A Canadian in the Cape

I was very pleased that the blog I wrote about some great wine experiences prompted some others to recall their own. One such was Jon Whitteker, who’s the Cellarmaster for the South African Wine Society in Toronto in Canada. This is a most remarkable and serious wine club, I have realised, that holds excellent, in-depth tastings of Cape wine, including verticals that would be rare events even in Cape Town; and the cellar that Jon manages is a substantial one. (Once before on Grape, here, I included Jon’s report of a tasting he organised for his Society of pinotages from around the world.)

Jon made his first visit here for Cape Wine last year, with the Society’s president, expatriate South African Eleanor Cosman, a more frequent visitor, and I spent a very pleasant evening with them. But Jon was out for some weeks, hard at work touring the winelands. I was pleased to learn that his trip gave him some of the great wine experiences he told me about (he also mentioned a sherry tasting and an Oregon visit) – experiences which, he says, “I have come to realize, all centre around people, while the actual wine tasted is in a supporting role”. He said I could share his stories here.

Jon stresses that his two highlights were in the context of a number of “excellent experiences” where “the friendly open nature of South Africans was on display and enjoyed”; amongst others he mentions visits to Eben Sadie, David Sadie, Dewalt Heyns at Saronsberg, Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell, Alet de Wet, assistant winemaker at Kanonkop, and Jean Smit at Boekenhoutskloof. As you can see, he got around. But the two great experiences he originally mentioned were these:

“The first is my visit to Reyneke and my meeting with Johan Reyneke. Johan and I hit it off very well. He shared both his vision as well as the details of his journey to where he is and where he want to take it next. We spent a couple of hours together where Johan shared the details of his journey, successes and disappointments. As the meeting progressed we tasted his estate wines which were impressive for their purity. This is an obvious translation of Johan’s vision and passion. This included discussions on his overall approach and attitude re life, the land, nature in general, his strengths and personal limitations. I have great empathy for his vision. As we concluded Johan apologized that we could not taste his reserve wines due to their limited availability. To me it was a non-event since I enjoyed the conversation so much. As I was about to leave, however, Johan excused himself and returned with a gift, a box containing a bottle each of his Reserve White and Reserve Red, which was for me to enjoy at some future date of my choice. Interestingly I have several of his wines in my personal cellar that I had purchased in Canada but had not tasted.

“The second was my visit to Delheim and my time with Reg Holder. I have a long history with Delheim and did hold a 14 vintage vertical tasting of their Grand Reserve in Canada. It was an amazing event that took many years to organize. Victor Sperling came over for the event. I met Reg in the Delheim café over lunch. Reg shared some background on his time at Delheim and what he has focused on since he arrived. He then expanded on his priorities for the next few years. After lunch Reg offered to taste wines or visit the vineyards. I chose the vineyards so off we went. I got an extensive tour of the Estate vineyard including insights into to their forestry management activities and a scenic drive part way up a mountain. After the Estate vineyard we drove over to the Vera Cruz vineyard. This was quite revealing as Reg shared details of how the vineyard aspect and soils changed and its impact on the fruit and eventual wines. After that we went back to the winery. Based on our discussions so far, Reg suggested we visit the cellar and taste some barrel samples. After much discussion and over 16 different barrel tastings, we left the cellar. It was a fascinating and revealing exchange as we discussed what he was trying to do and the results, which then generated more questions and more tastings. We both thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I openly shared my feedback through the process.”

Jon concluded his email to me by saying: “Wine is my hobby and pleasure. It is also something to share with friends. I hope I keep my health for many years and continue to enjoy great wine experiences.”

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