Wine Talk: Luxe On The Vine

In our inaugural 'wine talk' column, Port2Port’s Daléne Fourie celebrates the return to ancient sustainability principles by a new generation of winemakers.

Wine Talk | House and Leisure
Avondale Estate in Paarl follows a bio-logic approach to farming and winemaking.

To hold an item of haute couture is to think of the skilled people who made it – the human beings who cut, hand-stitch and embroider garments of such meticulous detail.

And to hold a bottle of good wine is a similar thing, though I’d contend that the nature of luxury wine is evolving. Just like some fashion houses, some wine estates are moving toward sustainability, mindfulness and the joys of slow wine. 

The premium wine industry’s use of natural, organic; and biodynamic techniques is on the rise, forming part of the efforts to protect the environment and sustain the longevity of agricultural projects.

Within the field there are multiple schools of thought, but it is my view that while many of them remain uncertified as organic and biodynamic producers, a number of estates are participating in some form of sustainability. If that sounds confusing, organic certification is a detailed and costly exercise, and biodynamic certification is yet another step up from that (you need the former to attain the latter). 

This is not a new thing , of course. Organic farming is an ancient practice – though a number of South African winemakers have put their own new spin on it. 

Case in point: Johnathan Grieve of Avondale Estate in Paarl. I spent a marathon day with him and came away believing in magic. Not sleight-of-hand magic, but supernatural intervention.

Grieve subscribes to the bio-logic approach – an intriguing mix of the ancient biodynamic principles of soil preparation (there are nine in all); planting schedules as determined by the cycles of the moon, planets and constellations; and state-of-the-art technology that regulates irrigation and planting. 

What Grieve’s approach makes clear is the importance of balance, and while his beautifully made range of organic wines is one of the key outcomes of his endeavours, they are also merely a part of a much larger ecosystem in which everything contributes to everything. 

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At Avondale, nomadic working cows and chickens are moved every day to graze and fertilise each block of earth as they go (the chickens have their own ‘egg mobile’). A troop of pest-controlling ducks is seasonally released into the vineyards, and a huge vegetable garden supplies their Faber restaurant and 20 families living on the farm.

Lowerland – on the banks of the Orange River in the Northern Cape, near the town of Prieska – also subscribes to the idea that ‘organic’ means that everything contributes to everything, with wine making up only three percent of Lowerland’s total concerns.

From the Lowerland Rietskaap (pasture-fed lamb), to Lowerland Pampoenvark (pumpkin-grazing pork) and the farm’s pecan nut trade, to their heirloom, organic, stone-ground grains and flours, each aspect contributes to the overall ecosystem within which the wines are produced. A luxurious and sophisticated ecosystem, at that. 

Elgin Ridge, a boutique winery on Appletiser Road in the Elgin Valley, is another of the local producers shaking up the game. Their naturally made Cabernet Franc, is currently one of SA’s most expensive wines. 

Elgin Ridge is in the hands of Brian and Marion Smith (of London, UK) and winemaker Kosie van der Merwe (of Porterville, Western Cape). Marion, as the founder of Biodynamic and Organic Wines of South Africa, is another avid advocate of all things organic and biodynamic and the estate sports a host of farm animals.

The current state of luxury wine in SA then, is perhaps a little more – and a little less – than you’d think.

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The Wine Talk Luxury List

Wine Talk | House and Leisure

SHOP IT | Navitas 2009 R1800, Avondale 

Wine Talk | House and Leisure

SHOP IT | the. 2014 R5000, Elgin Ridge

Wine Talk | House and Leisure

SHOP IT | Chaos White 2018 R350, Elgin Ridge

Wine Talk | House and Leisure

SHOP IT | Tolbos Tannat 2018, R350, Lowerland
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