Story and photos by Dwight Casimere
Sixty years ago, thousands of South African women demonstrated in the administrative capital of Pretoria outside the offices of then Prime Minister JG Strijdom to protest proposed changes to the reviled Urban Areas Act that would limit freedom of movement, employment and commerce through the use of restrictive passes and permits. Thousands stood silently in protest in traditional dress or colors of the ANC and Congress of Democrats to present petitions demanding that the proposals be rescinded. To mark the 60th Anniversary of the iconic 1956 Women's March, the South African Consulate presented a Showcase of South African Woman Owned Wineries and Winemakers.
Showcased wines included; Botanica Mary Delany Collection Untitled No. 1 Chenin Blanc-2014-($18). From winemaker Ginny Povall of the famed winemaking region of Stellenbosch. Ginny is actually a transplanted, self-taught American winemaker who purchased a luxury guest house and flower farm in the picturesque Devon Valley. She started experimenting by making small batches of wine at home and then sending out samples to be tasted and critiqued. Her first wine, 2009 Chenin Blanc, turned out to be the charmer, earning a place as one of only two Chenin Blancs listed among 58 wines to be rated 5 Stars by the prestigious Platter's 2011 Guide.
This was my absolute favorite of the entire lot presented. It defies everything you might think about Chenin Blanc First of all, its a real mouthful, with a lingering smoky flavor and opulent fruit. There are flavors of tropical fruit with an elegant finish of orange zest and a hint of hazelnut that gives it a resonance. This is a great wine to pair with salads, seafood or a meal of lighter meats and fish, even light "white" meats such as veal or pork tenderloin would make an excellent pairing. Spicy Indian or Thai dishes literally cry out for this golden colored beauty.
Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir ($25), another favorite, is an outstanding example of an expression of the Pinot Noir grape and, I would venture, one of the most superior ones I have had of late. There's a terrific story behind this wine that is indicative of the reason for the type of celebration now being accorded wines made by South African women.
Winemaker Berene Sauls, a long-time employee of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, made the wine from grapes sourced from Mount Babylon in the historic Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. The wine is named for a quaint, historic Overburg faming hamlet in a largely underdeveloped paradise just Southeast of Cape Town, not far from where the grapes are harvested. .Since her beginnings as a winemaker 15 years ago, Hamilton Russell has assisted her in acquiring her own, wholly-owned wine business. Winemaker Sauls was born in Tesselaars, the descendant of freed slaves who were bequeathed the land by a former East India Company settler, Johannes Tesselaar, upon his death in 1810.
Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir ($25) is a revelation. Light and aromatic, it has lovely flavors of sweet red cherries and hint of white pepper and ginger that give it a nice, polished finish. At 13% alcohol, the wine may seem a bit delicate, but it has plenty of backbone that carries the flavor right through to a silky finish. Elegant, with a sophisticated structure, this wine has that ephemeral quality so sought after, but rarely achieved, in Pinot Noir, that most elusive of all grapes. Winemaker Sauls seems to have captured it all here with a deft hand. The result is applause-worthy.
Seven Sisters wines, which are readily available in many wine shops and markets around the country is a steal at only $9 a bottle. 2015 Twena Rose and Vivian Sauvignon Blanc were represented at the premiere tasting, and they are shining examples of each. They're just made for enjoyment. With food-friendly flavors abounding, the wines go with just about everything you'd want to serve for that end-of-summer feast, especially outdoor parties or lunch or dinner on the patio. The Brutus sisters have named each of their wines after a sister, infusing the wine with the unique personalities of each of them. Like so many stories in South Africa, the roots of Seven Sisters winery were sprouted in adversity. The family had been evicted from their home after their father lost his job at a local fishery in the tiny fishing village of Petermoster. As the sisters grew to adulthood, they vowed to own land and to produce quality wine that would garner the world's attention. With Seven Sisters, they've achieved that goal and more.
South African Consul General Mathula Nkosi and Wines of South African Marketing Manager Jim Clark presided over the unveiling and guided tasting for a host of VIP guests and wine media. It was an event of historic magnitude.
Here is a listing of the wines presented. Several of them are already in the US market. Others are being rolled out on a regional basis. If you don't see a particular wine that interests you, ask your purveyor to order it.
-Warwick The First Lady Chardonnay 2015-$17
Warwick The First Lady Chardonnay with Ginny Povall's Botanica Mary Delany Collection Chenin Blanc 2014
-Glenelly Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot Merlot 2008-$29.99
This is the Grand Dame of all South African Reds. A rich Ruby red color betrays the elegant, complex wine to be had. Flavors of ripe, dark red fruit with aromas and tastes of casis, dark red plum, with notes of cedar and maduro tobacco on the backnote. the well-balanced tannins give it a luscious finish. Estate owner May de Lencquesaing is a member of one of Bordeaux's oldest wine families. She is famous for Chateau Pichon Longgueville Comtesse de Lalande a Grand Cru Classe from Pauillac. Her success at Pichon led to her being named Decanter Magazine Woman of the Year in 1994.
--Jardin Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2014-$22
Winemaker and Owner Kathy Jordan
If the name sounds vaguely familiar, that's because it entirely is! The California-trained winemakers wanted to set this exquisite modern, racy wine apart from the rest with its own name and label. This Stellenbosch beauty is the provenance of the winemaking team of Kathy and Gary Jordan, who have been making world-class wines since 1993 at their state-of-the-art winery in the Cape district. The wine is fermented and aged in Burgundy shaped barrels from various Chardonnay clones combined to give the wine richness, body and character. The wine is aged in French oak barrels for nine months "sur lie", with occasional rolling of the barrels to increase the "leezy" character. This is a wine with great finesse and grace. The taste and aroma of ripe lemons gives way to aromas and flavors of lightly toasted brioche. This is a well-balanced, elegant wine to be savored with Rabbit Pot au Feu or a roasted Pheasant or Duck. Use a bit of the wine in the demi-glace or sauce and you have a winning meal combination for the ages.
-Saltare Methode Cap Classique Brut Nature NV-$24
This is a great, reasonably priced South African sparkler that can be had well-chilled at almost any time of day. The South Africans are famous for their love of seafood, pulled straight from the waters off the Cape and eaten lightly grilled, steamed or raw. Oysters, jumbo shrimp, lobster, all go down incredibly easy when you have this beautiful sparkler on hand.
Warwick The First Lady Chardonnay 2015 and Cabernet Sauvignon 2014-both around $16
These are both moderately priced wines that you can mix and match with a variety of dishes. At this price, keep a mixed case or two on hand hwne unexpected company arrives. They'll be impressed and you can tell them you learned about it through this article on the premiere presentation of South African wines made by women winemakers. That ought to spark some interesting cocktail conversation.
Winery owner Norma Ratcliffe is considered "The First Lady" of South African wine, having been acknowledged as one of the first women to be recognized as a winemaker. She is the first woman to become a member of the Cape Winemakers Guild and the only woman to serve as Chairperson. Her wines are serious and elegant, just as she is.