When Waterford runs in your blood

Waterford Estate may have a shorter ancestry than other farms but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fuelled by family ties.

As is the case in many other wine-producing countries of the world, South African wine farms are often passed down from generation to generation. In the process, parents pass on a legacy of their love of farming and their passion for wine and, as the family’s livelihood is closely connected to the farm’s prosperity, it’s in everyone’s best interest to make it succeed.

But when a winery is as young as Waterford Estate and held in the hands of two families with its prosperity being cultivated, too, by the many permanent staff and families, instilling a passion for the brand in its people must be achieved in other ways. This important ingredient to success has to be taught through a strong and rewarding work culture, transparent communication, and a sense of kinship.

Fortunately, this was a challenge that Waterford Estate managing partner Kevin Arnold never shied away from. From the start, Kevin made everyone who touched the Waterford Estate brand feel like family members, while nurturing the hardworking families who lived and worked on the farm. In his own authentic way, Kevin created a unique, family-orientated culture and a staff contingent that’s as passionate about the 20-year-old brand as the owners themselves.

Two families that are intricately woven into the tapestry that is Waterford Estate are the Blaauws and Engelbrechts. The Blaauws lived on the plot that became Waterford Estate in 1998 and joined Kevin’s small team when he first started producing wine here. The Engelbrechts, in turn, met Kevin at Rust en Vrede Estate, walked a path with him there, and joined him on his new wine-making adventure when he left to start Waterford Estate.

Natasha Duncan (née Blaauw, 28) still remembers collecting milk from an old shed on the farm and picking fruit from the pear and prune orchards that were spread across the property before it was turned into one of South Africa’s top wine estates. “I lived in the same house since the age of two and only recently moved away to Somerset West,” she says.

The Blaauws are a close-knit family that simply can’t imagine living their lives anywhere else. Natasha’s mom, Sannie, currently co-manages the farm crèche while her dad, Richard, forms an essential part of viticulturist David van Schalkwyk’s team.

Natasha, who first started working at the winery as a 19-year-old student, has been employed by Waterford Estate for nine years now. Slowly but surely, and with the gentle guidance of Kevin and the managers that came before her, Natasha progressed into her current role as senior tasting room floor manager. Without any formal training outside of Waterford Estate, she has managed to become a powerful asset to the team.

“I learnt everything I know about wine here at Waterford Estate,” she says. “The work continues to be interesting and challenging, and the estate’s unique approach to customer service is part of what keeps me here. It’s also incredibly special that my entire family is involved in some or other way.”

Over the years, Natasha has adopted Kevin’s philosophy of carefully nurturing the people who form part of her own team: “Like Kevin, I believe in giving everybody the opportunity to thrive, and that we should all support each other and work together as a unit.”

This philosophy has borne fruit in the tasting room, where the students and staff all have high praise for Natasha. “We all have our amazing story of progressing at Waterford Estate,” says marketing coordinator Isabelle Bezuidenhout. “But Natasha was our manager and shaped us into the employees we are today.”

Waterford Estate also runs in Brandon Engelbrecht’s blood. Like Natasha, Brandon (23) grew up on the farm and learnt most of what he knows about the winery from his mom Bernie, the estate’s creative tasting-room assistant, and his dad Hendrik, the store-room manager.

Brandon, who dreamt of becoming a soccer coach, started working at Waterford Estate as a student five years ago – and immediately got sucked in. He is now being trained to become a tasting-floor manager and recently completed his first Cape Wine Academy training course. Not only does he now love the world of wine, but he seems to have truly found his calling.

“The people here are like family to me,” Brandon says. “I also love being able to talk about my day at work with my family, and realise that being able to work so closely with my mom and dad is a rare and wonderful opportunity. I also love working with people, which is why I enjoy my work in the tasting room so much.”

Both Natasha and Brandon feel it’s been a great privilege to grow with the brand, and they have a true sense of sibling responsibility to its success. In true Waterford Estate spirit, they’re also both looking forward to many more adventures as part of this close-knit family of wine pioneers.

by Waterford Estate
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Home grown

While many wineries view their temporary tasting-room staff as a means to an end over the busy tourist season, nurturing students can generate a flow of talent for the future. We chat to four Waterford Estate employees who started their careers as students at the Stellenbosch winery.

It’s often said that a company is only as good as its people and that no company, big or small, can win over the long run without motivated employees. This is a philosophy that Waterford Estate has embraced since it was established in 1998, and one that is most apparent in the way the students who help out on the estate are treated.

From the beginning, the Waterford Estate brand was built around people, with managing partner Kevin Arnold taking great care to employ the right people and to hold on to those who are passionate about the brand and a good fit for the team.

Nurturing the students who come to work at Waterford Estate, and helping them to grow into exciting new roles, has become a hallmark of how the Stellenbosch winery operates. As much as this has benefited the estate, it has also opened up a world of opportunities for the students who were lucky enough to find permanent employment.

Four of the estate’s current staff members first joined the Waterford family as students. Jeremy van Heerden, Nick Battle and Brooke Warren all started off as temporary staff in the tasting room when they were still studying at Stellenbosch University. All three of them are now permanently employed as brand managers.

Isabelle Bezuidenhout, the estate’s Marketing Coordinator, took on her current role a few months after getting to know the brand as part of the tasting-room team. At the time, Isabelle had just completed studying at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco, CA.

When asked why she decided to stay at Waterford Estate when she originally planned to move back to San Francisco, Isabelle notes that the brand culture and the opportunity to grow the estate’s online presence through social media and a new website made it a natural choice. A close relationship with Kevin and winemaker Mark le Roux, and their constant guidance to ensure that all digital content stayed 100% on brand, helped her to grow into the role. “Being able to work with such an iconic brand is something most people only dream of after graduating,” she says.

The brand managers, in turn, were all trained and mentored in the tasting room, which allowed them to grow personally and professionally with the brand. After spending three years or more in the tasting room as senior students and/or managers, Nick, Jeremy and Brooke moved into their current roles. “Having your brand represented by people who are driven by passion, and who know everything about the brand right down to the finest details, is incredibly unique,” Isabelle notes.

Nick, whose journey with Waterford Estate started as a job shadow in Grade 10, was attracted by the young, high-end brand. By the time he completed his BCom degree and was offered a job just over a year ago, the brand already had a significant international footprint. Plus, he already knew the brand incredibly well. “I enjoyed the fact that we were and are doing so many exciting things with wine. We are pioneers in many ways.”

The brand culture was always the drawing card for Jeremy. “It seemed like quite a family-orientated brand and the people here made me feel very welcome. From the start, it was also quite an easy place to learn. I never felt stupid to ask questions.”

Being able to spend time with Kevin on his first day on the job, talking and learning about wine, took Jeremy by surprise – and became part of what made him stay.

For Brooke, Waterford Estate has always felt like a safe space. After being a tasting-room floor manager for two years, Brooke recently moved into the position of brand manager in Johannesburg – one of Waterford Estate’s biggest markets. “I learnt so much since I started working here in 2015 and never felt that there was a ceiling to my growth,” she says. “Every time I was at the point of taking the next step, an opportunity arose for me here.”

These former students agree that Kevin and the rest of the management team always seem to follow a very people-centred approach in employing and growing staff, preferring to walk a path with people who are already connected to the Waterford brand in some or other way. “I started off with one guy and asked him to bring his friends, and so the team grew organically,” Kevin says.

Apart from promoting from within whenever possible, Kevin adds that he also selects team members based on whether they enjoy working with people.

Anyone who has ever had the privilege to walk up the steps towards the Waterford Estate tasting room can testify just how this approach has borne fruit. Every visitor is made to feel exceptionally welcome by the staff – all of whom are proud brand ambassadors for one of South Africa’s best-loved wine brands.

by Waterford Estate
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A TASTE OF WHAT’S TO COME

Need an excuse to visit the Stellenbosch Winelands? Here’s a great reason to pop in at our tasting room: we’re releasing three exciting new vintages over the next few weeks.

It’s a busy June morning in the cellar, and winemaker Mark le Roux is hard to pin down. “We’re taking out an old virus-infected Shiraz block today,” he explains when we finally catch up. Plus, this year’s Shiraz harvest is currently undergoing malolactic fermentation (a second, intense period of fermentation) and careful monitoring is required.

In between testing and tasting the wine, and prepping colleagues for tasks that have to be done while Mark travels to France the following week, the winemaker sets an hour aside to talk about the release of the new vintages. It’s the moment of truth when many months of hard work in the vineyards and cellar culminates in the enjoyment of the wines.

This winter, Mark is particularly excited about the release of the 2016 Waterford Estate Grenache Noir, the 2017 Waterford Elgin Pinot Noir and the 2018 Waterford Rose-Mary. While these new vintages have remained true to the estate’s classic, restrained style, subtle nuances in aroma and taste tell interesting stories about the seasons in which these wines were produced.

2016 Waterford Estate Grenache Noir

The Grenache Noir (one of Mark’s personal favourites) is an elegant, savoury expression of the Spanish varietal grown in a small, rocky block on Waterford Estate. While this varietal has always been part of the estate’s portfolio, it took a few years for the fruit to exhibit the characters needed to produce a top-quality, single-varietal wine. With the 2016 vintage, it’s clear that the Grenache Noir vineyard is finally reaching maturity.

In 2016, temperatures were high, and the estate had some rains during the harvest season – factors that all had an influence on the wine. This was also the second year in which porcelain jar fermenters were used in producing the Grenache Noir, adding to the vintage’s earthy character.

As with previous vintages, Grenache Noir fans can look forward to plush red cherry notes and hints of spicy clove in a wine that perfectly complements venison and other meat dishes.

2017 Waterford Elgin Pinot Noir

The grapes that go into the Pinot Noir are carefully sourced from a single vineyard in Elgin – an area in the Overberg region of South Africa that has a slightly cooler climate than Stellenbosch. After harvesting, a very natural wine-making process is followed to ensure that this delicate wine remains a true expression of the terroir.

“When compared to previous vintages, the 2017 Pinot Noir feels like a more modern wine,” Mark says, explaining that this can be attributed to the dry season. “As a result of the drought, we had more control over the growth and ripening of some of the vineyards, which helped us to produce a cleaner, fresher wine. Many of the vineyards, including the Pinot Noir vineyard, also liked the fact that they weren’t subjected to rain during the harvest season.”

In step with previous vintages, the 2017 Waterford Elgin Pinot Noir offers floral and wild cherry notes, but this time with a fresh, crisp edge. It’s the perfect pair for fish and lighter meat dishes.

2018 Waterford Rose-Mary

The red grapes used to produce the Rose-Mary, one of Waterford Estate’s best-loved wines, are always picked early in the season, and this year was no exception. However, the 2018 vintage is cleaner and fresher than previous vintages, and the alcohol content lower. These are slightly surprising results, Mark says, given the fact that the 2017/2018 season was particularly tough and dry.

The crisp, salmon-coloured wine is a blend of Shiraz, Merlot, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Malbec, all of which add a soft texture to the wine. “The grapes that go into the Rose-Mary achieved ripeness at lower sugar levels this year,” Mark says, explaining that, while the season was very dry, it wasn’t particularly hot.

“The vines were under pressure from the drought, which meant that they used more of their energy to produce fruit and seeds,” he continues. As such, Waterford Estate had a good harvest season – a result that’s reflected in the wine.

This 2018 Waterford Rose-Mary makes for the perfect start to a lunch or dinner, and pairs wonderfully with winter salads and other light meals. It’s also a great wine to stock up on for spring and summer.

by Waterford Estate
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Welcome to our online shop!

If you are one of those who likes to go out of their way to find the perfect gift, but don’t always have the time to do so? Waterford Estate’s online shop now makes it easy to shop 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from the comfort of your sofa.

We offer a range of bespoke items, gift boxes and vouchers via the online shop on Waterford.co.za and will ship your hand chosen one-of-a-kind gift free of charge to any destination in South Africa. You can even add a personal note and we can make sure your tailored gift reaches its lucky recipient within 2-3 days.

There’s something to suit every budget, and occasion in our secure online shop:
– Choose a voucher for one of Waterford Estate’s famous experiences: our Wine Drive Tasting Experience, Porcupine Trail Wine Walk, Library Tasting and Reserve Tasting all make wonderful gifts for adventurous wine lovers.
– Celebrate big and small occasions by sending gift boxes or cases of our award-winning wines. Tastefully packaged in boxes and wooden crates, we’ll make sure your wine reaches its destination in the exact same condition as it left our store room.
– Still hunting for a truly memorable Father’s Day gift? Then send Dad a voucher for our Wine-and-Chocolate Experience, or purchase tickets for the ‘Waterford Under the Moon’ experience on 29 June 2018 – a heart-warming two-course dinner amplified by the energy of the full moon on this lunar occasion.
– Avoid the rush to find end-of-the-year corporate or Christmas gifts and order ahead. You simply can’t go wrong with our Waterford Méthode Cap Classique or Waterford Estate Collection gift boxes.

If you enjoy visiting the estate, you may be pleased to know that we have recently opened a pop-up gift store next to our tasting room. Extra-virgin olive oil from the estate, rose water made from our own Spanish rose bushes, hand-made chocolates specifically blended to pair with our wines, and branded corkscrews, ice buckets, wine skins, cooler bags and aprons all make for thoughtful gifts and souvenirs to take back home.

Our online shopping team is committed to making your shopping experience as convenient as possible and promise to continue offering the personal service you expect at Waterford Estate!

Ready to start shopping? Click here to browse through our gift items and feel free to send your feedback or any special requests to orders@waterfordestate.co.za.

by Waterford Estate
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Farming for the future

The Waterford Way is to flow with nature’s cycles and to farm in an environmentally responsible way that not only protects the indigenous flora and fauna on the estate, but also the winery’s future.

Have you visited Waterford Estate before? Then you might know that the estate stretches over 120Ha of magnificent land in the Blaauwklippen Valley, but that only 55Ha of the estate is under vine; the rest is kept as natural as possible.

This is done very deliberately to protect the environment and to allow for a future in which the estate continues to produce world-class wines that truly express the terroir, explains Waterford Estate viticulturist David van Schalkwyk.

If the natural fauna and flora isn’t maintained to a certain degree, Waterford Estate’s soils will become depleted over time. “Naturally occurring plants, animals and insects will start to reduce,” David says. “Fungi, harmful insects and weeds will become more difficult to manage naturally and, ultimately, the vineyard’s life expectancy will be reduced.”

Sustainable wine farming is about much more than the grapes, as Janet Fletcher and George Rose explain in the self-published book, Down to Earth: “The principles that define sustainability are a comprehensive set of environmentally sound, socially responsible, and economically viable best practices that encompass every aspect of the vineyard, winery, surrounding habitat, ecosystem, employees and community.”

As such, the Waterford team works hard at rehabilitating the areas on the estate that have been disturbed. “By maintaining a balance on the farm, we create an opportunity for natural predators and plants to influence the environment and the vines in their own unique way,” David says.

Part of Waterford Estate’s success in maintaining sustainable farming methods is the fact that David, winemaker Mark le Roux and cellar master / managing partner Kevin Arnold share similar philosophies.

“We keep things simple, both inside and outside of the cellar,” says David. “We try to interfere as little as possible, allowing nature to do its job. In this way, our wines also have the best chance of truly reflecting Waterford’s unique environment.” But, adds Mark, interfering as little as possible doesn’t mean the team gets to go on holiday more often! “Finding ways to improve or sustain wine quality without manipulation is an art,” the winemaker says.

Social responsibility also forms a key part of farming in a sustainable way, and David believes that a winery’s labour force is one of the most important elements in this equation. “You have to get buy-in from your people to make it work. We make our farm workers aware of sustainability best practices by hosting regular talks and workshops, and by educating them along the way.”

Thanks to Waterford Estate’s team of farm workers, several projects aimed at protecting the natural environment are currently underway. Every year, for example, the team replaces alien vegetation with 100-150 indigenous trees. They also make their own compost and use natural methods to protect the vines from animals (for instance, dog hair is used to scare buck away).

In dry years, the team also effectively makes use of drip irrigation, drastically cutting the winery’s water usage. This strategy has proved to be incredibly effective in 2017/2018, when the region’s wine production was dramatically impacted by a severe drought. While other wineries recorded low harvests, Waterford’s Cabernet Sauvignon harvest was up by 23%. The other varietals also coped remarkably well. “This just shows how the extreme drought has had very little effect on the vineyard,” Mark says. “It can survive the toughest conditions.”

David adds that, with the help of good sustainability practices, the team manages to cultivate stronger, healthier vines. By keeping the soils healthy, the plants are able to develop strong root systems that ultimately help them to cope with extreme weather conditions.

While Waterford Estate isn’t an organic winery, it certainly ticks all the right boxes when it comes to sustainable farming. “We farm with nature, for the future, and not just with vines,” David concludes. “But, of course, we also focus on producing top-quality grapes and world-class wines.”

Points to note:
– All wines currently produced at Waterford Estate qualify for the Integrity & Sustainability Seal, as the team has managed to maintain sustainable practices since the seal was introduced in 2010.
– Waterford Estate holds an Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) certificate for its sustainable, environmentally friendly production methods.
– Waterford Estate has Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trade Association (WIETA) accreditation – proof that the estate maintains a high level of good-practice standards.
– Waterford Estate is a member of the Biodiversity in Wine Initiative (BWI), which means that we’re committed to environmentally friendly farming practices, the eradication of alien vegetation, and the promotion of indigenous fynbos.
– Waterford Estate is one of 37 wine brands with WWF Conservation Champion status.

by Waterford Estate
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Enjoy a taste of Waterford back home

International wine lovers, take note: Waterford Estate’s award-winning wines can be found at restaurants, hotels, retailers – and via our agents – across the globe.

Browse to TripAdvisor.co.za and you’ll quickly notice that Waterford Estate is #2 on the list of “150 things to do in Stellenbosch,” and the #1 singular wine-farm experience. Situated in the picturesque Blaauwklippen Valley, on the slopes of the magnificent Helderberg, the estate remains an incredibly popular tourist destination.

But what many overseas visitors don’t realise is that a significant portion of Waterford Estate’s wines are exported to countries like the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Sweden, Malaysia and Japan. So, instead of taking home just a bottle or two in a suitcase, it’s possible to enjoy more of the estate’s award-winning wines back in your home country.

With the Western Cape traditionally being a popular destination for European travellers, South African wines have always found a place on the continent. In the past, however, our country’s wines were seen as good-value rather than top-quality.

“Our biggest challenge has been to effectively communicate the message of excellent quality,” says Lynsey Barnes, International Brand Manager for Waterford Estate. “For many years, the wines South Africa exported brought in quick economic solutions to the country, but not long-term sustainability.” This created an environment that made it hard for South African winemakers who wanted to produce and sell top-quality wines, and gain a footing in the international market.

But thanks to winemakers like Waterford Estate managing partner Kevin Arnold, the perception of South African wines internationally is starting to change. “Kevin was a pioneer in the South African wine landscape,” Lynsey says. By producing Platter 5-star wines like The Jem with winemaker Mark Le Roux – and selling them at prices that competed with high-quality wines from other top wine regions of the world – Kevin helped to spread the message that South African wines could compete at the highest level.

With changing trade circumstances in the UK under Brexit, and current instability in the markets, Waterford Estate’s strategy of exporting premium wines is bearing even more fruit. “There’s goodwill out there for those who produce high-quality wines while remaining true to their ethos,” says Lynsey. “Although current trends show people are drinking less, they’re drinking better and spending more.”

Recent visits to Asia and the US have, however, shown that there’s still a great deal of work to be done in terms of the perception of South African wines in these markets. “This is a challenge, but an exciting one,” Lynsey says. “South Africa has the raw ingredients and spirit to be a world player. We just need to come together and market the best of what we do effectively.”

Lynsey believes that wine tourism is one of the most effective tools the country can use to boost international wine sales, and says that Waterford Estate has been right at the forefront of this movement since its founding.

Factors that have worked in the estate’s favour over the last few years include traceability and a sense of place from diverse soils. A visit to Waterford Estate is also an unforgettable experience, which adds to the marketability of the wines. “Both the single-vineyard Chardonnay and the Waterford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon have been hallmarks of the farm – both grown, made and bottled on site,” Lynsey says. “Thanks to their diverse soil profiles, these wines go a long way in telling the story of the property.”

The Waterford family is excited about the positive effects of globalisation, the opening of more direct trade routes, and blockchain technology – all of which make it easier to share the estate’s wines with passionate buyers from around the world. Waterford Estate is currently working with a logistics hub in Germany that facilitates direct-to-consumer sales in locations such as Bulgaria, Spain, Greece, Hungary, France, Italy and Croatia, making it even easier for international customers to get hold of Waterford Estate wines back in their home countries.

“With the emergence of an increasing number of specialist drop shipment carriers (businesses that hold current-release stock and specialise in quickly dispatching to consumer locations), it’s become even easier to ensure our wines reach their delivery points,” adds National Sales Manager, Damien Joubert-Winn. “What’s more, the authenticity and quality of the wines remain completely intact.”

International visitor? View our export agents’ list or get in touch to enjoy Waterford Estate wines in your home country.

by Waterford Estate
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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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