Some significant developments have taken place with regard to Distell’s wine-farm holdings, involving the properties that were formerly part of a joint venture with German financier Hans Schreiber. This takes further (and to a degree in a different direction) the sale last year of Le Bonheur, one of these so-called Lusan Premium Wines estates, to AdVini, the French group that already owned L’Avenir and subsequently acquired a holding in Ken Forrester.
When I reported on that sale in August, I quoted a Distell press release which spoke of considering also the “disposal” of Uitkyk, another of the Lusan properties. And I also quoted Razvan Macici (then Distell’s head winemaker, before he too was disposed of!) to the effect that Stellenzicht and Neethlingshof were not on the market. But it is Stellenzicht that is now confirmed as being sold to “a foreign investor with existing interests in South Africa” – “as a going concern for an undisclosed amount”.
The sale of Alto was a rumour that I first heard some weeks ago, from reliable Stellenbosch sources,but when I tweeted about the rumour, any sale was denied.
In fact the Lusan partnership is also in the process of being dissolved. Distell is acquiring full ownership of the Alto and Uitkyk estates, with the other partner (it was Hans Schreiber, but I have heard he is now ill) taking control of Neethlingshof and a lesser-known farm called Olives.
As far as Stellenzicht goes, this is surely good news. The brand has been somewhat run down and certainly the vineyards are mostly in a virused and shocking condition – so major investment is needed. The Lusan properties never lived up to their quality potential, but seem to have been pushed hard downwards, going for big yields and more modest quality.
Interestingly, last year the long-time Alto winemaker, Schalk van der Westhuizen, retired, to be succeeded by his ambitious son Bertho, raising hopes already that there was to become a greater concentration on raising standards rather than production. (There has been no announcement of the fate of the current winemakers of all these properties.) And now we must hope that both Uitkyk and Alto, historic estates now fully owned by Distell, will move in the direction of their former eminence – Stellenzicht and Neethlingshof too, under their respective new regimes.
This whole shake-up could be an important step forward for Stellenbosch winemaking, after the dreary Lusan years.