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Perhaps it’s only when you have taken part in an organic certification audit that you begin to realise the lengths wine farmers and producers need to go to to obtain that international certification.

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to sit in on such an audit, and one that had particular significance for both the farmer – Patricia Werdmuller von Elgg – and one of the auditors! But let me set the scene…

If you wish to label your wines as organic, you need to have your farm and cellar certified by one of the international certification organizations. One of these is SGS, an enormous global group which certifies many manufactured as well as natural products. Because of the limited number of serious organic farmers in South Africa, SGS recently appointed a German company specialising in certifying organic agriculture to conduct the final audit and issue the certificates.

Hout Baai farm is a beautiful boutique wine farm just outside McGregor, in a high valley that looks onto the Sonderend mountains which surround it. From the owner’s terrace sweeping views over vines take the eye toward Die Galg – the saddle at the end of the “road to nowhere” - which is really a high meeting place for hikers and travellers who revel in the protea-rich fynbos which cloaks the terrain.

The picture-perfect farm has been certified as fully organic since 2005. This year Hout Baai was chosen by the certification team as an example of just how an organic farm should look and operate with a place for everything and everything in its place. The audit was particularly important as not only was the resident SGS auditor conducting the checking, but the LACON international auditor was present, overseeing the process, and both were under the eagle eye of DAkkS, the German accreditation body for that country’s Federal Republic.

The inspection date for this three-tier audit was set for mid-July, but the three arrived in Mcregor a day ahead of schedule. They settled into the office where the local representative of the certification body started her work with a long list of questions, which needed not only oral answers but proof by way of reams of paperwork. Pat Werdmuller possesses more files than I have ever seen on a farm, where delivery notes, invoices, statements, receipts and printouts provide years of proof of transactions with approved service and material providers. These were hauled out on demand, as they worked their way through how water is tested, how pipes are cleaned, what fertilizers are used. Records of purchase of guano, seaweed and donkey manure were checked then questions turned to frequency of their application and in what concentrate?

Moving to harvest time, when grape picking machines were hired, questions were asked about the possibility of their bringing in unwanted residue of non-organic matter. They are delivered the day before, replied farm manager Del Jones, “so our guys can scrub and wash them down, ready for harvesting which started at 3.30am."

If there is any doubt about dates, the diary is consulted – this set of annual volumes, dating back to when the farm started operations – is filled with daily entries of chores completed, indoors and out, accompanied by photographs as way of proof.

The second half of the audit took the form of a tour of the farm, as the visitors were shown firebreaks, and buffer trees along boundaries (to limit the chance of non-organic sprays drifting over from neighbouring farms). The approved korog, a wheat-like grass planted between the vine rows to provide a nutrient-rich mulch was starting to show green and pruning of the sauvignon blanc vines was under way , each row numbered (and named after an animal or bird that frequents the farm). Del showed the inspectors the sizeable hole dug by a friendly anteater which had these Germans looking a little bewildered. She also pointed out the camera traps which record the visits of caracals, jackals, hares and antelope, as this farm is as much of a nature reserve as it is a wine grape farm.

The compost plant and the worm farm were duly inspected, and then the stores and workshop revealed just how diligently tools are looked after and kept in their place. The farm labourers’ wendy house – cosily furnished with places for both wet and dry weather uniforms and footwear and sporting refreshment facilities – was duly admired and also noted were the required warning signs and notices detailing safety and health information both inside and outside buildings and machinery.

It came as no surprise to any of us that Hout baai farm passed inspection with flying colours and was thanked by SGS for their faultless presentation and co-operation.

Since that day I have been thinking about the number of organic wine and grape producers listed in the latest edition of the SA wine industry directory, which I received recently. In this useful compendium, published annually by WineLand media, a total of 38 organic growers and cellars are listed. According to one Western Cape producer, who shall be nameless at this stage, only three of these are certified organic. While I have not trawled through those 38 to see if they have included details of international certification in their Platter entries (if, indeed, they are all listed in Platter), it does bring up the vexed question of some producers labelling their wines as “organic” without having been certified.

“We’re all organic these days!” was a cheerful comment from one (non-organic) farmer and winemaker. Many would beg to differ.    

Those who are spending inordinate amounts of time and money to transform their farms and cellars to comply with the exacting demands of global organic auditors do so, of course, of their own free will. But it’s unsurprising they also grit their teeth in frustration at the lack of monitoring and control over those who are benefitting from the green and environmentally-conscious consumer through fraudulent labelling.

Even if farms grow grapes and produce wine organically, only those certified by an internationally accredited body – accompanied by a seal of this organisation – are entitled to label their wines as organic. However, some producers who follow organic principles in every respect choose not to be certified, because of the expensive, labour- intensive, regular, obstructive and lengthy inspections.                                                  

And to further muddy the waters, SA producers are allowed, I am told, to state on bottle labels that their wine was produced from organically grown grapes. And, what about the cellars who produce a range of organic wines alongside non-organic …

At which stage, it seems high time for a glass or two of enjoyable wine, made from organically grown and certified grapes in an organically certified cellar. Make mine a Solara sauvignon blanc. Cheers!

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As I write this a galeforce wind buffets our garden, sending lemons flying off the tree as the last of the vine leaves lose their battle to cling to the stems. The temperature is plummeting, and it’s time to light fires, dream up cosy suppers and good red wine to partner them.



b2ap3_thumbnail_Tamboerskloof-Syrah-2013.jpgWe start our vinous journey at Kleinood, that enchanting boutique farm in the Blaauwklippen valley where a stunning cellar is home to Tamboerskloof wines. Traditional and minimal winemaking methods are used to transform the shiraz berries into complex and sophisticated syrah, enlivened with the addition of a splash of viognier and 4% mourvèdre. The 2013 vintage, recently released, is a fascinating wine, broody and earthy, rather than fruity, yet there’s underlying elegance in its characterful mouthfeel. Alcohol levels of 14,5% are not obvious and this shiraz is hugely appealing. Highly scored by Wine Advocate and awarded four stars by Platter, this is a connoisseur’s shiraz that will develop substantially over the next decade.


Moving to the Simonsberg ward we pause at the historic farm Muratie with its absorbingb2ap3_thumbnail_Muratie-shiraz.jpg centuries of stories highlighted by a fascinating mix of owners, from resolute to colourful, talented to hospitable. Their 2013 shiraz has also just been released, named after larger-than-life personality Ronnie Melck who became custodian in 1987, thus returning the farm to the Melck family after a break of almost a century.

Here the terroir yields a more typical shiraz, with plenty of pepper and other spices, backed by Christmas pudding fruit and dark chocolate. Its smooth and juicy and fulfils all expectations that fans anticipate of this all-popular cultivar. This is another wine that will benefit from further ageing, and, at R140, it won’t break the bank to squirrel away a case or two. In fact it offers very good value.







Off the R44, backed by the Helderberg’s verdant slopes,

Yonder Hill Wines cultivates just 6ha of vineyards that are now reaching theirb2ap3_thumbnail_Nicola-2010-Platter-4-star.jpg peak at 20 years old. Their recently released red blend is named Nicola, after the only daughter of owners Frikkie and Danila Naudé. As this is a shared characteristic, I was keen to sample this limited edition and second vintage of a four-star cab-led blend with 22% cab franc and 18% merlot completing the mix. Grapes were hand-picked, sorted and fermented in an oak open fermenter. Only new oak was used for maturation and the results are fresh and succulent, with fairly dominant cab character and rounded tannins, a wine that will make a fine accompaniment to grilled steak and rich beef casseroles. It sells for R255.

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Gauteng winelovers are in for a treat of a wine show next month.


The Unusuals is a wine show with a difference. Corlien Morris of the popular outlet Wine Menu will present an amazing range of top wines all of which are the lesser-known varietals. Think grenache noir, malbec, mourvedre and roussanne - to name just a few. Or try barbera, nebbiolo, petit verdot, sangiovese and zinfandel... Where else could one get a chance to taste these under one roof? Complementary canapes will be offered as well.

The venue is the Wanderers Club in Illovo, and the  show takes place on Thursday, August 18 from 6pm.

Tickets - which are in limited supply - cost R200 from Webtickets or from the shop at Blu Bird Centre. If still available, buy at the door on the night for R220.

Your host, Corlien Morris, has personally invited producers with labels that are both uncommon and of superb quality to take part. If there are wines that you fancy, you can buy at the show  at less than regular prices. In fact several of these wines are no longer available in the market.




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Ken Forrester's historic farmstead and Delaire's new cheninb2ap3_thumbnail_delaire-chenin.jpg


Having missed a fine showcase of chenins at the Cape Grace last week, I have already diarised August 24 which is when the winners of the 2016 Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge will be announced at Delaire Graff estate. If you are thinking of entering your chenin, note that entries close a week from today, on June 29, and the judging panel meets from July 5 – 7 to identify the stars.

Having looked at the Showcase categories – fresh and fruity, rich and ripe, cap classiques, blends, older vintages and sweet wines – I turned to a trio of chenins at home waiting to be sampled and decided to categorise them as well.

Ken Forrester’s 2015 Dirty Little Secret has already received a fair amount of publicity, partly because of its name, secondly its price (R950) and thirdly in various comparisons with other single vineyard, “naturally made” chenins from old vines. Grapes were sourced from low-yielding 51-year-old bush vines in Piekenierskloof, and the wine was made to age and gain complexity in the bottle. Winemaking involved only wild yeasts , spontaneous fermentation and no sulphur was added until after malolactic fermentation. It matured in 400 litre French oak for five months before being bottled, unfiltered and unfined. The process can be described as a trip back in time to make a thoroughly modern wine. Ken stated that he wanted to ‘showcase the terroir’ along with a wine that can be identified by terroir, vintage and age of the vineyard.

The “dirty” in the wine’s name refers to a technical term about wines that are cloudy and unstable, because of natural or minimal- interference winemaking. Will the name put off fastidious consumers, one wonders?

It is indeed an impressive chenin, one that certainly fits the rich and ripe category, offering a luxury packaging with a pricy charcoal and yellow box to hold the dark bottle with its decorative front label  informing consumers  only of the name. Only 12,5% alcohol levels, its golden, with definable structure, minerality allied to a smooth mouthfeel. There’s plenty of fruit in its rich flavours and I really like it, as it does not overwhelm with the intensity of some barrel-fermented chenins.

It will be interesting to see if local consumers are happy to fork out close to R1 000 for their pleasure, and if export sales are what Ken has in mind here.

Delaire Graff chenin blanc Swartland Reserve 2015 presents quite a sharp contrast. Bottled in a green screwcapped bottle, its simple white label is unadorned offering basic information. This is an elegant chenin, also made from very old bush vines, which were whole bunch pressed, no sulphur added. The wine was matured in French oak for 10 months, in both 400 litre and 2 500 litre barrels.

It charms with restrained layers of citrus and pineapple, with wisps of honey coming through. There is structure and minerality too, but nothing is obvious, nicely balanced, with 14% alcohol levels not being noticeable either. It sells for R160 and will find favour with a wide spectrum of local and international palates. It would fall into the fresh and fruity category: Fresh,  yes, but  the fruit is held in check to obtain perfect balance with mineral structure. A class act.

My final chenin was purchased from Checkers a couple of weeks ago: BC or Brandvlei Cellar is one that I have often meant to stop at while driving on the R43 from Worcester to Villiersdorp and Elgin. Somehow appointments have always interfered, although I know this grower-owned cellar is renowned for value for money whites and reds enjoyed by a wide range of consumers. I paid R27 for their 2016 chenin blanc, and was impressed by the enjoyment offered by this quaffer. Fresh and fruity, certainly, 12,5% alcohol levels adding to its appeal. The typical Breede valley characteristics of guava and subtropical fruit are there, it is not bone dry, and it is a chenin that can accompany fare from picnics to fruit tarts in undemanding style. I would certinaly give it more than 2 and half stars which the 2015 vintage gets in the current edition of Platter. Its a chenin to convert budget-minded consumers who usually buy boring white boxed blends.

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 I am deliberately pairing these two fine cap classiques in one blog as as several winelovers have been confused about their provenance.





Not only bubbly fans but winelovers everywhere were sad to hear that the Krone family – who had been dedicated and caring custodians of the historic Twee Jonge Gezellen estate in Tulbagh since 1712 –had to sell their farm 300 years later. The estate was renowned for its fine cap classiques, and the Krone family as pioneers of night harvesting, cold fermentation and late disgorgement, along with innovative approaches to employer-worker relationships.

Twelfth generation winemaker Matthew Krone swore at first he would never make wine again after leaving the farm, but, happily for consumers and the local industry, was persuaded by friends to return to what he is best at. As a consultant he made fine MCC’s for various Cape cellars then graduated toward his own label. Alexandra de la Marque 2010 was launched, with suitable fanfare, at the Societi Bistro on February 29 this year. It’s a highly acclaimed classic, comprising 80% chardonnay and 20% pinot noir and limited to 6 000 bottles. It is apposite that its name has a patrician ring, being a combination of that of his first child, and of his maternal grandmother. Future vintages will only appear in leap years, evidence that this is a cap classique for those who want bubblies with complexity and structural depth, only obtainable when they are left to develop for up to five years or more. Rich flavours of peach, citrus, crusty newly-baked loaves enveloped in tiny bubbles are followed by a savoury finish. It sells for around R220. See for more info.


Twee Jonge Gezellen farm and estate is now owned by Vinimark, a major wine company, who has invested in renovation and expansion of the sparkling wine cellar and vines. They have also retained the Krone family name as brand name of the cap classique range, a decision both sensible and sensitive. Along with a classic and rosé brut, they have launched The Phoenix, a non-vintage bubbly that blends the 2004, 2005 and 2006 vintages and that has enjoyed nine years maturation. Biscuity aromas lead to wafts of apple, lemon and almond, all melding into a zesty whole with a fine mousse. The imported bottle in its matching black box adds an air of luxury to this impressive MCC which sells for around R280.

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