Jostling for a place at the top

There were (as reported) four newcomers in the voting panel’s Top 20 South African Wineries. So some had to fade away to make room for them. And the same thing will doubtless happen next time. The wine industry is in a state of dynamism and improvement, new wineries are emerging all the time and a few of them are excitingly good. Unless some of those in the latest Top 20 get even better there’s every chance they’ll be overtaken, and not only by those scrabbling on the outside this year – Nederburg, Waterford and Ataraxia.

One of the things I asked the panelists was to name the five wineries they thought stood a very good chance of getting into the Top 20 within a few years. There were many wineries that got one or two votes, but those listed below were way ahead of the others (there was not a lot between them, but this is in the order of the number of votes received). Incidentally, it’s possibly interesting to note that two of them – the Stellenbosch ones, of course! – have a lot of (foreign) money behind them, and three have comparatively little.

Haskell Vineyards – for some years this Helderberg winery owned by international businessman Preston Haskell produced wines only under the Dombeya label, but last year three wines from 2007 were thought good enough to be marketed as Haskell. One of them, Pillars Shiraz, won five Platter stars and was the top wine at the Tri-Nations match against New Zealand and Australia. Website link

Ataraxia – The Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge winery of Kevin Grant, previously the winemaker at Hamilton-Russell, nearly made it into the actual Top 20 list. Only this year was there a small maiden harvest of home-grown grapes (from the vineyards in the pic), so the fruit has been bought in for the existing trio of wines – including the Chardonnay, which has attracted wide praise. We await Ataraxia Pinot Noir with baited breath… (Website “coming soon”)

Mullineux Family Wines – Chris Mullineux built the reputation of Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards before gathering strength by marrying Californian winemaker Andrea and moving to the Swartland, where they have charming small facilities in Riebeek-Kasteel (for maturing the wines – they are vinified elsewhere), and make fine wines from bought-in grapes. Undoubtedly a star winemaking team. Website link

Badenhorst Family Wines – Another young winemaker going it alone in the southern Swartland, Adi Badenhorst left the grandeur of Rustenberg for a neglected old farm on the Perdeberg and is producing wonderful, low-tech wines, whose success has not been hindered by the brilliantly quirky label. Website link

Waterkloof – The splendid spread of British wine importer and negociant Paul Boutinot, mostly on the slopes of the Schaapenberg, just a few kilometres from False Bay, and selected by him after a world-wide search. Boutinot’s commitment to high quality looks to be complemented by Werner Engelbrecht’s skills, though the possibilities have so far only been sketched. Website link

A little behind these wineries came Shannon (Elgin), and two wineries in Constantia, Eagle’s Nest and Constantia Glen.

And those that lost out? Well, falling off the Top 20 list of 2006 were: Fairview, Springfield, Flagstone, Rudera, and Graham Beck. Those that had faded earlier, after being in the 2003 list were; Rust en Vrede, Villiera, Klein Constantia, Spice Route, Glen Carlou and Veenwouden. The quality of all these serves, by their eclipse, to illustrate the excitement of the wine-times we live in here. But it’s more than possible that one or two of them will be back, jostling for inclusion again.

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