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Events

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WILD KAROO by Mitch Reardon, published by Struik Nature, 2018.

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The subtitle offers a good summing-up of this gem of a title: ‘A journey through history, change and revival in an ancient land’. While it hints at the enormous timespan that Reardon encompasses, it does not offer readers the wide range of subject matter that he includes as he travels though our dry heartland. He focuses on nature conservation, game - including birds, reptiles and invertebrates, the unique flora, landscape and geology and the history and lifestyle of the Karoo people. He also shares the plans to combine public and private protected land to create wildlife corridors between isolated parks, re-establishing old migration routes, and in this way helping to reverse some effects of human settlement.

Quite a task for this wildlife writer and photographer and former ranger to embrace, but he does it superbly well. It could be as dry as its parched subject, but Mitch Reardon writes so well that he takes us, his readers, as enthusiastic fellow travellers,aboard his vehicle as he sets out on a 4 000km journey through the high central plateau that constitutes the Karoo. 

After a comprehensive introduction on the vast landmass of the Karoo and a brief history of the various regions he starts his travels at the Bontebok national park in the southern Cape , then moves on to the Langeberg and Little Karoo. As this is where I have lived for nearly two decades, I focussed on this chapter for starters and absorbed so much in the process. From the Grootvadersbosch nature reserve in the Langeberg foothills Reardon moved on through Barrydale to Sanbona Wildlife reserve, a private enterprise that has seen former sheep farms transformed into an ecosystem similar to that of a pristine landscape 300 years back. From the endangered riverine rabbit to the re-introduction of elephant and cheetah the reserve is a five-star experience all around. The little-known Anysberg reserve is next on his itinerary with some fascinating conservation projects and then he heads to the Karoo National park which stars in the following chapter.

Each chapter has added information on the reserves visited, with contact details.

There is a whole chapter on the plight of the springbok, before Reardon heads to the desolate Tankwa Karoo and on to the Cederberg, then north west to Namaqualand and the Great River area, ie the Orange river. He also describes his visit to the Camdeboo area, and the Mountain Zebra national park, The text ends with a bibliography and detailed index.

This is an average-size softback that will slip easily into pockets in cars where it is likely to live after being first digested at home. The colour photos are plentiful and varied, from caterpillars to elephants, from landscapes to close-ups of locals, with some drawings and paintings from early travellers adding to the historic interest. A fine addition to South African and Karoo literature.

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As I write this, the snow lies thick on the upper reaches of the Sonderend mountains above McGregor. 

Encompassing the  narrow Slanghoek valley, according to the Opstal receptionist, “ it's white all round” powdering the Badsberge, Limietberg and Dutoitskloof peaks.

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In front of me a trio of Opstal estate’s recent releases, the first of which is Attie Louw’s 2017 chenin blanc, one of the farm’s annual stars, where fruit, freshness, and complexity meld into a delicious whole. Aromas of stone fruit and pineapple greet the nose, while the grapes, sourced from various chenin blocks, after  spontaneous fermentation spent  eight months on the lees, mostly in large French oak, the remainder in stainless steel. Moderate alcohol levels of 13,3% add to the charms of this perennial best-seller, and of course the venerable chenin blanc vines of Opstal add that concentrated character that is so distinctive.

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Next up is Opstal Cabernet Sauvignon & Cinsault, which is how the label lists it, 2017, a 50/50 blend with huge appeal. The cab character – cherry on the nose mingling with herbiness, followed up fruit upfront, the cinsaut contributing its distinctive laidback  freshness, adding up to a delightful wine to complement pizzas, pastas, Sunday suppers, homely fare like cottage pie, toad -in- the- hole, mushrooms on toast... the list is endless. Alcohol levels kept at 13,3%.

Opstal’s cinsaut vineyards, planted in 1997 are celebrating their coming of age, and I hope the Attie will produce a cinsaut soon to mark the occasion.

 

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Both wines sell for R95, while the third, Opstal Blush 2018, costs R70. Described on the back label as 'a bottle of fun', this popular pink is comprised of 70% shiraz and  30% viognier. First made back in 2006 by Opstal MD Stanley Louw , it has remained a popular annual and  best-seller, particularly in Holland . Unique, says Attie, because all the grapes are harvested, pressed and fermented together, so this early combo of berry aromas of the shiraz meet the stone fruit flavours of the viognier to produce a characterful rosé that will take on sushi with panache. It will come into its own in spring, but will happily accompany your chicken pie on a crisp sunny winter’s day.

Talking of which, its time to diarise the annual Breedekloof Soetes & Sop festival taking place over the weekend 20 – 22 July. Get your tickets, plan your itinerary, book your stayover and experience an amazing weekend of outdoor activities, warming fare and both bargain-priced and top of the range wines.

 

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It’s housed in a bottle that announces it’s very special Anno 1918 -  KWV Proud Pioneer -  Limited edition the top label announces,  followed by The Centenary Blanc de Blancs Vintage 2011 down below. Festive in gold with a stylised old-world drawing of Paarl valley as background.

 

There can be few in the world of Cape wine who don’t know that this global wine and spirits producer is marking the  100th anniversary of its founding this year. Among the events is the production of this handsome sparkler, an all-chardonnay MCC that’s set to become a classic souvenir of a notable celebration

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There are times – and this is one of them – when one would rather not open such a milestone product in order to assess its colour, its mousse, aromas and flavours on a mundane work day. The occasion – sitting in front of a computer – is not worthy of popping such an illustrious cork... But that’s the (very occasional) downside of reviewing wines, and there are always neighbours and friends in the village who will happily come and help finish it later!

 

The 2011 harvest followed a warm dry season, reducing the quantity of chardonnay available for this wine. Grapes were whole-bunch pressed and the juice used in the final blend. After the first fermentation, half underwent malolactic fermentation after which blending and bottling took place, with the secondary fermentation in bottle. Maturation of 72 months followed after which it was disgorged, corked and labelled.

 

Classic aromas of citrus and apple greet the nose. In flute the fresh zestiness is nicely balanced with the characteristic buttered toast and nuttiness on the palate, offering a delicious mouthfeel and a long finish. As expected, alcohol levels are kept at 12,5%.

 

At present the bubbly is stocked only at Makro outlets and sells at R249. During the remainder of 2018 KWV will release further products that will be stocked at its Paarl Emporium and some liquor stores.

 

With flute in hand it’s easy to think back to what one knows of the founding of KWV, at a time when South Africa was reeling from the aftermath of the first World War, followed by the great ‘flu epidemic, a turbulent period in its history. The wine industry was in a sad state, and farmers endorsed the establishment of the organisation that was able to introduce some order into their working lives. At time went on there were farms and cellars who rebelled against the tight control and legislation of the KWV, but that changed as the 20th century came to a close. Today the giant producer is renowned for its brandies, some of the best in the world as well as a fine range of wines.

 

Time to fill up the flutes as we turn to the back label and the eye falls on a handwritten message from cellarmaster Wim Truter: “Here’s to the next 100 years” he writes, with his name and signature. We’ ll raise a flute to that, even as we turn our thoughts to what another 10 decades will bring. Happy birthday, KWV.

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Although chardonnay will never be eclipsed by other white varietals, I confess to having focussed more on chenin recently as there has been so much happening on the local chenin front. So it's great to return to contemplating our distinctive  chardonnays again in the light of their International Day being celebrated on Thursday, May 24.

 

Coming as it does in May, the timing is perfect for those of us in the southern hemisphere as cooler weather is more conducive to enjoying the richer, wooded chards, and pairing them with delicious autumn fare.

That said, I have long championed well-made unwooded chardonnay that can fill the bill as aperitif, and as delightful companion to al fresco fare, both casual and more formal. They also often offer great value for money.

 

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So its not surprising that my thoughts turn to the Glenelly Glass Collection chardonnay, an unoaked wine in the top tier, yet priced at under R100. I have sampled several vintages since 2013 and they seem to get better with passing time: Not having tasted the just-released 2018 I cannot comment, but it’s likely to join its predecessors in offering not only a charming partner for Gallic autumn classics, but a wine to sip and savour on its own. Cellarmaster Luke O’Cuinneagain excels with every vintage, focussing combining both purity and classic fruit and, by leaving the wine for several months on lees, it acquires some weight as well.

 

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Turning now, to the Darling Hills where chardonnays from Groote Post are wines that I have always enjoyed, and wonder if they are not perhaps overshadowed by their sauvignon blanc.. The unwooded chardonnay from the Varietal range   presents a fine balance between friskiness and stone fruit, with some depth and quite a long finish.Since 2013 this companionable wine has complemented a wide choice of light and informal fare. The 2018 vintage, which I haven’t yet sampled, is likely to be in similar vein and sells for about R97.

 

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The Groote Post Kapokberg chardonnay 2017 is now on sale, priced at around R160 and hasn’t reached me yet. Looking forward to this wine, produced from fruit from vineyards high in the Darling Hills, that are harvested late when fully ripe. Matured in 300 litre French oak for 10 months, it’s likely to be similar to previous vintages, elegant and full-bodied in style, presenting the expected classic characteristics  – nuttiness with marmalade, and buttery creaminess on the palate, as in the past. Expect to pay about R160.

 

Say chardonnay and two more cellars come to mind: Rustenberg for its Five Soldiers that I last tasted at a DeWetshof Celebration of Chardonnay, but cannot remember which vintage and the current vintage of Hartenberg’s The Eleanor, elegance personified if such a phrase is acceptable vinous-wise.

 

Cheers to chardonnay from the Cape!

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Wine plus co-ordinator Melvyn Minnaar

 

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This year, as for the last four festivals, the Hermanus Fynarts features the Wine Plus programme which has grown into a very popular and integral part of the cultural celebrations taking place from June 8.

As on previous occasions the series will be curated and co-ordinated by Melvyn Minnaar, who is focussing on South African industry giants this year – both  renowned wines and personalities from these cellars, all of whom have a store of fascinating tales to tell. These will, naturally, be accompanied by tastings of their iconic, mature, and occasional rare wines which will well illustrate why these cellars are household names, while their contemporary wines could offer hints of future trends.

Appropriately the programme starts with Simonsig which is celebrating its 50th anniversary as owner and winemaker Johan Malan expands on South Africa's first MCC, the brilliant Kaase Vonkel.

Nederburg is up next with a collection of rare wines from its historic cellar, which dates back to 1791. Staying in Paarl, KWV will follow as its cellarmaster Wim Truter continues the winery's centenary celebratons with some exciting treats from its cavernous cellars.

Cape Wine Master Bennie Howard will charm the audience with stories and wines that made pivotal points in his personal history, while Monday will be highlighted by cellarmaster Chris Williams of the 17th century estate Meerlust, another noble name in our vinous history.

From Kanonkop both Johann Krige and cellarmaster Abrie Beeslaar will present show wines, while on the final day cellarmaster Boela Gerber will present a fine taste of history and his impressive wines that flow from Groot Constantia cellars. The programme will finish with well-known winemaker Norma Ratcliffe, who will chat about the wine world and pour tastings of her choice.

All in all a celebration apposite for the Cape’s 333rd wine harvest which came to an end a month or two ago at Groot Constantia.

Bookings can be made for sets or individual sessions which takes place daily for four days at 14h00 and 17h00 hours, starting on June 9. Bookings via www.webtickets.co.za or www.hermanusfynarts.co.za. For more info call 028 312 2629.

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