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Alex Milner, Natte Valleij

winemakers-alexWalking on to the Natte Valleij farm is like being transported back in time as much of the winery, the cellar and the Cape Dutch family home are how they were from the days they were built way back in 1715.

Tradition and history run through this beautiful homestead situated at the foot of Simonsberg. It is currently enjoying what is actually its second period as a respected winery in the region having first made wine and brandy in the first half of the last century before ceasing production in the 1940s.

When Alex's family first bought the farm in 1969 it was not to turn it back into a winery, but to use its vast spacious land and cellars as the perfect home for what went on to be a stud farm for some of the most respected and revered racehorses in South Africa.

The farm and homestead have remained in the Milner family ever since. But it was not until 2005 that, once again, the cellars, that had remained dormant for close to 50 years, other than been turned in to stables, were once again filled with barrels of wine.

That's down to Alex Milner who took on the main winemaking duties in 2004 after studying oenology and viticulture at the nearby Stellenbosch University.

Alex prides himself on keeping to the same winemaking traditions of the 1940s. This is very much an old school, hands-on affair where the grapes, as it says on its website, are picked "by hand, bottled by hand, corked by hand, labelled by hand, and most defiantly drunk by hand".

Alex's winemaking philosophy is to intervene with the grapes and the process as little as possible. He even uses old winery machinery, like a hand held ratcheting wine press system, to treat the grapes as sensitively as he can. "It is all about having a hand feel for the wine," he explains.

He only uses, for example, very old barrels where there is the minimum possible interaction between the wood and the wine.

Leader in Cinsault

He is becoming famous in the notoriously competitive Cape winelands for his growing and treatment of the classic French grape variety, Cinsault, which although grown in some parts of in South Africa, is rarely used in bottles as a single variety.

His love affair with Cinsault started whilst working vintages in France, most noticeably at Domaine de Triennes in Provence, during his days training to be a winemaker. It was, he says, also a "reaction against" the big Shirazes coming out of Australia at the time. "Cinsault has such drinkability by comparison," he says.

But he concedes he is only just starting to learn about the possibilities that Cinsault from South Africa can offer. "2014 was a big year of discovery for me," he says. "No-one really knows a lot about how it works in South Africa."

What particularly fascinates and excites him is combining different blocks of Cinsault grapes from different regions to see the different styles of wine they produce.

For example, he currently sources his Cinsault from four different plots across four wine regions: Paarl, Darling, Stellenbosch and Swartland.

Darling is a particular favourite for Alex as it has "many old plots" hidden away amongst the big wheat farms in the area. But each plot gives different layers and textures that work differently when combined together.

Alex is now working with highly respected South African winemaker, Chris Alheit of Alheit Vineyards, to source additional Cinsault plots, which together could make for a particularly exciting collaboration.

Part of history

It is a pleasure to walk through the old cellars and the beautiful gardens and imagine how life on the farm has changed over the years.

Even the names of Alex's wines are steeped in history. Like its P.O.W which is named after an Italian prisoner of war who took refuge on the farm during the Second World War.

Alex was able to point to a carving made on the kitchen wall of his house which reads "P.O.W BT 27/12/1943". Hence the inspiration for the wine he thinks best represents what the farm can produce. A classic Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot aged for 24 months in 500 litre French oak barrels.

Jacques de Klerk

Rêverie, Chenin Blanc, Swartland

winemakers-jacquesJacques de Klerk's day job is to make wine for the Winery of Good Hope in Stellenbosch, but since 2012 he has embarked on an exciting personal project looking to create his own distinctive style of Chenin Blanc in the ever-fertile region of Swartland.

The resulting Rêverie 100% Chenin Blanc is starting to turn heads and pick up the attention it deserves with mid 90 scores from leading wine critics.

There is a new excitement around Chenin Blanc in South Africa as a new generation of winemakers are bringing their own personality and a fresh approach to what is the country's iconic and most famous white wine grape variety.

The style, though, has proved both a blessing and a curse for South Africa in recent years. Whilst it is one of the country's flagship varietals much of what we have seen in UK supermarkets is at the lower, or entry level as it is known in the trade, end of the scale and not a true reflection of some of the cutting edge Chenin Blancs now being made.

Personal approach

Jacques is very much part of that new scene with his unique Rêverie 100% Chenin Blanc.

"Wine is about passion and I wanted to find a playground for myself and explore some of the concepts I have had about winemaking," explains Jacques. "I wanted to make a Chenin for myself. A wine that relates to me as a South African."

He is already achieving that at his Swartland site and says he has been able to take some of the learnings and incorporate them in to the winemaking at Winery of Good Hope, particularly around the use of skin contact and working with lees.

But he was also keen to show a different approach to winemaking in Swartland, a region that has become synonymous with much of the exciting wine innovation taking place in South Africa, but which has also brought criticism for some of the more left field wines being made, that have little commercial appeal.

"The guys with the beards and the weird wines get all the headlines. But I wanted to show Swartland can make elegant, refined and unique styles of wine without being weird for the sake of being weird," explains Jacques. "I wanted to make a wine that was refreshing, easy and lovely to drink that you want to have another glass of."

He is also keen to stress that he has "a lot of respect" for the winemakers that have come before him, but believes what he describes as the "renegade spirit" of new generation winemakers are now capable of taking South African wine on to a whole new level.

"The time has come to embrace and try new things. We are not looking to copy anyone anymore. It is important we can put a flag in the ground and say this is our style of wine. For example, the Rêverie is very much my Chenin Blanc."

Jacques speaks for so many winemakers in South Africa when he says the way the way to improve its quality of wines is not to look outside any more for inspiration, but to turn to their own soils, their own terroir, to make the wines that are "true to the identity of South Africa".

As natural as can be

To make his Rêverie Chenin Blanc he is using largely natural winemaking techniques, with no added acid, to create a wine that he says is "stripped back" to really bring out the flavour in the Chenin Blanc.

"It is as natural as I can make it," he claims. "I only use a little sulphur and don't acidify at all. I also pick early. Usually the last week in January. That is important in keeping the alcohol levels down."

He says he likes to use skin contact to bring out the salty bitterness in the wine, which he likens to the "gin and tonic" effect.

Although the wine is barrel fermented for 10 months, Jacques stresses the influence of oak is barely minimal. He uses barrels that are 10 years or more old, that, he says, act more like a "vessel" for holding the wine.

The result is mouth-watering, with only 11.5% alcohol, which makes this such a lovely fresh, mineral wine to drink.

"Stunning" wine

Leading British wine writer Jamie Goode described it as "stunning" when he discovered it at the September 2015, Cape Wine event in Cape Town, giving it a score of 94 out of 100.

He added: "Very fine and expressive with lovely textured pear and ripe apple fruit. So delicate and fine with a bit of richness to the texture, and such purity. Light but concentrated, this is quite stunning."

The wine comes from a three-and-a-half hectare plot made up from pure granite soils, with no natural irrigation, which Jacques describes as like "walking on brown sugar".

Much of Jacques work in the vineyard is helping to rejuvenate the vines and is particularly excited about the grapes they will be able to produce in the future.

Reenen Borman

winemakers-renanWinemaker for the Boschkloof and Patatsfontein wines, Reenen Borman is already making a big reputation for himself even though he has only been making wine on his family winery since 2010 after graduating in viticulture and oenology from Elsenburg Agricultural College.

Reenen has followed in his father's footsteps in making wine on the 25 hectares of the Boschkloof estate, which is situated around five miles from the wine hub of Stellenbosch town.

Jacques Borman first started the winery in 1996 after a career working at some of the most prestigious South African estates, including assistant winemaker at Simonsig and head winemaker at La Motte. He even worked alongside renowned French wine consultant, Michel Rolland, during his time as production director for Rupert and Rothschild.

It is a pretty impressive track record for his son, Reenen, to learn from and follow. Not surprisingly his love for wine started at an early age, but particularly during his father's days at La Motte in Franschoek valley.

He recalls: "I still remember how I went and secretly drank all the left overs in the wine glasses after people tasted the wine on the farm. I've never looked back since."

He is also quick to recognise the role his father played in helping become a winemaker in his own right.

"My father also played a big role in my decision to be a winemaker. He is a very humble person and always motivated me to follow in his footsteps. He has also taught me the ropes about not only making wine, but how to make wine part of your lifestyle."

He adds: "When one makes wine with passion it will show in the quality of the wines."

He says he also learnt a lot by travelling to France and the Rhone valley to do a vintage after completing his oenology studies.

"I went to Domaine des Martinelles in Hermitage for a harvest. There I learned a great deal about Shiraz and experienced the passion the French have for wine. This put me in the right path for when I returned to make wine at Boschkloof," he says.

Making his mark

He is already well on his way to making his own mark on the South African wine scene. Thanked in no small part to the prime real estate that the Boschkloof winery is situated, ideal for producing quality red wines.

The name of the winery is thought to be derived from appearance of a natural ravine, or "kloof" as it is known locally, on the farm and as well as being ideal for vine growing it is also home to several wildlife species including deer, porcupines, mongoose and game fowl.

The winery sits on land that benefits from warm to hot days, but then cools down in the late afternoons and evenings thanks to the ocean breeze to produce full, crisp and healthy fruit.

With effectively a Mediterranean climate and heavy lime rich soils it is well placed to make premium wines grown primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Shiraz.

Handle with care

This is very much a hands on winery with great care taken to ensure plantings of vines are between 3,800 to 4,800 vines per hectare. This ensures lower yields of around five to eight tonnes per hectare of optimal quality grapes.

Reenen says it is vital every winemaker truly understands the land, the soils and the typography of where they are working if they want to make consistent, good quality wine.

"The biggest problem of winemaking in South Africa is people planting cultivars that sell and not planting the right cultivars that belong in those certain terroirs. Boschkloof luckily has superb soil for Syrah and I think that is the backbone cultivar when one mentions Boschkloof," he explains.

This is encapsulated in the stunning Rhône-style Epilogue Syrah, produced from a single vineyard block.

"The wine I am most proud of making to date has to be the Epilogue single vineyard Syrah of Boschkloof. It shows true characters of the Syrah grape and the clone that we have with perfumed fruit and floral notes.

"This is the style of Syrah that I like to drink as well. I think the main reason is because I am such a lover of Côte Rôtie wines from the Rhône. Here you get enticing aromas with elegant but great intensity on the palate," he says.

Reenen is also receiving great reviews for his Patatsfontein Chenin Blanc wine, destined for cult status.

He is producing the wine in conjunction with partners Fritz Schoon and Henk Kotze, on a plot of land, named after the sweet potato farm that was once there, and was recommended to him by friend and winemaker, Chris Alheit.

This is modern style South African Chenin Blanc made from some of the old vines that can only be found in select areas of the Cape.

He says the ambition for Patatsfontein is to "make terroir driven wines from a forgotten area called Montagu".

He adds: "The first two vintages have exceeded all expectations which shows that when given the right attention to detail certain grapes will show well in the wine. At the moment we have a single vineyard Chenin Blanc as well as a blend of Colombard and Chenin Blanc from Montagu. Both are true expressions of the place they are grown."

The wine benefits from the hot days and cool nights common in the Montagu area.

New generation

Reenen is happy to be part of South Africa's future generation of young winemakers: "I think South African wine is very exciting at the moment. We are seeing more site specific wines being made with personality rather than the general commercial styles."

As for Boschkloof and his own future, Reenen is very clear.

"Boschkloof will always be my main focus. I would like to make the highest quality and purest Syrah possible that our vineyards will allow."

Outside of wine Reenen's other big passion is playing golf and likes nothing better after a long hard day either in the winery or the golf course to head to Glentana on the South African east coast. "That is my favourite sun set looking over the ocean with a glass of nice Burgundy Pinot Noir or a great Syrah."

Attie Louw: Opstal Estate

winemakers-attieThere are not many wine families in South Africa that can boast a heritage that goes back seven generations.

But Stanley Louw and his son, Attie, are not only carrying on the family tradition of growing wine in the breath taking Slanghoek Valley, north of Stellenbosch, but they are, even now, building a reputation for the quality of wines they are producing at the foot of the Slanghoek mountains.

On the face of it quiet and unassuming, Attie, is one of the leading players in the new generation of winemakers that are taking South Africa to places it did not know it was capable of even five years ago.

Attie admits he might have been born in to a winemaking family, but it was not a foregone conclusion that he would follow in his father's and ancestors' footsteps.

In fact he first started studying agriculture and economics at Stellenbosh University before seeing the light and switching over to viticulture.

It was a wise decision. After gaining his wine degree, Attie went on to earn his spurs, as it were, by working on vintages in both the northern and southern hemispheres in the Rhone and in Australia.

"I am so pleased I did that as it opened my eyes to what is going on and really helps you understand what you have learnt on the course," he says.

One of the first projects for Attie on returning to the family winery to work alongside his dad, Stanley, was to get its barrel selection under control and ensure it had the right balance of wines to truly express the wines it was making from the unique terroir of the Slanghoek Valley.

"I am very happy that the wines we are making are true to our terroir," says Attie, "and that any oak we use is very much as part of the supporting cask."

Which means making both easy to drink, approachable wines likes with its Estate range, and then more complex, demanding wines at the more premium end.

"I like to have minimal intervention in my winemaking," explains Attie. "So I can stand back and allow the process to take its course."

Making his name with Chenin Blanc

Attie is now, alongside 14 other local winemakers in the Breedekloof area, just through the Du Toitskloof Tunnel from Paarl, making his name with Chenin Blanc.

The winemakers have been working together to try and create their own unique Chenin Blanc styles using minimalist winemaking techniques, playing with wild ferments and using more skin contact in the process.

The Opstal Estate Carl Everson Chenin Blanc is Attie's line in the sand for how he sees this pure expression of Chenin Blanc.

First introduced in June 2013 with the 2012 vintage, the wine is made from vines planted in 1981, naturally fermented and matured in French oak barrels. It boasts notes of peach and squashed pineapple on the nose and has a lovely rich, mouth feel on the palate with balanced acidity.

Attie is also looking ahead to see what other kinds of wines and grape varieties can work in this unique sub region of South Africa.

"I planted Carignan and Roussanne last year and want to look at how the Roussanne might work with a Chenin Blanc and Viognier blend. It is about looking to see what we can develop and do differently here," he explains.

"I also want to be able to have control over the style of wines we can make here and it is great to have that independence."

New to the portfolio is Attie's The Barber Semillon which carries as much of a story as a punch of rich, luscious fruits.

It is named after Attie's grandfather, who during his time serving in the Second World War, started to cut some of his fellow soldiers' hair. A skill he brought back with him to South Africa after the war when he opened up his own barber's shop.

Now is the time to honour him with his own distinctive wine, says Attie.

A family affair

When Attie is not plotting his new blend, he is busy helping keep the winery's restaurant and functions rooms busy and ticking over. Its location makes it an ideal local for weddings and special events and it is looking to add cottages and offer space for people to stay from next year.

"It will offer people an amazing view of the valley and you could not get further away from the city," says Attie. "It feels like you are days away there even though it is only about an hour away from Cape Town."

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