Since its inception in 2006, the hosting of the Celebration of Chardonnay on De Wetshof has indeed been a unique ode to the grape variety to which the Estate is committed, namely Chardonnay.
The aim of each event is to capture the imagination of those attending by offering them a message that is original and inspiring. For 2016 the theme “The Romance of Chardonnay” was chosen, the aim being to look at the stories and people at the heart-beat of our beloved grape.
This year’s wines on presentation were selected by means of a rigorous tasting aimed at expressing the diversity of South Africa’s different Chardonnay regions and wine-making styles. To reach the final list, Richard Kershaw, Master of Wine, and sommelier Higgo Jacobs went through over 80 wines under the watchful guidance of Dave Hughes, honing the line-up down to 16 South African wines.
Four international Chardonnays made up the final 20.
With this year’s Celebration of Chardonnay theme being “The Romance of Chardonnay”, two new classes of wines were introduced for the first time. Blanc de Blancs Cap Classique and Champagne made up one flight, while a category of aged Chardonnays showed how well local wines of this variety can mature in extraordinary condition. The line-up was as follows:
Blanc de Blancs and Champagne: Simonsig Cuvée Royale 2011 | Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2010 |Bon Courage Jacques Bruére Blanc de Blancs Reserve 2010 I Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs 2008
Unwooded: Eikendal Janina 2015 I De Wetshof Bon Vallon 2015 I Bouchard Finlayson Sans Barrique 2015 I Joseph Drouhin Chablis Drouhin Vaudon 2014
Wooded Flight One : Richard Kershaw Clonal Selection 2014 I Ataraxia Chardonnay 2015 I Chamonix Chardonnay Reserve 2014 I
Ramey Wine Cellars Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2013
Wooded Flight Two: Uva Mira The Single Tree Chardonnay 2014 I De Morgenzon Reserve Chardonnay 2015 I Groot Constantia Chardonnay 2014 I Domaine Henri Boillot Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Clos de la Mouchere 2014
Older Vintages: De Wetshof Finesse 1993 I Thelema Chardonnay 1997 I Neil Ellis Chardonnay 2005 I Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2005
Guest Speaker Jay McInerney
Renowned American novelist and wine writer Jay McInerney was this year’s guest-speaker. This being his third visit to the winelands of South Africa, Jay was qualified to offer his impressions of our country’s interpretation of Chardonnay, a variety he admits to being seriously in love with.
In his address, Jay said Chardonnay from the Cape can easily compete on the world stage, and many would put some Premier Cru white Burgundies to shame. “The quality of South African Chardonnay has improved remarkably since my first visit here in 2001,” he said.
“In that year, as well as another visit in 2004, I was impressed with much of what I tasted, but it was evident that Chardonnay was a minor part of the picture.”
Jay said it was obvious that producers were then perhaps still struggling to obtain good Chardonnay plant material.
“As you well know, when a few pioneers turned to Chardonnay in the seventies they found mostly diseased and virused clones at the Stellenbosch University collection,” he said. “Danie de Wet was one of those pioneers, and his efforts to bring good Chardonnay to the Cape were practically heroic. By the time I arrived at the turn of the millennium, much progress had been made, though Chardonnay was less than five percent of the total vineyard in the Cape and like the Chardonnays of Napa and Sonoma in that period, I felt there was a lot of over-oaking – or perhaps it was under-fruiting.”
Visiting South Africa fifteen years later, Jay said he is “absolutely dazzled”. “Dazzled by the quality of Chardonnay available in the country, by the overall high quality of premium chardonnays, by the sophistication in the handling of oak on the part of those who use it, though I’ve also had some fine unoaked examples.
“I believe that style was first tried right here, at De Wetshof. And there is also a developing sense of terroir. It’s clear that Cape winemakers are learning where to plant Chardonnay, and how to grow it and how to vinify it.”
He was especially impressed by a number of older Chardonnays he sampled during his current visit.
“Last night I had a 93 De Wetshof Finesse and it was if anything more remarkable given its incredible freshness, it’s light colour, bright acidity and minerality. I believe it’s time for Cape Chardonnay makers and drinkers to consider the glories of aged Chardonnay, to hold back some of their wines for the future.”
In closing he expressed a wish that Cape winemakers plant more Chardonnay. “Yes, I know Chenin Blanc is, for historical reasons, the signature white grape of South Africa. And yes, there are some great ones made here.
“But from an international marketing perspective, Chenin will always be a niche. And personally, I will always yearn for Chardonnay. Chardonnay may be ubiquitous, it may be a cliché in many regards, it may be the source of a lot of mediocre plonk, and a lot of pumped-up, big cleavage floozies, but at it is capable of great profundity, and it can age and develop for decades.
“It is a bit of a contradiction, given its ability to produce wines of crystalline purity on the one hand and Baudelarian decadence on the other.”
“It is, for me, the most seductive and the most romantic white grape on the planet.”
And it is this shared sentiment that, in a nutshell, sees us at De Wetshof host the Celebration of Chardonnay!
SA’s First Michelin Chef Honoured at De Wetshof
Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, the first South African chef to receive a coveted Michelin star for his cooking in France, was honoured during the biennial Celebration of Chardonnay at De Wetshof Estate in Robertson.
The Golden Vine Award is awarded at this food and wine event to a chef who has made an exceptional contribution to fine culinary art, and previous winners of the award include Billy Gallagher, Peter Veldsman and Luke Dale-Roberts.
Van der Westhuizen is the owner and chef of JAN, a restaurant in Nice, France, which received a Michelin star for its excellence. The restaurant has a distinct South African touch that includes serving the country’s wines.
Summer is really the most beautiful time to see the Robertson Valley vineyards.
The berries are forming nicely and although one never predicts a harvest at this stage, the vines’ health and the temperate days due to the brisk southerly breezes is making the vineyard and wine making teams excited about next year’s harvest, which should commence with the Cape Classique grapes in mid-January.
This is a wonderful time to visit the Estate, so please stop by for a wine tasting, a chat and to experience some Robertson hospitality. We wish you all the best over the festive season, and may the new year be a blessed one.
Click here to read the newsletter online