A taste of the Mediterranean

Diverse soils and the unique factors on Waterford Estate’s farm make for the production of some seriously interesting Mediterranean wines and blends – an opportunity Kevin Arnold identified and started to explore 22 years ago. Before planting the Waterford Estate vineyards, the winemaker also wouldn’t have known that these drought-resistant varieties would play an important role in years to come.

The Mediterranean people are not only known for their robust health and vigour, but also for their bold, unapologetic red wines. With a number of Mediterranean grape varieties taking up a fair share of land on Waterford Estate, the link to grapes that originate from countries on the Mediterranean coastline form an important part of our story.

It’s a chapter in the Waterford Estate history book that’s best appreciated while enjoying a glass of The Jem, our flagship wine. To understand the significance of experimenting with alternative Mediterranean grape varietals such as Grenache, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Barbera and Sangiovese on the estate, it’s also worth taking a step back in time.

When the Dutch East Indian Company established a supply station for fresh goods in Cape Town in the mid-17th century, the settlement took its first tentative steps to becoming one of the finest wine regions of the world. Soon after the Dutch settled at the tip of Africa, British and French settlers followed. And, in the late 19th and early 20th century, a significant number of Italians made South Africa their home. Along with these European immigrants came a culture of wine production, and a string of grape varieties.

For a long time, the South African wine industry focused on producing well-known varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. But, in recent years, lesser-known varietals from Europe made their way to our shores. When Waterford Estate managing partner and cellar master Kevin Arnold established the estate 22 years ago, he led the way in terms of introducing lesser-known Mediterranean varietals to the Stellenbosch wine region.

At a time when most other Stellenbosch wineries took a safer path by only planting the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Kevin backed himself by introducing a unique combination of Mediterranean varietals to the Blaauwklippen Valley. With Waterford Estate situated on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, yet high enough on the slopes of the Helderberg to catch the sea breeze from False Bay, experimenting with varietals that traditionally flourish in warm Mediterranean climates made sense.

Kevin and his team carefully selected sections on the property that reflected the soils of Spain, the South of France and Italy. The winemaker knew that the Mediterranean varietals he planted would flourish in what’s become known as the Stone Ridge Block on the estate – a rocky patch of earth that contains heavily weathered sandstone, decomposed granite and clay. And when a severe drought hit the Western Cape in 2017/2018, these varietals really came into their own.

But while the soils and climate of the estate mirror several key elements found in the Mediterranean region, other factors make this piece of land unique. Nowhere else on earth will you find the exact same combination of fauna and flora. Specifically, the fynbos of the area adds wonderful character to the wines, truly setting them apart from the wines produced in Europe.

Today, one only has to taste The Jem once to know that planting red varietals from Italy, the South of France and Spain in Stellenbosch was a smart move. The Platter 5-star wine masterfully expresses the diversity of the land, and encompasses everything visitors experience when spending time on the picturesque estate. The Grenache, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Barbera and Sangiovese all add subtle flavour and spice to the blend.

The Jem also echoes South Africa’s fascinating wine history. Made up of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, it gives a nod to the more traditional wines produced in the country. Yet, with the inclusion of lesser-known grape varietals from the Mediterranean region, and the unique expression of the Waterford Estate terroir, it’s a wine that simply cannot and is not replicated anywhere else.

Visit our online shop to order The Jem or any of our other award-winning wines or gift sets. We deliver free of charge in South Africa.

by Waterford Estate
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A one-of-a-kind wine

If you’ve tasted the Waterford Estate Grenache Noir before, you’ll be thrilled to know that another vintage is on its way…

It’s a few days before the Easter weekend and Mark le Roux, winemaker at Waterford Estate, is thinking about eggs. Not Easter eggs, as one might expect, but a certain egg-shaped wine tank in the cellar.

Right at this moment, the odd-looking tank is bubbling furiously with the promise of a beautiful red wine. Yes, 13 years after Grenache Noir was first planted on the estate, a 5th vintage of the Waterford Estate Grenache Noir is being born.

While Grenache Noir is relatively easy to grow on Waterford soils, Mark explains that the varietal is particularly sensitive to oak during the fermentation and ageing process, and that the wine easily absorbs the wood’s flavours. The porcelain egg, which echoes the shape of the ancient amphora, offers a practical solution: it’s neutral in flavour, yet the oval shape keeps the lees in suspension, adding subtle complexity to the wine.

Thanks to the porcelain’s unassuming character, the Grenache Noir is able to truly express the terroir – those elements that you see and feel when you walk through the vineyards on the farm. The dry, rocky soils, the sandstone, the fynbos, the olive trees, and the gentle sea breeze.

While Grenache Noir has always been part of Waterford Estate’s portfolio, it took a few years for the vines to mature and for the fruit to exhibit the characters Mark looks for when producing a single-varietal wine.

“During the first 10 years, the Grenache Noir bunches were the size of table grapes,” Mark says. “They were large and juicy, and great for eating off the vine, but they made very diluted, alcoholic wine with little flavour. In 2014, we noticed a very visual indication of maturity. The bunch weights were down, the berries were about half the size and, when tasted, they really showed their potential.”

The time had come for this grape varietal to live on its own.

This year, the Grenache Noir vines flourished during one of the driest seasons the region has ever seen. When the vines were planted many years ago, managing partner and cellar master Kevin Arnold knew that climate change would eventually affect this plot of land in the Blaauwklippen Valley. Planting drought-resistant Mediterranean varietals like Grenache, Tempranillo and Mourvedre proved to be a smart strategy.

“This year’s yield is slightly bigger than last year’s,” Mark says. “This just shows how the extreme drought has had very little effect on the vineyard. It can survive the toughest conditions.”

The Waterford team is proud of the fact that the Grenache Noir is a true reflection of the terroir. They’ve worked hard at producing a wine that doesn’t simply try to replicate what’s done in other regions of the world, but which shows purity and elegance – characteristics that are present in all Mark’s wines. The vineyards are also tended to in a way that genuinely suits the Stellenbosch environment.

For Mark, the Grenache Noir also has sentimental value. “My first work experience at Waterford Estate, back in 2004, was in these vineyards,” he says. “During my time here, we were preparing the Grenache vineyard soil for planting the following year. So, I was here when the groundwork was laid.” Being able to produce the 5th vintage of Grenache Noir is a memorable experience that Mark is unlikely to forget, as this year’s harvest also coincided with the birth of his second son.

Spend a few minutes in Kevin’s company and you’ll also learn about this legendary winemaker’s passion for the robust, Spanish varietal. Nache, the young ridgeback that’s always by his side, has been named after the burgundy-coloured grape – a clear sign that the Grenache Noir is also one of Kevin’s all-time favourites.

by Waterford Estate
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The jewel in the Waterford crown

Named after owner Jeremy Ord, The Jem is Waterford Estate’s flagship wine. As the new vintage is released into the market, there’s cause for celebration.

The Waterford Way is to be prosperous, to flow with nature’s cycles, and to achieve longevity by perpetuating what has worked before. If there’s one wine that captures this philosophy, it’s The Jem.
Almost every activity at Waterford Estate is centred around creating this Platter 5-star-rated wine. A week or two before the new vintage is distributed to restaurants and shops across the globe, there’s a sense of excitement at the estate. “This year, it feels like we’re breaking barriers again,” says winemaker Mark le Roux. “The energy we felt when we first released The Jem in 2007 is back.”

This new vintage boldly talks to past experiences, smart decisions, experimentation, and steadfast consistency. Importantly, it talks to an estate that has matured over the course of two decades and which now comfortably sits among the best in the world.

Eleven years after The Jem was first released, the blend of estate-grown red varietals remains one of the best wines produced in South Africa. But with each passing year, the wine also tells a story of vineyards that are maturing, talented people who are honing their craft, and a winery that’s prospering despite tough environmental conditions.

When managing partner and cellar master Kevin Arnold planted the varietals that go into The Jem twenty years ago, he couldn’t have known that a severe drought would hit the Western Cape in 2017/2018. Still, Kevin and his team had the foresight to plant drought-resistant varietals, and now they’re enjoying the fruit of their labour. In a year in which the drought has dealt a heavy blow to the South African wine industry, Waterford Estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon harvest is up by a remarkable 23%.

Another sign that the estate is really coming into its own is the fact that, in September 2017, winemaker Mark le Roux was named South African Young Winemaker of the Year by the Tim Atkin Report on South African Wines. The success of The Jem contributed to this accolade, as did a one-of-a-kind relationship between the winemaker and viticulturist David van Schalkwyk.

Picking the wines that go into The Jem is a team effort. Once a year, Kevin, Mark, David and the rest of the crew gather around a table in the cellar to carefully choose which batch of each varietal is good enough to go into the blend. “We steer clear of the very bold, arrogant wines,” Mark says. Instead, each wine is selected to enhance and support the other wines. The aim is to create an elegant, perfectly balanced blend.

“We get to cherry pick which wines will make it into one of the greatest wines in the world,” adds Kevin. The exact percentages differ slightly from year to year, but The Jem always contains Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Mourvedre, Petit Verdot, Barbera and Sangiovese. Many of these are unusual grape varietals for the Stellenbosch wine region – part of what makes The Jem so unique.

Despite the fact that, by South African standards, The Jem is a fairly expensive wine, the greatest volume is still sold in this country – an achievement the team is incredibly proud of. Great care goes into producing each bottle, and it’s wonderful to see how this truly South African wine is appreciated by the local market.

In Mark’s words, The Jem is “the one wine that represents all” and which epitomises the authenticity, quality and craftsmanship for which Waterford Estate has become known.
Give it a try if you haven’t yet had the privilege – you won’t be disappointed.

by Waterford Estate
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History in the (wine) making

Waterford Estate may be fairly young, but it has many fascinating stories to tell. One of these is how, serendipitously, a one-of-a-kind Antique Chenin Blanc came into being.

When French intern Cédric Lecareux visited Waterford Estate in 2001, he decided to try his hand at making Chenin Blanc. At the time, it was the most widely planted varietal in South Africa, for the simple reason that it provided a good base for brandy.

Cédric had some experience working with Chenin Blanc back home, the grape was in ample supply, and Kevin Arnold (Waterford Estate Managing Partner and Cellar Master) was all for experimenting. And so, when the grapes from 35-year-old bush vines on a neighbouring farm arrived, the intern made his wine.

Cédric couldn’t have known that, 17 years later, visitors to Waterford Estate would still be mesmerised by the wine he started producing back then. When he placed the Chenin Blanc in a French oak barrel, and left it to ferment naturally in a quiet, forgotten corner of the cellar, he started writing a new chapter in Waterford’s history book. But, as with all good stories, things didn’t initially go according to plan.

By the time the wine was bottled in 2003, Cédric no longer worked on the estate. As the batch was small, bottling had to be done by hand and, somewhere along the way, the process went awry. The wine turned cloudy after only a few years. “I then had the bottles opened up, put the wine back in a barrel, and added fresh Chenin Blanc from 2004 to fill it up,” Kevin recalls.

This is how the solera system of adding fresh wine to the barrel of Chenin Blanc started. By using this Spanish method of producing wine, small amounts of younger wine were systematically blended with the more mature wine. The new wine added freshness to what soon became known as Waterford Estate’s Antique Chenin Blanc.

In the years that followed, random bottlings were done under the watchful eye of award-winning winemaker Mark le Roux. Now bottlings are done regularly, and in a more controlled fashion.

The Antique Chenin Blanc, which some lucky visitors get to sample when they do a Library Tasting at the estate, has a lovely golden colour and boasts notes of apricot, spice and citrus. The palate is bold and unapologetic yet wonderfully crisp, thanks to the fresh wine that’s added every year. Fascinatingly, the wine tells a story of experimentation and adventure that echoes the pioneering spirit for which Waterford has become known.

Mark explains that the Library Collection aims to push the boundaries of natural winemaking, and that this Antique Chenin Blanc is, therefore, a perfect fit.

Generally, the wines that form part of the Library Collection are also once-offs. But, if successful, they inform the production of future wines. While the Chenin Blanc originally came into being as a simple experiment by an intern, it has now become the impetus for creating a brand-new, commercially available Chenin Blanc.

To flow with nature’s cycles, and to achieve longevity by perpetuation of what has worked before, is known as “The Waterford Way”. If there was ever a wine that epitomises this philosophy, it’s the Antique Chenin Blanc and its successor: the soon-to-be-released Waterford Chenin Blanc. Keep an eye out for this one – it’s a beauty.

by Waterford Estate
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A wine experience for every taste

Whether you’re a wine novice or master, a fun-loving traveller or a foodie, there’s a Waterford Estate tasting experience with your name on it.

Waterford Estate offers six unique tasting experiences, making it easy to explore the team’s award-winning wines, right where they’re produced, in a way that suits your preference.

The Waterford Estate brand was born through a sensory appreciation of the fauna and flora on the farm. These unique elements are still constantly incorporated into the wines, and flowing with nature’s cycles, seasons and chapters underpins all the experiences offered on the estate.

When Kevin Arnold found the property in 1998, and initiated the Waterford project with the financial support of the Ord family, his aim was to keep the brand and the wine-tasting experiences as authentic as possible – a goal that, to this day, guides the winery’s offerings.

“When I first came here in the 1970s, I made a mental note that this could one day become the ‘Constantia’ of the Stellenbosch Winelands,” says Kevin. “While the agriculture was in a poor state, I found a pristine nature reserve.” At this stage, a small amount of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc vines, planted in 1988, existed on the farm.

Kevin and his team set about building a brand that told a fascinating story about the terroir and its history – even before they really started getting serious about making wine.

“Everything we did was centred on where we are – the geography and the landscape,” says Kevin, adding that each wine’s story, both inside and outside the bottle, is still told as visitors make their way across the farm during the wine-tasting experiences. “When we first created these experiences, they offered a way of taking visitors away from the obvious – the cellar and the tasting room.”

To start with, guests can enjoy a wine tasting in Waterford’s handsome courtyard. With the wine cellar surrounding this peaceful, well-maintained space, it offers a fantastic way of observing the workings of the winery.

Two truly superb vineyard tasting experiences paint a picture of where the wines originate from. Kevin and his son, Lloyd, established the Porcupine Trail Walk by exploring the paths used by the porcupines on the estate. As guests follow in the porcupines’ footsteps, they get a real sense of the environment in which the grapes are grown. The Wine Drive Safari, on the other hand, allows visitors to kick back and relax in a 4×4 vehicle, while getting a view of the activities on the farm.

As Waterford Estate is situated in the picturesque Blaauwklippen Valley, the walks and drives are spectacular. Less than half of the 120-hectare estate is under vine, so there’s much to be seen: fynbos, rock formations, tortoises, birds, bucks, and views that stretch towards the Atlantic Ocean and the City Bowl.

The tasting experiences, which also include the Library Tasting and the Reserve Tasting, were all developed and refined over time. The Wine Drive Safari, for example, grew from a simple wine tasting in the vineyards with biltong and droëwors, to a more sophisticated wine-and-snack pairing that culminates with Waterford’s popular wine-and-chocolate tasting back at the winery.

Waterford Estate was the first winery in South Africa to pair chocolate with wine in a tasting experience. Kevin worked closely with Greyton-based chocolatier Richard von Geusau in developing this world-class offering – a process that took 6 months.

Every tasting experience at Waterford Estate is aimed at connecting with the visitor on both a sensory and emotional level. “I truly believe that if you discover something for yourself, and you have a feeling about it, the memory lasts longer,” Kevin says. “Everything we do is about creating that special feeling.”

If you’ve enjoyed Waterford Estate’s tastings in the past, you’ll be happy to hear that the team is busy working on other innovative experiences – from expanding the popular Sunset Sessions to creating a nursery, and offering hands-on workshops in the orchards and vineyards.

With the estate continuously offering better-quality experiences, while staying true to the pioneering yet authentic “Waterford Way”, it’s no wonder that, on TripAdvisor.com, visiting Waterford remains one of the “top things to do” in the Stellenbosch Winelands.

by Waterford Estate
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Linger longer – visit the Waterford Estate Library

For a truly unique experience in the Stellenbosch Winelands, book a Waterford Estate Library Tasting. A special record of the wines produced on the Estate is kept in the Library, and lucky guests are offered a taste.

“The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library,” Albert Einstein once quipped. And, in the case of Waterford Estate, this certainly is true.

Yet, the Library at Waterford isn’t where you’d go to find a compelling read. Instead, it’s where you get a taste of the Waterford team’s sense of adventure – their willingness to take risks, to pioneer, to walk the road less travelled.

The Waterford Library is a wonderfully dark, cool room next to the cellar, slightly hidden away from the main tasting room and courtyard, where you can spend a leisurely hour or two tasting truly unique, once-off wines.

“The Library Tasting gives you a chance to try the ‘geekier’ wines we make on the Estate,” says winemaker Mark le Roux, who was recently named South African Young Winemaker of the Year by the globally recognised Tim Atkin Report on South African Wines.

The wines that form part of the Library Collection are an “open book”, Mark continues. These are experimental wines that the Waterford team use to teach themselves new skills. The Library wines are used as a tool to improve the current Waterford wines through vineyard or winemaking techniques, component relationships in a blend during ageing, and so forth.

A visit to the library

First up is a 2009 Bordeaux-style white, made from the first Sauvignon Blanc vines planted on the Estate. Bright asparagus, gooseberry and zesty citrus notes form a beautiful balance. And, for a white wine that’s almost 10 years old, the liveliness and clarity is a surprise.

Next, a nifty little device called a Coravin is used to pour four glasses of Grenache Blanc without pulling the cork (the Coravin replaces the wine that’s been removed with an inert gas called Argon, which protects the wine). As the Library wines are made in small batches, each drop is precious – and opening bottles without finishing them is simply out of the question. The wine is exquisite: while the palate echoes that of the Sauvignon Blanc, the floral notes and hints of dessert peach are mesmerising.

From here, an opulent 2013 Riesling that boasts a rich, yellow colour is poured. This is followed by a 2013 Pinot Noir with concentrated aromas of fleshy berries and wild cherries, and a lingering dry finish. Both wines are highly enjoyable and speak to the wide range of wines that Waterford makes with remarkable success.

The real showstopper is, however, kept for last. “Edition M”, a full-bodied blend of Merlot (71%), Cabernet Sauvignon (18%) and Cabernet Franc (11%), is the wine Mark shared with his family and friends this past festive season (his aim when he first set out to make it). It’s a truly exceptional blend with an expressive nose of ripe cherry, plum and mulberry, and a cigar-box, chocolatey finish.

We’re blown away, and there’s consensus: it was worth doing the Library Tasting just for this magnificent wine.

The great thing about these tastings is that you can do them every so often, and enjoy a unique experience every time. New, experimental wines are always being added to the list. And having a room to yourself, where you can expand your knowledge on Waterford’s offering in the company of a well-informed host, certainly is a great way to spend a morning in the Stellenbosch Winelands.

Book ahead – you won’t be disappointed.

by Waterford Estate
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Harvest Time

The day the harvest season starts is the moment the Waterford team prepares for all year. Now’s the time to put the fruits of their labour to the test.

It’s 6am on a Tuesday morning. The town of Stellenbosch is slowly starting to wake up, yet there’s already some movement in the vineyards at Waterford Estate. If you listen closely, you’ll hear a tractor grumbling, the snip-snip of fast hands and sharp cutters, and the barely audible thud-thud-thud of bunches of grapes landing in crates.

Today marks the official start of the 2018 harvest season, and the Waterford Estate team is in high spirits. A handful of pickers is moving swiftly through a single Chardonnay vineyard block. Beautiful bunches of bright-green grapes – set to form part of a new vintage of Waterford Estate Methode Cap Classique (MCC) – are ripe for the picking.

This will be the 4th time MCC is produced from this particular block, perched high up on the slopes of the Helderberg and planted in 2007. With sandstone and granite-rich soils adding back bone and minerality to the grapes, and the vines benefiting from a hint of sea breeze, the wine promises to boast characteristics typical of the French Champagne style while telling a fascinating story about the terroir.

This early in the harvest season, the grapes are still acidic – the aim being to produce a neutral, dry base wine that can develop over time. Only 2.5 tons of grapes are being picked this morning; the rest will follow a day or two later.

True to Waterford’s nature, there’s a sense of camaraderie in the vineyard as the pickers make their way through the rows of vines. “Tel op – elke korrel is ‘n borrel (Pick up – every grape is a bubble),” one of the pickers quips. “Fill it, Sarel, fill it, fill it,” another one says, as the picked bunches of grapes are added to the pile.

This may look like quick, easy work, but there’s more to it than meets the eye, says viticulturist David van Schalkwyk. He keeps a couple of rolls of bandages in the front of his bakkie, as cuts and bruises are par for the course. This morning, extra pairs of hands come in the form of friends and family who, along with the permanent staff contingent, make short work of the harvest.

When the first strong rays of sunlight hit the vines, the tractors start making their way down to the cellar. Here, the whole grape brunches are pressed and the juice is settled, as only the clear juice is fermented. The wine will be aged for about 9 months, after which bottling – and a second round of fermentation – will follow. Magic is about to be made.
Just after 8am, the team gathers in the courtyard for the blessing of the grapes. This tradition, in which glasses are raised in a toast to the harvest and MCC from a previous vintage is poured over the freshly picked grapes, is not to be missed.

It’s only fitting that Marvin Gaye’s “I heard it through the grapevine” can be heard through the speakers in the courtyard as glasses are clinked. If these grapevines deliver as they should, the bubbles may just exceed the team’s wildest expectations.

by Waterford Estate
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Family Ties

Waterford Estate’s Ord and Arnold families are well known, but scattered among the staff are other interesting families. Bernie and Hendrik Engelbrecht share their story.

It’s a week before Christmas, and the courtyard at Waterford Estate is stylishly decorated: branches, twigs, paper stars and wreaths made of “kooigoed” (aromatic herbs traditionally used to stuff mattresses) hang from the eaves. On each table, there’s a fresh flower posy.

Evidence of strong family bonds can be seen everywhere – from the Arnold family dogs that play in the citrus orchards to the Ord and Arnold family names that feature prominently on the wines. And, if you linger long enough, you’ll learn that many of the staff members around you also form close-knit families.

One such example is Bernie and Hendrik Engelbrecht, a marvellous couple who has been part of the Waterford “family” right from the start.

Bernie and Hendrik first met Waterford Estate managing partner and cellar master Kevin Arnold at Rust en Vrede Estate, where Kevin spent 10 years establishing the Rust en Vrede brand. When, in 1997, Kevin left Rust en Vrede to start Waterford Estate with Jeremy Ord, Bernie and Hendrik jumped at the chance to be part of the new adventure.

“There was nothing here then,” remembers Bernie, who patiently worked her way up from farm hand to tasting-room assistant, co-decorator (her partner and mentor is Heather Arnold, Kevin’s wife) and florist at the Estate. “We had to start by planting the vineyards, and then we built the cellar. We gradually built the Estate up to what it is now.”

Hendrik also started out as a farm hand. But, through hard work and dedication, he was promoted to store manager. He also now manages the labelling process with the help of a team (all Waterford Estate wines are bottled on the premises).

“Waterford did me a massive favour by giving me a chance to prove myself,” Hendrik says, noting that Kevin played a key role in helping him to grow on both a personal and professional level since he started out at Waterford in 1997. Now, Hendrik is a leader in his own right – in the store room and among the farm community.

Bernie’s days are busy, too: her mornings usually start with the flower arrangements. She painstakingly checks that all the posies are ready, and that the tasting room and courtyard is spotlessly clean. “The look and feel must be perfect,” she says.

Then she bakes bread for the wine drives, which start at 10am. Bernie also helps with the tastings, keeping a beady eye on her colleagues. On some days, she takes time to walk through the vineyards, gardens and orchards to pick flowers and fynbos for her displays.

Bernie and Hendrik just celebrated their 23rd Christmas together. Their two sons (one of whom also works on the Estate) and two granddaughters spent the holidays with them. “We always enjoy Christmas together as a family,” Bernie says. “But, while it’s important for us to be together as a family, I don’t always feel like cooking. Some years, we book a spot at a restaurant and spend the day there.”

The family’s favourite meal is Bernie’s legendary lasagne and, on Sundays, they usually braai after spending part of the morning at church where Hendrik is a pastor. On Saturday afternoons, Hendrik, Bernie and many of the other families who live on the farm hop on a truck to see the Waterford soccer team in action – a fun way of relaxing after a busy week.

The couple’s advice for those who haven’t visited Waterford Estate yet? “Come and spend the day with us. It’s really peaceful here, and you can linger as long as you’d like to,” Bernie says. “Back when we just started out, there were only bushes,” Hendrik adds. “Just look at it all now – it’s breathtakingly beautiful.”

by Waterford Estate
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A fine MCC in the making

The phrase “hurry up and wait” pretty much sums up the process of making Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) at Waterford Estate. The process of bottling is fast and intense, but then we kick back, relax and wait for almost a decade before we pop the cork.

On a cool November morning, there’s a buzz in the Waterford Estate wine cellar. Today, a 2017 Chardonnay is being bottled. The aim? To allow for a second process of fermentation in the bottle and, ultimately, the production of 4,000 bottles of sought-after, seductive Waterford MCC.

The day before bottling, winemaker Mark le Roux warns that emotions could run high in the cellar. This is the last step in the wine-making process that can be controlled, and Mark is anxious. Over several months, he worked side by side with viticulturist and good friend David van Schalkwyk, tending to the grapes, overseeing the harvest, nurturing the wine, and planning the end product with great care. A lot hinges on the success of the day.

David explains that, in South Africa, Méthode Cap Classique or MCC is usually produced from Pinot Noir, Meunier and/or Chardonnay – grape varietals that are fairly easy to grow and which offer only subtle fruit notes, especially when picked early in the season. The Chardonnay grapes used to produce the 2017 Blanc de Blanc MCC were all sourced from a 10-year-old block on the estate, and harvested early in the summer of 2017 to allow for the production of a neutral, dry white wine (the so-called “base wine”).

The grapes spent approximately 26 days fermenting, after which it was aged for a further 9 months in stainless-steel tanks. Using oak barrels were out of the question, Mark says, as wood flavours tend to overpower the delicate, unique character of the grapes. And at Waterford Estate, the team’s goal is clear: all wines produced have to be an honest expression of the terroir – the rich, fertile environment in which the grapes are grown.

 

Time to focus
Despite warnings of slightly inappropriate language, a sense of deep concentration and silent camaraderie reigns among the team on bottling day. Bottles are swiftly added to the production line, filled with wine (and just enough sugar and yeast to allow for a fresh new round of fermentation), plugged, capped, and carefully packed in wooden crates. Safely secured with their crown caps, the bottles are now able to withstand the immense pressure that will build up in them over the next few months.

Mark allows for many years of maturation in the cool cellars on the estate, giving the yeast a leisurely 7 – 8 years to work its magic. And there’s really no rush. To flow with nature’s cycles, and to take the time to experiment with an MCC that’s matured much, much longer than most other products on the South African market, is what The Waterford Way is all about. While the team will only really know the success of the MCC when the corks are popped several years from now, they’re giving the wine all the time it needs to develop the flavours that will tell a very unique story.

To be rewarded with a crisp, clean MCC that sings with subtle notes of apple, pear, citrus and biscuit, and which boasts the most delicate of bubbles, is certainly worth the wait. But, ultimately, the team will have produced a wine that speaks to the environment, to authenticity and to adventure, and which echoes the friendships forged during the long, slow journey from farm to flute.

by Waterford Estate
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40 Under 40: Mark le Roux

Meet Mark le Roux. As a young boy who loved the outdoors, he would spend his time exploring and playing in the Stellenbosch winelands. Fascinated by nature and patiently indulged by his father who studied forestry, Mark’s world was shaped by the careful interaction between man and nature.

In the twenty-odd years since he is still exploring and this time, winemaking and terrior is his game. “The challenge of linking the soils and environment to specific cultivars and then to produce representing wine thereof is the rush I live for,” says the 32-year-old Waterford winemaker.

Mark studied a BSc Agric (Oenology and Viticulture) at Stellenbosch University. After graduating, he worked in South Africa for 3 years before doing a harvest in Carneros, California. Mark joined the winemaking team at Waterford in 2009 and took over winemaking production with 2013 being his first vintage. You can sense that Mark is truly happy in his chosen career, possibly because it stills his inherent inquisitiveness to explore and ‘play’. Named South African Young Winemaker of 2017 by Tim Atkin, he surely has a promising career ahead – and not because some critic singled him out as “an awesome talent”. Mark has talent, yes, but his disarming passion for South Africa, its wine and soils are infectious. We talked coffee and the Karoo.

What vintage are you?
1985. Augusto!

If you could bottle yourself, what would the tasting note be?
Aromatics would be classic and traditional with traces of stubbornness masking the fresh, young fruit. The palate would surprise you with emotion and sensitivity. Extremely modest and honest allowing the truth of the terroir to show.

What sparked your love for food and the drink?
As a youngster I was exposed to different foods. Winter holidays on our family farm in the heart of the Karoo exposed me to the smell of genuine fynbos and suur gras, as well as the uncontested Karoo lamb. At the age of 12, our family moved to Indonesia and Malaysia for 5 years which exposed me to a very different style of food. With these exposures I’ve always loved working with my hands, and with my father as a forester, doing a lot of woodwork and planting trees in the garden to watch them grow was a great sense of satisfaction. The delayed gratification of planting a plant and watching it grow is satisfying, but to go a step further and to make wine from the plant you grow is absolutely priceless.

Aliens come down from space and you must explain to them in one bottle of wine what it is that you do – what do you make?
There are aliens out there??? I’ll tell them that I make a natural product from grapes found on earth which makes humans live longer and happier. This product, wine, connects the world in a language spoken by all on earth.

What is still on your wine bucket list?
To tour the wine region of Chile, North to South. That’s at the top, but the list is long.

Tell us about your lucky break?
Taking up a position at Waterford Estate, its where it all started. This year I was named “young South African winemaker of the year” by UK master of wine Journalist, Tim Atkin. To me, it is recognition of my lucky break 8 years ago.

What makes a wine fine?
An honest wine. For me, this is a wine which is made without selfishness and ego. Wine that is most expressive of its terroir and unshowy, with nothing to prove, it just makes sense.

What has been your greatest mistake?
Not trusting my gut. Believe in what you know, but know that you know so little.

What is your biggest motivator?
Today’s work is hard, but only tomorrow will show the results. In the future when I’m old and relaxing in my wing-back chair sipping on the wine I made back then – I don’t want to be disappointed!

How do you measure success?
By how many Instagram followers I have (@markleroux85)! Only joking. By being able to prove myself and family with everything we need and feel a level of contentment.

What inspires you?
Tasting great wines.

It’s Wednesday night at 6:30. What’s for dinner?
As Wednesday is usually braai day, it will be Kudu/Springbok Sirloins on the kole. Sides will be chunky mash potato and if I’m feeling fancy, green beans with roasted almond flakes and cauliflower and cheese sauce. To switch off from work, I’ll have a craft beer whilst braaiing.

If you weren’t making wine, what would you be doing?
A chef or a veterinarian, but thank heavens that it did not work out!  Now, I’d be a coffee farmer and roaster.

What do you rate as your proudest achievement?
Being nominated “South Africa’s Young Winemaker of the Year” by Tim Atkin.

What is a big no-no to you when it comes to making wine?
Becoming complacent and disorganized.

What would you like to achieve over the next 15 years?
I would like to prove to the world that South Africa really does make some of the finest wines.

Who or what is your idea of oenological brilliance?
There are so many talented winemakers and viticulturists in South Africa. Oenological brilliance is creating wines which fit and taste like the story of the vineyard. If I can single out one person, it would have to be Eben Sadie. He is leading the movement in South Africa.

Where are you happiest?
On our family farm in the Karoo. There is very limited cell phone signal and freedom in the veld gathering sheep on horseback. The slow pace of simple life, smelling the unpolluted air and feasting on home grown lamb without any pretentiousness.

What flavours inspire taste memories for you?
Cloves. It takes me back to Indonesia where my family lived for 5 years. Indonesian locals smokes clove cigarettes and as you get off the aeroplane the smell fills your nostrils until you leave the country again. The smell of cloves always takes me back to the street food of Indonesia.

Biggest vice?
Wine, but with my job title it does not count as a vice.

What are the biggest challenges we face in the South African wine industry? Where would you like to see us go and grow over the next ten years?
Quite simple. South Africa can make the best wines in the world. We just need to value ourselves as South Africans, too often we undervalue our products and country and sell ourselves short.
Through trusting ourselves we can achieve this. There are so many amazingly talented winemakers and viticulturists out there and I’m very positive on the future of the wine industry in South Africa.

Your cellar is underwater. You can save one bottle of wine from your collection – what do you choose?
I only have one worthwhile bottle in my cellar at home to grab, and it’s a 1985 Trio Corda from Overgaauw. How often do you get to own a bottle of your birth year?

What is your favourite food and wine memory?
Way back in 2009 I visited a friend who was winemaker at Chateau Malescasse in Bordeaux. For my final dinner before returning home, they spoilt me to one table filled with local cheeses and foie gras, and another with about 20 incredible French wines. Wines we drunk that night included Chateau Angelus, Chateau Palmer, Chateau Rauzan Segla, Chateau d’Yquem. What an amazing dinner.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? What would you cook and why?
Denzel Washington, Van Morrison, Paul McCartney, Will Smith, Freddie Mercury, Michael McIntyre, Captain Jack Sparrow and my closest friends – hopefully all the guys bring good dates!

What is the best and worst thing about working in the wine industry?
The best is that there are no two days that are the same. It is forever exciting and challenging. The worst is that harvest only lasts 65 days – my family will disagree!

Looking back, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
Don’t let other people stand in the way of what you want to do.

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by Waterford Estate
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