit www.oldenburgvineyards.com.