Dogged pur­suit of wine ex­cel­lence

Wine­maker com­bines a love of pooches with a pas­sion for blend­ing unique South African of­fer­ings

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODWINE -

DED­I­CATED wine­mak­ers, their blends, their dogs and pas­sion for an­i­mal wel­fare har­monise hap­pily in the Stel­len­bosch wine re­gion, where sev­eral pro­duc­ers are as de­voted to their ca­nine com­pan­ions as to the con­tents of their tanks and bar­rels.

It’s a trait that has been il­lus­trated on a num­ber of la­bels sport­ing im­ages of beloved pets along­side names like Bris­tle Red (Lorna Hughes’s de­light­ful blend) and Mike Do­brovic’s Faith­ful Hound from Mul­der­bosch.

Stel­len­bosch-based Adoro wines have cho­sen to stay with more clas­sic la­bels, even though wine­maker Ian Naude is an­other cham­pion of ca­nine well­be­ing.

Re­cently, I found my way to a smart of­fice park on the crest of a hill be­tween sub­ur­ban and ru­ral Dur­banville, where a de­signer suite makes an ap­pro­pri­ately glam­orous home for In­tra In­ter­na­tional, a South African com­pany and the only non-Scot­tish owner of a Spey­side dis­tillery. With Adoro wines, it pro­duces Ben Ri­ach, a classy sin­gle malt that starts at R400 and tops out at around R20 000 – that’s a bot­tle.

A vertical tast­ing of Naude’s metic­u­lously crafted wines started with his 2006 Five Re­gions sau­vi­gnon blanc, in which grapes from Elim, El­gin, Stel­len­bosch, Dur­banville and Dar­ling were fer­mented sep­a­rately be­fore the blend­ing process started. The re­sult is a wine with stay­ing power that ex­hibits Old World el­e­gance and New World fruit, that can en­hance not only seafood, but ori­en­tal spice and some red meat. The 2008 vin­tage is de­light­fully dif­fer­ent, of­fer­ing the fresh­ness of a sor­bet, dis­tinct min­er­al­ity and a long fin­ish, while the 2009 is al­ready show­ing Elim and El­gin char­ac­ter­is­tics ahead of those typ­i­cal of Stel­len­bosch.

Naude White Blend

has ac­quired a fine rep­u­ta­tion since its 2006 début, and the re­cently re­leased 2008 is sure to draw more praise: Semil­lon, chenin and some sau­vi­gnon blanc from 12 vine­yards in sev­eral re­gions make up this com­plex mix, a big wine in ev­ery re­spect and one that of­fers new lay­ers of flavour the longer you leave it in the glass.

Both whites re­tail for less than R100, of­fer­ing good value for those who re­gard Cape white blends as among our most ex­cit­ing prod­ucts. I find th­ese to be on a par with sim­i­lar prod­ucts sell­ing at twice the price.

Naude is sell­ing his 2005 Adoro red blend at R120 – a com­plex, care­fully bal­anced blend of mostly shi­raz, with a lit­tle cab and mer­lot, and an­other great good food part­ner that will con­tinue to de­velop over the next few years.

Talk­ing wine in Dur­banville was also a home­com­ing of sorts for Naude, who grew up there be­fore study­ing, then trav­el­ling ex­ten­sively be­tween bouts of wine­mak­ing. He took the plunge of go­ing solo four years ago but en­joys the com­pan­ion­ship, sup­port and co­op­er­a­tion of four other in­dus­try high-fliers: the ex­traor­di­nary Eben Sadie, along with Kevin Grant, Teddy Hall and Bruwer Raats, in­di­vid­u­al­ists known for their stylish la­bels and niche wines.

Naude spends time search­ing for hid­den vine­yards with po­ten­tial where grapes are usu­ally de­liv­ered to lo­cal bulk pro­duc­ers for low prices. Suc­cess­ful ne­go­ti­a­tion with the farmer sees Adoro nur­tur­ing the vines to har­vest, while the owner ben­e­fits from sub­stan­tially in­creased prices.

Blends are not only Naude’s per­sonal pas­sion but are the cat­e­gory that could make South African wines both unique and renowned across the globe.

He states, with quiet con­vic­tion: “We are the only coun­try that can put the best of the Old and New Worlds to­gether to pro­duce ex­cit­ing niche wines.”

His opin­ion is echoed by con­nois­seurs in Lon­don, which Naude re­gards as the cen­tre of the wine world. It’s there, he says, that trends start, then rip­ple out across the globe. His vis­its al­ways in­clude a few hours at a cou­ple of wine shops on Kens­ing­ton High Street to watch what cus­tomers are buy­ing.

Back home, morn­ings start with a run around Joost­en­bergvlakte, when he and his pooches are of­ten joined by other ca­nines who know the rou­tine.

Along with sev­eral Stel­len­bosch wine­mak­ers, Naude is an en­thu­si­as­tic fund-raiser for Stel­len­bosch An­i­mal Wel­fare.

When it’s for dogs, he says, Stel­len­bosch farm­ers give their best wines for auc­tion­ing. On­go­ing sup­port to the tune of R120 000 a month also pays for a ve­teri­nary sur­geon who spends much time ster­il­is­ing farm dogs to pre­vent un­wanted lit­ters.

Stay­ing in Dur­banville, where Diemers­dal es­tate is at­tract­ing ku­dos for Thys Louw’s ex­cit­ing sau­vi­gnon blancs and flag­ship red blend. One of his lesser-known la­bels has hogged the lime­light this week: his 2007 shi­raz is the proud win­ner of Wine mag­a­zine’s 2009 Shi­raz Chal­lenge. Judges praised its mod­ern, ac­ces­si­ble style and clean, pure fruit. Louw gave credit to fel­low wine­maker Mari van der Merwe, whose maiden vin­tage at Diemers­dal has proved to be a star. Best value shi­raz and run­nerup is Kango 2008, prod­uct of an Oudt­shoor n land­mark – and a re­sult that is likely to pro­duce an­i­mated com­ment in the in­dus­try. Lo­cal shi­raz fans can taste the top­scor­ers on Septem­ber 8. For de­tails, e-mail smart@rsp.co.za.

WINNING STREAK: Diemers­dal wine­maker Thys Louw has added the 2009 Shi­raz Chal­lenge to his tro­phies.

ROUND THE BLEND: Blends and ca­nine wel­fare are Ian Naude's twin pas­sions.

VINE ART: Art in the vine­yards by ac­claimed land­scape artist Stri­j­dom van der Merwe il­lus­trates Naude's pas­sion for blend­ing.

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