Grape Town, South Africa
Our next stop was Moggs Country Cookhouse for an outdoor tasting with wine consultant Bartho Eksteen, who doesnt even have a vineyard to call his own. Bartho, a self-proclaimed Sauvignon Blanc "freak," has arrangements with several producers to purchase grapes (one finely-tuned deal says that if a crop is bad, the producer will pay Bartho to go ahead and make the wine, which he will then try to sell on his own), which he then turns into his Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz in the cellars of friend Dave Johnson, owner of Newton-Johnson. And, unlike Anthony Hamilton-Russell, Bartho is a huge combiner of grapes and concentrates more on what happens in the cellar than on the farm.
Before lunch we tasted wines from both Bartho Eksteen and Newton-Johnson labels. Of the Pinot Noir (a 2001 vintage whose grapes were hand-picked and hand-sorted and whose color had a surprising pinkish tint), Bartho offered the following pearl of wisdom: "Other countries try to make a red wine out of Pinot Noir. I disagree; make it as elegant as you can." Bartho Eksteens 2000 Shiraz was nothing short of incrediblewhat he calls a "blockbuster" and something hes not sure he could ever repeat, even though his 2001 vintage is already highly regarded.
Our final tasting stop of the day was at Beaumont. When we arrived we were greeted by the very tall, very Nordic-looking Nils Verberg, sporting wine-stained shorts and a broken left arm (he slipped in the cellar one morning before wine tastings even began).
Established in 1750, Beaumont it is one of the oldest operating vineyards in South Africa, having once been an outpost for the Dutch East India Company. Thick stone walls helped with insulation for the fermentation process, though old vats have been updated with modern technology. During harvest time, grapes are picked by hand and fed into an antique wood-structured crusher and left to ferment in open tanks while workers and vintner Nils hand crush every four hours.
Even our tasting at Beaumont harkened back to the good old days of winemaking. Nils carried around a stone pitcher and opened up valves in the tanks to give us a sip or two of the fermenting base wine. What a difference between these unfinished wines and the bottled vintages we tasted later in the visit. The Sauvignon Blanc was very fruity (with the appearance of pineapple juice) and both the young (and extremely dry) Pinotage and the Shiraz practically stained the glass. Nils believes, while South Africa definitely has excellent wines, a Shiraz will be the first truly world-class wine produced here and his 2000 vintage is certainly in contention for that honor.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication