So says the logo of the South Africa’s southern most vineyard in cool climate Elim, and we were about to find out!
“Have you got a 4 wheel drive?” asked Conrad, the Strandveld winemaker, when we phoned him to confirm the time of our arrival. “No” we replied. “OK, then, you’ll never make it up to Strandveld after all the rain, meet me at the Black Oystercatcher winery on the main road; I’ll drive you up”. Two winery visits instead of one! And 20 minutes after arriving at Black Oystercatcher Bob thought, why leave? Interesting wines, a craft beer brewery as well, plus an award winning restaurant that would be opening for lunch.
Conrad arrived on time wearing, of course, the winemaker’s uniform (old shorts and cut off welly boots) and up the hill to Strandveld we struggled – even in the 4×4 “bakkie”. Three miles later we arrived at the most southerly winery in South Africa, only a few miles inland from Cape Agulhas where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean, 160 miles South East of Cape Town.
At almost 35 degrees below the equator, the maritime climate has below average temperatures for the Cape. Here, the winds can be so strong that vineyard workers find it hard to stand up!
We knew we had arrived at the right place – the winery sign can probably be seen by passing aircraft – and the weather was typical of this wild cool region, a keen breeze and clouds that gave that feeling that it could rain sometime soon. There had been 100mm of rain over the last few days, and this was the height of summer (Annual rainfall is around 500mm).
In the Winery
We were delighted to see that the mobile bottling facility was on site, but how they got up the hill we had no idea. It is fascinating to watch the fully automated process of transforming piles of corks, labels, bottles and a tank of wine into neat cases of 6 bottles ready to sell, at the rate of about 5 cases a minute! Conrad always likes to supervise the all important bottling process; it is technical and good wine can be spoilt if things go wrong.
Tour of the vineyards
One of Conrad’s first actions after starting at the winery in 2004 was to uproot all the vines and replant with new. He also changed the entire orientation of the vineyard, planting the new rows of vines parallel to the strong prevailing wind rather than in the normal direction facing the sun, which meant that the vines had been previously at right angles to the wind. His hunch that this would dramatically improve the quality of the grapes paid off, and as the vines age the quality is increasing with every vintage.
There are now 69 hectares of vines producing 27,000 cases of wines a year, mostly sauvignon and semillon (55%) for Loire and Bordeaux style whites and syrah, grenache and mourvedre for mostly Rhone style reds, plus a little Pinot Noir (45%).
After our drive and walk around the vineyards in the cool, blustery weather, we went back to the winery where we enjoyed a Tasting with Conrad telling us more about the wines, followed by a convivial lunch with him and Jackie (Sales & Marketing Director – who had driven from her base in Stellenbosch to be with us that day!)
Tasting the wines
Most of the wine made is for the “First Sighting” range – a fresh, very French style sauvignon with an elegant minerality, and a typical spicy, peppery shiraz blend whose 12 months ageing in older barrels is nicely balanced by good, berry fruits. This is not a jammy hot climate shiraz but a refined fresh syrah!
The First Sighting wines are very good, but the highlight of the tasting had to be the “limited edition” Navigator Syrah and Pofadderbos Sauvignon wines. Only a few thousand bottles of each are made – and even at South African prices they’re expensive – but they demonstrate the quality and complexity that can be achieved in modern South African viticulture and winemaking.
South Africa’s future – Cool climate wines?
“Strandveld” refers to the coastal belt of land which spans the coastline around Africa’s southernmost tip, which is characterised by severe wind, mist and cool temperatures. This confluence of maritime climate, varying site and soil types create the diversity of terroir and all of this provides both the opportunities and challenges for the production of wines here.
Conrad Vlok’s focus in the vineyard to produce excellent quality grapes, which ripen slowly in this climate, together with his careful winemaking has resulted in wines with intense, fresh flavours that really stand out.
Strandveld has won many awards and accolades over the past few years, too many to mention here, but notably First Sighting Sauvignon Blanc 2018 won a Decanter Gold Medal and First Sighting Shiraz 2017 won a Decanter Silver, and you can find both in the Wine Shop!
“Genuine lively, fresh nettle and elderflower aromas. Very typical and expressive with cool climate Sauvignon notes. Super balance on the fresh yet powerful palate.” 96 Points. Gold Medal Decanter World Wine Awards 2019.
“Typical spicy, meaty high notes over black fruit. Juicy palate with harmonious appeal. Touch of complimenting oak on the finish.” First Sighting Shiraz 2017; Decanter Awards Panel.
In contrast to the highland beauty of Iona’s vineyards in Elgin (see our blog on Iona), Strandveld’s vineyards in Elim are in a wild and windswept area. What they both have in common is a cool climate, which is not widespread in the Cape, but could become key in the future production of high quality wines from this country.
“The decidedly cool Elim near Cape Agulhas is clearly capable of making notably fine Sauvignon Blanc” Jancis Robinson MW