It’s just about a year since the CEO of Porsche South Africa bought Uva Mira, on the heights of the Helderberg (and I really must soon report on my visit there – it all seems to be going extremely well with a newish winemaker and new viticulturist). But just a little way down the mountainside there’s been another sale, at neighbouring Hidden Valley.
The punning name of the Hidden Valley estate of Dave Hidden made more sense back in the mid 1990s when it started off in the Devon Valley. Then the Helderberg property was acquired (and the Devon Valley one was eventually sold to Dutchman Fons Aaldering), and an Agulhas property, Land’s End, was added to the Hidden Valley portfolio. And the excellent Ouverture restaurant was opened on the farm.
Five years or so back the rumours of problems started. Hidden Valley was going to be mothballed, it seemed and winemaker Louis Nel was to lose his job. Then production continued (or resumed, with Emma Moffat as winemaker from mid 2010). More recently, a joint venture was formed with Charles Back of Fairview. I confess that it would take a keener investigative journalist than I, with a better sense of big money, to work out what was going on. But The Writing Was On The Wall, as they say.
Even I can understand a sale, and this month Hidden Valley has been sold and transferred to Riaan Stassen, who retired a few years back as CEO of Capitec Bank. As we all know, top bankers make lots of money and occasionally buy wine-farms (as GT Ferreira did Tokara; Dave Hidden’s fortune came from “ozone-friendly areosols”, of all things). So, welcome Mr Stassen, who paid, as I understand it, something over R60 million for his new farm – and about two thirds as much for a grand modern house on a smaller estate nearby.
If renewed investments and dynamic leadership lead to the sort of improvements that have taken place at Uva Mira, it’s a move to be welcomed. I understand that Annalie van Dyk, who took over as winemaker last year, remains. And the name? While “Stassen Heights” might be more appropriate than “Hidden Valley”, I have no idea if the thought has occurred to anyone else, and we still have Hidden Valley starkly exposed high on a mountainside…
Elsewhere, on very different slopes of the mighty Helderberg, there’s been another purchase, though as yet I know little about it. Cordoba has, at long last, been sold (having proved too expensive for, at least, American Charles Banks, who was very interested at one stage). That’s all I know thus far, but am keen to find out more. We can hope for the revival of a fine estate, I hope – though many wineries who’ve been buying the grapes for the past decade-plus since the name was last used on a bottle will no doubt be grumpily looking elsewhere.
Another possible change for the Helderberg is that there’s a chance that some of this area on the mountain slopes, one of the best-known parts of viticultural Stellenbosch, will be made an official ward. It’s been proposed and is being investigated, and there does seem every possibility that it will succeed. More grumpiness in store for those left outside the borders.