The Vintner with Rocks in his Pockets

Meet the vintner who reaches deep into the South African soil and history, who like a good wine, has blended ancient rocks, sunlight, the smell and memories the soil holds, Cape honey bees, Cornish tin miners and black magic. All of which have cast a spell over me!

The hot summer night air was conducive to drinking South African wine, listening to the accents of home, kidding ourselves perhaps we really were in Stellenbosch, home to Jordan Wine, the Waterford Estate, L’Avenir Wines, Spier, Kleine Zalze and Stellenbosch vineyards. Experience Stellenbosch were co-hosting with the London Foodie, Luiz Hara, who created an ex-pat inspired supper club feast to accompany the wine and conversation in his cosy Islington home, which for one evening, felt like we were at the tip of Africa.

I was not at the event as a wine journalist nor wine grower, for I am neither. Rather I was there as a story teller living in one of England’s emerging wine regions, the Chilterns; a region that has been quietly growing wine in chalky south facing soil, since the Romans introduced the ancient Britains to fine dining.

Traditional Cape Dutch Vernacular. Photo credit: Andrew Brauteseth

The first wine farm I ever visited was in 1979 on a school trip to Schoongezicht, on the Rustenburg estate. I vividly remember the cool tree-lined avenues, the oak trees contrasting with the white-washed buildings dotted in the landscape, the old wine presses and staff, who patiently introduced us to the mystical process of wine making. Much has changed since those obscure days, when the Stellenbosch wine route was in its infancy, established in 1971 for a local market as South Africa was increasingly cut off from the world, not to re-emerge onto the international stage until the early 1990’s and the end of Apartheid. This region boasts a turbulent history, much used and abused by foreigners coming and going, invading, capturing and for a time enslaving; still an important part of the story of Stellenbosch, that like its rocks, lying deep beneath the soil, I believe needs to see more daylight….hopefully like the 17th century estate records that Kobus Basson, owner of Kleine Zalze was telling me about.

Kleine Zalze vineyards

Another of the wine owners present were Gary and Kathy Jordan of the Jordan Wine Estate. Gary likes to carry rocks in his pocket; white quartz, black tourmaline and Fool’s Gold. He explained to me that the entire region sits on 600-million-year-old granite – about the same time that over in China, ‘spherical fossils’ were bobbing around that could be the remains of the planet’s earliest animals – that’s how old 600 million years is!

All three rocks have special properties that make all the viticultural difference as they reach beneath the South African soil and deep into South African history.

The white quartz is found in big seams throughout the granite on the eastern side of the Jordan Estate, showing up as pure white chunks/gravels in their chardonnay vineyards, and reflecting the sunlight back up into the bunches, whilst the soil and environment stays cooler.

The black rock is black tourmaline, a semi-precious crystal, known for centuries to bring good luck to the ancient magicians as they used to cast their spells! This is concentrated in the area where they grow Merlot – hence the name Black Magic Merlot. Being black in colour amongst dark soils, means the sun is absorbed and the heat retained for longer in this area, perfect for the merlot variety.

The heavy rock is full of Fools Gold and tin, in a highly mineralised area on the western side of the Estate where Cornish tin miners once prospected for tin in the late 1800’s. This is the perfect environment for their Prospector Syrah and  Cobblers Hill Bordeaux-style red blend, honouring Gary’s great-grandfather who started the South African shoe industry in the 1800’s.

The last wine we enjoyed that evening, was a Noble Late Harvest Riesling called Mellifera, situated on granite and named after the Cape Honey Bee.

Like a good wine, the blend of ancient rocks, the sunlight, the smell and memories the soil holds, honey bees, Cornish tin miners and black magic, have hopefully cast a spell over you!

To enjoy another example of how the landscape determines the form and function of a building, I recommend reading ‘Chenies Manor’.

The Stellenbosch Visit London supper club menu and accompanying wine list can be found here

If you are ever in that part of the world, do take a day or three to explore, you won’t be disappointed. Find out more about visiting Stellenbosch and tasting their wines.

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