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Brit in the Vineyard

© Cape Times Friday 13th July 2012

As a born-and-bred Brit, I often get asked “So what brought you to South Africa in the first place?” And I generally reply “The weather, you speak English and you make wine” which pretty much covers most bases as far as I’m concerned. Of course, having now lived here for more than a decade, I realise how right I was to choose this country and it’s great to see that I am not alone and that plenty of my fellow-countrymen have put their money where their mouth is and joined me here in the Cape wine industry. A winewriting colleague, Joanne Gibson, recently wrote an excellent article about the number of French winemakers settling here in SA, and now it is my turn to highlight three Brits who’ve turned Boer for their love of wine.

Tim Pearson’s original plans for investing in South Africa were to buy a small cleaning company in Nelspruit. It’s quite a jump from that to a virgin plot of land in the Overberg where he planted brand new vineyards with Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz and named his farm Seven Springs. But he was impressed with the region, as well as with the young, enthusiastic and highly-motivated winemakers he came across here “South Africa has the potential to produce, and is already producing, some of the very best wines in the world. It is the diversity of the soil types and temperature variations, as well as talented young ambitious winemakers, which is driving the quality of South African wines to the top of the world.” Teaming up with winemaker Riana van der Merwe, I think their best wine to date is their elegant, creamy-yet-zesty lightly-wooded Chardonnay 2010 (R114 from the farm).

Dennis Kerrison originally considered buying a farm in the south of France, but “The final clincher for South Africa was that the French don’t play cricket!”He was looking for a small patch of land, just to make wine for family and friends in his retirement, but Doolhof Wine Estate ended up being a far larger project than he anticipated and now includes a luxury guest house, its own winery and a large range of award-winning wines. Dennis sees his role as one of investment in the country as a whole and spends a lot of time and effort developing the farm and his team of people both professionally, socially and environmentally – something he says wasn’t always easy in the early days when he was commuting in from Johannesburg at weekends but he “had faith in the land of Chenin and cherry Pinotage and increasingly the jewels were discovered.” Passionate about Wellington as a whole, he has interesting plans for celebrating Doolhof’s 300th birthday later this year, something which will doubtless be accompanied with more than a glass or two of his wine – probably his 2010 Signatures of Doolhof Malbec (R115 from the farm) which offers delicious flavours of violets, black cherries and herbs.

It wasn’t so much a winery that sparked Keith Prothero to invest in South Africa, as a winemaker. “I tasted Chris Mullineux’s first vintage in barrel at the cellar door, when he was at Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards in 2004. I was so impressed, that I decided there and then to keep an eye on his wines, with a view to making him an offer to join me in our own winery venture. It took some persuading but three years later we established Mullineux Family Wines.” And everything has taken off from there! After a mere four years, Chris and wife Andrea celebrated incredible success in the Platter Guide with not one, but two five Star wines and Keith is proud that he has been a part of this, despite some initial scepticism from his nearest and dearest “People (especially my wife) thought I was nuts to start with, but once they tasted the wine, they realised it was a sound business decision.” The 2010 Mullineux Family Syrah (R225 from the cellar) is lavish and luscious with aromas and flavours of black pepper, violets and plums.

Q&A with Cyril Meidinger, Robinson & Sinclair Wine...

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