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By all accounts I missed out on one of the most memorable wine outings of 2016, as colleagues raved about their time at the Stark-Conde winery on the Oude  Nektar farm, tucked into the Jonkershoek valley.  I'll be catching up very soon, but meanwhile, am so enjoying their new vintages and want to share highlights of their oriental-occidental  story that combines Cape history with a prodigal son, international  curators and  wine that is attracting global awards.


Let's start with the extended family:

Hans Schroder grew up in Stellenbosch, but was drawn to Japan after visiting as a merchant mariner. He not only b2ap3_thumbnail_STARK-CONDE-1-FAMILYHans-back-and-Midori-Schrder-front-with-their-3-daughters-LtoR-Miki-Nava-Lisa-Valesco-and-Marie-Cond-Hi-Res.JPGbecame fluent in the language, but enrolled at their ICU university to study international business. While there he met Midori Maruyama whom he married in 1966. After another 25 years, with three grown daughters, the couple returned to South Africa  where he bought the lovely Oude Nektar farm in the Jonkershoek valley, formerly part of  of the late Una van der Spuy's property, famous for a renowned garden and beautiful roses. Schroder focussed on replanting vineyards and, at the close of the last century, his son-in-law Jose Conde, a Cuban -American artist, started to experiment with making cabernet in an old shed on the property.


b2ap3_thumbnail_STARK-CONDE-2Jos-Cond-punching-down-in-the-cellar.JPGThe result was so well received by the Platter tasters, that he soon became a fulltime winemaker, and Stark-Conde wines were created.

Japan is still involved, to the extent that during October the Japanese ambassador to South Africa presented Hans Schroder with their Foreign Minister's commendation to acknowledge his contribution to the promotion of friendship between the two countries.

Meanwhile oriental influence is easily seen in the tasting room, sheltered by willows, on a little island in the lake b2ap3_thumbnail_Stark-CondE5-tasting-room.JPGwhere visitors  sip fine wines in the tranquil garden setting and soaring backdrop of the Stellenbosch mountains.

Daughter Marie, married to winemaker Jose, runs the Postcard Cafe, also at the lake edge, where visitors can enjoy simple fresh fare.

More on the wine: The Stark-Conde Field Blend is a barrel-fermented single vineyard wine, comprising nearly half roussanne, a fair quantity of chenin blanc and finished with equal portions of viognier and verdelho. It is, in a word, outstanding example, made by pressing and fermenting all the grapes together, and matured in mostly older oak for eight months. Elegant, rich yet restrained, it's not surprising to hear that it  walked off with the trophy for Best White Blend at this years Six Nations Wine Challenge in Australia. Worth every cent of its R165 pricetag.

The cabs are not to be outdone either - and the current vintage, Three Pines cabernet sauvignon 2014, scored 95 points from Tim Atkin in his recent SA Wine Report, topping a long list of awards dating back to the maiden 1998 vintage which scooped 5 stars in Platter ( with four repeats in subsequent years). 

Expect to pay about R295.

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Chenin fans have been watching Breedekloof chenins rise and shine for some time, offering both fresh, unwooded and a few serious wooded chenin blancs from several cellars – and at very competitive prices.

Right now its Badsberg that is making headline news with their impressive wins at the 2016 SA Young Wine Show, taking home both the General Smuts and Pietman Hugo trophies. While it was pinotage that wowed the judges, both the Badsberg  chenins are wines to try if you haven’t tasted them as yet.

The 2015 spent five months in new American oak, which has added considerable flavour layers to those of tropical fruit. Thanks to a good balancing act, the wood does not dominate, but provides structure that lifts the wine to a more meaningful level. Alcohol levels are kept to a moderate 13,5%. Last year this wine attracted gold at the Young Wine Show and silver from Michelangelo. Pay R110 at cellar door. It should pair well with complex chicken and duck dishes including north African mullti-flavoured tagines.

The 2016 chenin is an unwooded bargain of note: typical flavours of tropical fruit plus that characteristic guava , its fresh and delicious, companionable, and with alcohol levels of only 12,5%, another plus. Meant to be chilled and drunk young, and as its selling for just R38 from the cellar outside Rawsonville its likely to star on hundreds of picnic tables and at al fresco festive meals this summer.

The cellar offers a wide range of red, white and sparkling wines and award-winning fortified range, and tasting is offered every weekday and on Saturday mornings. Along with Opstal and Slanghoek the bountiful Breedekloof is a required destination for chenin fans – especially for those with limited budgets.

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The Platter launch has come and gone and press releases are flooding inboxes as PR’s and marketing staff spread the news of five-star ratings for their clients’ wines. And what an interesting selection there is to contemplate.

I am going to mention just three, all of which I have sampled and greatly admired, giving these recommendations some personal meaning.





I always welcome the arrival of wines in the Pierneef range, as you just know that they are going to offer quality enjoyment, consistently fine balance and are available at prices that offer shiraz fans excellent value. And so it was when the 2014 syrah viognier was opened – a beautiful wine to pour and savour. It had already been rated a top 100 wine and highly in the consistency awards, recognising a repeat performance over six years.

And so it really was no surprise at all to see that it also achieved a five-star rating in the 2017 Platter guide, which just confirms that CEO Hein Koegelenberg and cellarmaster Edmund Terblanche produce Rhone-style blends of world class. The 2014 vintage is a syrah which offers an aromatic bouquet, followed by some spice and tight tannins. These characteristics combine with elegance and a velvety smoothness that are particularly inviting: The careful balance of each element adds up to a finesse that will attract many more awards.



From the Elgin vineyards of James and Stuart Downes,  superlative merlots have impressed from the time I tried their maiden Mount Bullet at a show at the CTICC a few years back. The Shannon 2013 Mount Bullet merlot has been rated five Platter stars, along with their semillon 2015, making it one of the few merlots to be honoured as it’s a cultivar that is often treated with disdain by judges and gurus. I have enjoyed every sip of Shannon merlots, wines which set a standard for this cultivar that is seldom duplicated. Downes describes this as a five-way clonal blend.




Having long regarded Breedekloof chenins  as prime examples of budget-priced wines that over-deliver on quality, it is great to see that Opstal’s fine limited edition wooded chenins  receive the recognition they deserve. Their Carl Everson chenin blanc 2015 is a five-star Platter choice in the 2017 guide, (along with their Barber semillon which I have not tasted). Fruity,complex and luscious with plenty of backbone from maturation in old oak, the grapes are sourced from a 35-year-old home vineyard.


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You’ve got to hand it to Overhex. This innovative player on the African wine scene is not shy to make its labels stand out on the shelves. Before it was elephants balancing on a stool, this time it’s a stolid Nguni cow, whose adventurous spirit led not only to her survival as a free-range animal, but one whose portrait gazes out at consumers as she chews the cud in flat and grassy Swartland pastures – the iconic windmill not far behind her.

She jumped off a truck travelling a country road and landed on a Swartland farm named Constantia, where she – plus her offspring – live to roam free today. This farm is the source of the grapes that produce the four-strong Survivor range, and the current vintages are only the second to be released onto an enthusiastic local market.




There are two 2015 reds - a cab and a pinotage, both hearty wines with plenty of upfront fruit and smooth oak. The cabernet vines are middle-aged, and yielded berries of optimal ripeness. The wine spent 18 months in a mixture of new and second fill French and a little Hungarian oak. The pinotage, from young vines on the same farm, have also yielded a fruity wine, that offers characteristic plum and berry flavours . Both wines have 14,5% alcohol levels and sell for R130. Both sport gold from the 2016 Michelangelo Awards .

The white pair,  are, to my mind, of greater interest, the chenin being a barrel-fermented wine that combines some backbone with plenty of stone fruit flavours and a pleasing zestiness. The sauvignon blanc is partially barrel-fermented in large French untoasted oak, and presents plenty of fruit, tempered by some friskiness and there's a hint of minerality as well. Their alcohol levels are limited to a moderate 13%, another plus. Both these 2016 wines cost R95. Just one query - Why not screwcapped?


Survivor is just one of several ranges that Overhex has introduced since its creation in 2005. They also offer consumers a popular bistro along the R60, some 10km outside Worcester.




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Many of us know that Bot River is no longer just a quaint part of the Overberg region, alongside Elgin and Walker Bay. It has blossomed into a flourishing district that is producing exciting and impressive wines, attracting young winemakers both innovative and talented.


b2ap3_thumbnail_gabrielskloof4_20161001-113152_1.jpgPeter-Allan Finlayson has already stamped his name on his highly-rated range of Crystallum wines: Now that he has moved to Gabrielskloof in Bot River – where he is both cellarmaster and married to Nicolene, the co-owner’s daughter – he is making his mark on their wines, while continuing to produce his own .

The farm has just released the first duo of its new Landscape Series, a maiden chenin blanc called Elodie 2015 and a fresh take on an existing  semillon/ sauvignon blanc blend,  Magdalena 2015. The name of the range reflects the rolling hills of the farm’s setting as depicted in a series of landscapes by artist Neil Jonker, who is producing a painting for each label in the range. They form a tranquil if subdued black and white background to the front labels of the two new releases.

Looking at the maiden chenin first, the grapes were sourced from Paardeberg dryland bush vines more than 35 years old, offering very low yields. As we know, these are exactly the vines that are enabling Cape winemakers to produce extraordinarily fine chenin : Finlayson whole-bunch pressed the berries, transferred the juice from tank to old French oak where it was left to ferment wild.

The result is gratifying, golden, bright chenin, with a citrus and floral nose, preceding a host of fruit and nutty flavours and that touch of lanolin that reminds one of semillon. The character is complex and layered, complemented by a brisk and welcome freshness. Alcohol levels are held at 13,6%’ and, for those disciplined enough to tuck away a case or two, they will be rewarded in years to come.

Although this is a patrician chenin, it is not (unlike some of its equally impressive colleagues) too intense or concentrated to drink and enjoy and to pour a second glass. And, while not inexpensive, Gabrielskloof has resisted the temptation to join others that are priced off the market for many South African wine lovers.

The Magdalena, a Bordeaux-style blend of equal quantities of semillon b2ap3_thumbnail_gabriellskloof5_20161001-113118_1.jpgand sauvignon blanc has been produced since 2009. The 2015 vintage was produced from Franschhoek semillon, around 34 years in age and 13-year-old sauvignon from the farm. The wine, made in oxidative style, was matured in French oak and presents a classic meld, that is quite intense but well-balanced. The nose hints of citrus and berry, while on the palate a verdant friskiness dominates. Coming back to the wine after an hour or two, I did ot detect much in the way or cream or waxiness which are mentioned in the tasting notes.  

My only criticism regarding this poised and impressive debut - why the cork closure, which renders them a little stuffy?

Like its companion, alcohol levels are kept at 13,6% and both wines sell for R234 and are stocked by wine stores and some restaurants as well as the farm.

I look forward to making acquaintance with the next three Landscape wines, due for release next year.



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