Hospitable hosts: Neil and Warren Ellis.
It was a well-timed event. Just ahead of the cold front and driving rain guests gathered at the spacious tasting centre and cellar of Neil Ellis Wines, off the Helshoogte Pass, to taste new vintages ahead of a lunch prepared by gastronomic fundi Etienne Bonthuys,.
It was my first introduction to son, winemaker and viticulturist Warren Ellis and his mother Stefanie. Neil talks from the heart about wine, the industry and his family, presenting his philosophy and opinions with passion and disarming frankness. He feels strongly that South Africa should return to a focus on the wine and to be open to the vulnerability that comes with natural winemaking and concentrate less on the business end of marketing and distribution. This is something he is able to do, perhaps partly thanks to both Warren and his brother Charl who deals with the financial side. (Which, according to Platter, is fairly substantial, encompassing local and international sales of 100 000 cases annually of their own label, plus a brand for Woolworths).
Over the last 30 years Neil Ellis has established a reputation for exceptional quality, with wines that are elegant, sometimes restrained, others exciting, as he spends time unearthing less common vines of high quality in various Cape regions.
We started with a just-released Groenekloof sauvignon blanc 2015, an intense blend of flint and herbaceous flavours, and followed with the 2014 Amica, a sauvignon from Jonkershoek valley, which I preferred. Plenty of backbone, some verdancy, allied to a fine balance of fruit and minerality. Eight months in barrel has added depth and character to this inviting example that sells for R165. Elgin is the source of the 2014 Reserve chardonnay, which is a perfect white for winter, both solo and accompanying good fare: it’s both elegant and intense, and quite delicious.
The lineup of reds began with a moreish cinsaut 2014, sourced from long-established Groenekloof vines near Darling, on the west coast. Always good to sample a cinsaut that has been given TLC, and this is a great example, the wine having spent 18 months in oak, both new but mostly well-used barrels. The cellar door price of R275 reflects its class.
The 2012 Cabernet is a fine example of Stellenbosch at its best, a patrician classic that offers freshness, elegance and impressive structure, along with a savoury finish. It is already enticing, but will reward those who have the patience to squirrel it away for a few years. A hugely enjoyable function, well organised, with an ambience both relaxed and friendly.
The final wine was a limited edition of 780 bottles, most of which will be sold from the cellar. The Webb Ellis 2010 is a blend of 65% cab from Jonkershoek and 35% syrah from Groenekloof in Darling. It is a special expression of integrity, a single vineyard wine that will only be produced in perfect vintages and the components could vary. Stefanie's maiden name is Webb, so this is not only a wine made with heart, but is the result, Warren says, of a passionate and tenacious wine journey and one that embraces past, present and future of this talented and likeable family.