By Joanne Gibson
Long before anyone dreamed of a New South Africa, there was a significant German presence in the
Cape (think Günter Brözel of Nederburg, Michael “Spatz” Sperling of Delheim, Achim von Arnim of Cabrière). Recent years have seen a veritable invasion by—among others—Chris Hellinger (Chamonix), Roland Seidel (Seidelberg), Ernest Bürgin (Mont Destin), Johst Weber (Springfontein), Namibian-born Markus Rahmann (Asara) and Hong Kong-based Hans-Joachim Schreiber (50% owner of Le Bonheur, Uitkyk, Stellenzicht, Alto and Neethlingshof).
German property and construction magnate Stefan Schörghuber bought BLAAUWKLIPPEN with his wife Alexandra in 1999. When he passed away in 2008, aged just 47, she became chairperson of his family’s Munich-based conglomerate. Their business units also include aircraft leasing, hotels (the ArabellaStarwood chain) and breweries such as Paulaner and Karlsberg International.
She explains what drew her and Stefan to SA and to Blaauwklippen in particular: “We had other business interests here, so it was a natural choice. We also loved the fact that SA is a New World wine country but with firm roots in the Old World. This Old World-feel combined with innovation applied at wineries and in vineyards makes it an ideal place to make wine. We fell in love with the property, the beautiful Cape Dutch architecture, and the heritage.”
Alexandra says it’s not just the scenery that is breathtaking; the people are friendly and the wine world class. “We also take great pride in the fact that we invest in the people who work on the farm.” Many staff members are fluent in German, she reveals, and winemaker and general manager Rolf Zeitvogel is a fellow countryman.
Fellow Bavarian Wilfried Dauphin says he and his family have also been very sensitive about “upholding the cultural heritage” on ALLÉE BLEUE, apart from introducing “a contemporary German ambience into the property’s landscape”. But this is indeed what one might hope for from the man who founded an ergonomic office chair business in his garage in 1968, and whose multi-national company now claims over US$200 million in annual sales.
He says: “My wife, Elke, and I have been in love with SA for some 30 years now, and as we’re of Huguenot origin, we were attracted to the Franschhoek Valley. We were offered the opportunity to acquire Allée Bleue from the previous owner in 1999, and its ideal location within the Franschhoek area made it very attractive to us.”
From Cognac (Morgenhof owner Anne Cointreau-Huchon) to Chablis (L’Avenir’s Michel Laroche), there’s a definite je ne sais quoi in the winelands these days. Big names from Bordeaux include May-Eliane de Lencquesaing (Glenelly), Michel Rolland (Remhoogte), Paul Pontallier (Plaisir de Merle), Benjamin de Rothschild (Rupert & Rothschild), Stephan de Neipperg (Capaia), and Bruno Prats and Hubert de Boüard (Anwilka).
THE WINERY OF GOOD HOPE’S Alex Dale may be British, born to a family of wine merchants, but he considers himself Burgundian, having lived in Beaune between the ages of 16 and 28. He recalls: “In 1988 Tanya Mackenzie of Hartenberg Estate did a term of study in Beaune and became a regular at the bar I co-owned. After months of hearing stories about the incredible Cape, in contrast to the terrible press SA was receiving at the time, it occurred to me that I should check things out for myself. In February 1994, six consecutive annual trips later, I said if SA could pull off a peaceful transition to democracy and majority rule, then the Cape would be one of the greatest places in the world to live. And that I would make it my home.”
On the day the election results were announced, he handed in his notice. “Three months later, I was standing in an immigration queue at Cape Town Airport. I had no idea what I would do exactly, but I knew I had a profound attachment to this country, its people, its beauty, and I wanted to be part of the future of its wine. Partaking in such history-in-the-making (and in the emergence of a great wine region) would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
His aim has always been for his wines to be “distinctly of the Cape, and proud of their origin”, but he says his years in Burgundy have most certainly influenced him. “We want to make wines which are site driven and hand crafted—that’s certainly a Burgundian approach—and there is no denying I favour the elegance and restraint of the wines of northern France. But we are determined to use our knowledge from elsewhere to make the most faithful and genuine Cape wines we know how. I am not here to produce surrogate French wines; I am here to discover the potential of the Cape. I love this region and am delighted to be permitted to come along for the ride.”
As far as other Old World wine-producing countries go, Italian industrialist Giulio Bertrand chose MORGENSTER as his place to become an olive oil and wine farmer, while relative newcomers Carla and Franco Maestroni of ALEXKIA say they are working harder than ever since ‘retiring’ to Robertson. ESCAPADE WINERY, meanwhile, seems an appropriate name for the Cape venture of acclaimed Greek winemakers Evangelos Gerovassiliou and Vassilis Tsaktsarlis with marketer Takis Soldatos.
Chillier climates are even better represented, from Switzerland’s Adrian Bührer (Saxenburg), Rudolf and Hans-Jürg Saager (Eikendal) and Donald Hess (Glen Carlou) to Belgium’s Joris van Almenkerk (Almenkerk) and Norway’s Geir Tellefsen and Sissel Anderssen (Rosendal). “It is a pleasure to spend European money in South Africa,” comments AALDERING owner Fons Aaldering, a well-known luxury-food entrepreneur in the Netherlands. “It is about time rich countries took care of developing countries. We love creating work for the locals.”
It’s surely a feather in SA’s cap that major players in the UK wine trade have chosen to make their own wine here—take Paul Boutinot (Waterkloof) and Roger Gabb of Western Wines/Kumala fame (Journey’s End). But from commodity trader Anthony Ward (Vondeling) to philanthropist Richard Astor (Solms-Delta), it’s difficult to pigeon-hole the rest. Consider Laurence Graff, the founder and chairman of Graff Diamonds International, one of the world’s leading diamond jewellery companies. He bought DELAIRE in 2003 and has since spent a reported R300 million converting it into spectacular winery, hotel and restaurant destination. Why? “Many of the greatest diamonds the world has ever seen were discovered in Africa. Being a diamantaire, I feel a special bond with this place.”
During his years working in the local diamond industry, Graff experienced the growing global interest in South African wines. “I saw there was a niche in the market for truly upscale vineyards that provided more than just wine. And I knew as soon as I saw Delaire that there was an opportunity to create an exceptional experience. I also knew it would be a place to enjoy for many years to come.”
As far as other English-speaking countries go, Americans making Cape wine range from the Nash family of Black Pearl Wines to E&J Gallo partnering with Swartland Winery to produce the Sebeka label. Then there’s Preston Haskell, the American property mogul based in Moscow, who bought the old Dombeya estate in 2002. He built a cellar in 2004, and asked Australian business partner Grant Dodd, a former professional golfer and wine author, to come on board at DOMBEYA WINES/HASKELL VINEYARDS as general manager in 2005.
“I guess South Africa chose me rather than the other way round,” says Grant, “but I’m very happy things turned out the way they did.”
He says the sense of possibility is what he enjoys most about making wine in SA. “I don’t believe South Africa’s greatest wines have been made yet, and this is a point I have made to my staff on a number of occasions. History is being made in South African wine every day as ambitious winemakers push the envelope on style and creativity—this really is a place on the move.”