Is there a better place for the wine tourist than South Africa? As a recent returnee from a quick buying trip I’d say no. Stunning scenery, restaurants galore, a low cost of living and a wine industry hitting peak form makes for a winning combination. So impressive are the winelands it’s easy to forget how things used to be.
We’re all aware of South Africa’s apartheid past but perhaps not of the lingering problems it left for the country’s developing wine industry. Nelson Mandela’s release may have signalled a new beginning but that was in 1990 and in the 1980’s everything had changed. Ambition and ingenuity, exemplified by the pioneering flying winemakers, led to huge advances in wine technology and winery knowledge across the globe – except in isolated South Africa.
There, many of the country’s vines were virus-infected and the growers were in denial, defiantly coining the term ‘Cape Red’ for their greenly acidic and bitterly tannic wines. A new approach was needed and post-apartheid it came. Suddenly, South African winemakers were welcomed by other wine producers around the world and many took advantage, returning to their homeland enriched by their experiences abroad and determined to modernise. Not that it was that simple, the reactionary old guard were uninterested in change or ceding their authority and a war, between the two factions, rumbled on throughout the 1990’s. Thankfully, youth won out and young South African winemakers are now winning plaudits across the world.
One such winemaker is Gottfried Mocke of Chamonix Wine Farm in Franschhhoek who has won the prestigious Chardonnay du Monde competition on numerous occasions and did so with his first ever vintage in 2002. I first met Gottfried on a trip with my family a few years ago and, as we tasted his wines, he told me of his formative winemaking experiences in Germany with the Johanninger family.
“They’re a new generation of producers who are making Burgundian style wines. It was through them that I was able to taste great Burgundies while studying – at harvest time we drank a great bottle of wine every night. It was a privilege. It is essential to understand and appreciate them and use that knowledge to improve our own wines. Like a composer you should study the works of the masters, but that does not mean that you copy them.”
Gottfried’s wines are, to my mind, elegantly forceful and perfectly demonstrate South Africa’s ever-growing ability to fashion classy wines that are, stylistically, somewhere between the Old and the New World. And I wasn’t the only one he impressed. My sons, nine and seven at the time, came away thinking that maybe the wine world was quite cool after all. That’s because Gottfried took them – very speedily – for a tour of the farm’s vineyards on his quad bike and regaled them with tales of badly behaved baboons. Apparently, the greedy monkeys have a penchant for Pinot!
Less hirsute primates can also eat well as there’s a great restaurant at the farm. So pay a visit if you find yourself in the Cape or failing that, try a bottle of Gottfried’s latest wine, the utterly delicious Chamonix Unoaked Chardonnay 2013. It’s a wine that will appeal to Chablis fans looking for a change and has intense aromas of ripe apples and pears with hints of herbs and tropical fruit. The palate is steely dry with grapefruit and spice to the fore and is best paired with shellfish, creamy chicken dishes or mild curries.