Fifteen years ago there were just two farms which boasted vines in the Elgin valley – Paul Cluver and Oak Valley. Last week’s Elegantly Elgin spring soirée in Cape Town boasted 20 participants, many of them almost unknown to the average consumer.
Almenkerk wine estate has already laid down its marker with a stellar Sauvignon Blanc. In a nod to their Belgian roots, father Joop and winemaking son Joris van Almenkerk called their maiden red Lace. After all, Belgian lace has been highly sought after for hundreds of years and they have faith their red blend has the same commercial appeal. On display for the first time the Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend will only be released in November and is the forerunner of a more affordable range of wines selling from the cellar for around R70.
Elgin is renowned for its cool climate and many producers are using that to best effect. Jacqueline Harris recalled that Paul Cluver jnr wanted to rip out all the Riesling on the farm but his father’s cool head prevailed – and there are now no fewer than four Rieslings in their line-up: the standard Riesling, Close Encounter with its 30-odd grams of residual sugar, Ferricrete Riesling made for Woolworths with around 20g of RS and then the perennial award-winning noble late harvest with sugar levels dangerous for any diabetic! “And we’re planting more Gewürztraminer,” Harris related. “We just can’t keep up with demand.”
Other Riesling producers in the valley include Spioenkop, Ross Gower wines and Sutherland, which has adopted its own identity since Thelema has decided to differentiate its Stellenbosch and Elgin vineyards.
By far the most popular grape variety in the valley remains Sauvignon Blanc. Neil Ellis was one of the pioneers who showed the way with Sauvignon Blanc from Elgin. Andrew Gunn’s Iona established its reputation on the back of this variety more than a decade ago – and its success led to Tokara (and others) establishing vineyards in the area. Cape Orchards, Catherine Marshall, Elgin Ridge, Elgin Valley Vineyards, Elgin Vintners, Glen Erskine, Mofam, Paul Cluver, Oak Valley, Shannon, Elgin Orchards, Paul Wallace, South Hill, Spioenkop, Sutherland, Vrede en Lust, Waterford, William Everson and Winters Drift all boast at least one Sauvignon Blanc.
Also interesting to note is the popularity of Semillon and Viognier – and the deft handling of them – by Elgin producers.
That’s a virtual explosion in grape growing and wine production in the past decade and a half. One wonders what the next 15 years will bring.
- (Elgin Wine Valley Guild members are: Almenkerk, Arumdale, Cape Orchards & Vineyards, Catherine Marshall Wines, Elgin Orchards, Elgin Ridge, Elgin Valley Vintners, Iona, Mofam, Neil Ellis, Oak Valley, Paul Cluver, Ross Gower Wines, Shannon Vineyards, South Hill, Thelema, Tokara, Vrede en Lust and Winters Drift.)