Estate wines and single vineyards

Here are some more thoughts and observations on Cape wine origins as expressed in the Platter five-star wines, added to those I offered recently.

I should first say that I got a couple of things wrong, as I thought I might, in my listing of the origins, where known, of those wines: there were indeed 17 from Stellenbosch, but while Swartland still comes second it does so with 6 instead of 7 wines – although at least 3 more are from a majority of Swartland grapes, making for a remarkable showing for this area. Franschhoek and Walker Bay did indeed get 4 each, but Olifants River got 3, one fewer than I reported – I’d mistakenly included Cederberg, which is, in fact, a ward on its own.

I make these corrections on the basis of a spreadsheet that Platter editor Philip van Zyl assembled for other purposes. Im pleased to say that he also looked at the categories of “Estate wine” and “Single vineyard wine” – as declared on the forms submitted by producers (one or two use their own documentation, so Philip hastens to point out that his spreadsheet is not necessarily 100% accurate).

Rather interesting, in fact. I’d bet, incidentally, that most local winelovers (and virtually all foreign ones) will have only the fuzziest understanding of the concept of “estate wines” as enshrined in the Wine of Origin scheme. Briefly, a decade ago the authorities finally replaced the watered-down and rather discredited Estate system with the idea that any satisfactorily registered producer, not just “estates”, could produce estate wines. That is, basically, wines that are vinified and bottled on the the same single property on which the grapes for them were grown. There are no official estates any more – though it seems that only producers of at least one estate wine can call themselves estates on the wine label. Another bit of fuzziness, I suspect.

One of the problems of the old official estate idea in the Wine of Origin system was that it  normally made any mention of a “single vineyard” illegal – even on a back label. This was done to protect the concept of a producer growing, making and bottling wine on one unitary property: the estate. And it aroused a great deal of resentment from those who wanted to talk about the vineyard origins of their wines.

So the estate thing was largely abandoned, and provision was made in the law for single vineyards. Now you can talk about vineyards generally on your labels, but if you want to declare your wine officially to be from a single vineyard, that vineyard must be examined by the authorities and registered. It must be a maximum of 6 hectares in size (to ensure that the terroir is basically uniform) and must be of only one grape variety (I’m not sure why).

All this reminiscent stuff serves as a prelude to the figures with regard to such wines in the 62 Platter 5-star winners. Of those 62, just 7 declared themselves on the official Platter forms to be Estate wines. That’s a pretty pathetic number, but in fact, I’m surprised as many producers as that bother with an idea that has, I’m sure, no real value in the eyes of the consumer. (There are, I’m also surprised to learn, as many as 176 units registered with the authorites as allowed to produce at least one estate wine amongst their range – 176 out of the 600-odd producers). Of course, a great many more 5-star wines than those 7 would QUALIFY to be estate wines – if the producers bothered to go through the registration business.

A rather similar thing happens with the single vineyard category. A mere 3 wines were declared to originate in single vineyards. Many more than this number in fact come from single vineyards – but vineyards which have not been registered as such. This seems to me a rather more curious lack of zeal on the part of the producer, given that the single vineyard idea is one that everyone can easily grasp, here or overseas.

In the pic: The only Platter 5-star wine that is both an official single vineyard wine and an official estate wine

And it’s an idea that I would have thought still appealed to many people – precisely because it does indicate a very precise origin, and precise origins are what a lot of people consider to be of prime importance for most wines. I daresay in marketing and background material the wineries do make quite a thing out of the singularity of a wine’s vineyard origins, but why they don’t want to officially register the site, I’m not at all sure.


PS: The 3 top Platter wines which declared a single vineyard origin are: Bon Courage Cap Classique Jacques Bruére Brut Reserve, Simonsig Merindohl Syrah, and Tokara Walker Bay Sauvignon Blanc.


The 7 estate wines are: the Bon CourageJacques Bruére again, Hamilton Russelll Vineyards Chardonnay, Jordan Nine Yards Chardonnay, Jordan CWG Auction Reserve Chardonnay, Paul Cluver Noble Late Harvest, Tokara Director’s Reserve White, and Warwick Cabernet Franc.

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