Southern Hospitality: Women Winemakers in South Africa

Italian Grapevine likes to head to warmer climes when the frost falls in Italy… So here we are to report on two fabulous encounters with South African women winemakers whom we were lucky enough to visit. Don’t you love how women and wine and travel all go together?

I met Marinda Kruger-Claasen (left) of Elgin Vintners at ProWein in Düsseldorf. I met Riana Hall (right) of Rudera Wines at her estate in Stellenbosch a few years ago now, on a tip from a New York wine friend. Of course, these two women are friends, and products of the excellent Department of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University.

When I first went to the Stellenbosch and Franschhoek wine regions east of Cape Town, it was the big smile and warm hospitality of Riana Hall that welcomed me. What a spread: Riana and her daughter did a food-wine pairing that showcased the best of both.

Elegant and tasty, her Stellenbosch wines ranged from a scrumptious Chenin Blanc to a full and fleshy Cabernet Sauvignon. The amber-colored caramel Late Harvest was the perfect accompaniment to chocolate-dipped strawberries.

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What I love is how the scenery is so unique, those spikey mountains and the lush vegetation embracing the vineyards. You can never mistake a South African vineyard for somewhere else. Take a look at Sir Richard Branson’s spectacular Mont Rochelle estate below.

 

 

 

 

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Mont Rochelle, Branson’s estate nestled in the vines

It’s hard work getting around to so many interesting locations and sipping their wares…

Tough work, but someone’s got to do it, right?

I was delighted on my most recent trip to South Africa to visit the Elgin Vintners.

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The gorgeous Elgin Vintners Manor House

Well appointed common areas, including a tasting room, made us feel right at home in this luxurious yet welcoming winery.

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Even the bathroom was stunning…

We settled in and got down to the serious business of tasting, guided by François.

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When I met Marinda in Düsseldorf, she explained to me what she was doing with Pinot Noir there in the Elgin valley, and I just had to see for myself.

We started out with two whites; the first was a 2017 Sauvignon Blanc that saw only steel. Very floral on the nose, great fruit and acidity, with a lemony green pepper flavor. On the other hand, the 2019 Ridgelands Sauvignon Blanc did a 3-month barrel fermentation. With only 660 bottles produced, this is a promising new label for the Elgin Vintners.

Our red experiment were both from the Ridgelands line, a 2018 Pinot Noir passed through French oak, and a 2016 Syrah. You can see in the photo (above right) the marked difference in color: the deep ruby of the Syrah held all of the cedar and spice and Mon Cheri magic of that grape variety, the pale red crystal of the Pinot makes for easier drinking and pairing.

Before and after: studying, then pure enjoyment

There is nothing like being there to tell you about a terroir… Which is why it is always fun to travel to the places you’ve drunk before. When I saw this sign, I knew it was, well, a sign!

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All I can say is, Arriverderci South Africa! A terroir so rich in flavors and beauty that I can only hope to be back soon!

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