Tempering tannins with the perfect partners

Pairing two seductive luxuries – wine and chocolate – sounds completely logical, yet the process is intricately complex. Chocolatier Richard von Geusau, with the help of Kevin Arnold, decided to navigate a course to develop a range of chocolates to match Waterford Estate’s award-winning wines.

Market Day in Greyton is a bustling flurry of sounds and smells, and the Overberg town is buzzing with visitors from across the region. In a beautiful, oak-lined street, just off the main road, one of South Africa’s top chocolatiers is selling an exclusive selection of heavenly artisanal chocolate slabs and truffles. Not many who walk past can resist the indulgent offering.

Chocolatier Richard von Geusau’s partnership with Waterford Estate stirred shortly after the accountant swopped his daily dash for a life of ganache. After digesting a book written by the world-acclaimed Chantal Coady from Rococo fame, Richard contacted the London-based chocolatier and made arrangements to visit her. After this inspirational appointment, his mind was made up and he went on to complete a chocolatier training programme in Belgium.

From humble beginnings, Richard set up a small chocolate emporium in Greyton, working only with the finest couvertures from Belgium. Over weekends, he sold his indulgent chocolates at fairs and events. And so it was at a food fair in Constantia that he met Waterford Estate Managing Partner Kevin Arnold, who had also just started producing wines under the Waterford Estate label.

While researching tannin profiles, Kevin’s interest was piqued by the similarities and comparison of grapes and other foods, including chocolate. The chance meeting was an opportunity to explore this relationship further.

Three perfect pairs

Many hours of tasting wine and chocolate followed – a dream endeavour to find perfection. Almost two decades later, visitors to Waterford Estate can still enjoy the success of these two tenacious tumbadores’ tasting sessions in the Estate’s courtyard.

The Estate’s popular Wine & Chocolate Experience currently pairs three wines with chocolates specifically created for this purpose: a Rock Salt Dark Chocolate is paired with the wonderfully elegant Waterford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon; Richard’s Masala Chai Dark Chocolate is paired with the spice found in Kevin Arnold Shiraz; and the Rose Geranium Milk Chocolate is paired with the seductive Waterford Heatherleigh.

When the duo started to develop the tasting experience, Richard’s aim was to add components to the chocolate that would bring additional elements to the wine. “I tried not to simply complement the wine, but to add another dimension. It was (and still is) my job to bring the chocolate to the wine, and not the other way around.”

While thousands of visitors have since had the pleasure of participating in the now-renowned Wine & Chocolate Experience, perfectly pairing the wine with the chocolate is an ongoing process. Every year, when Waterford Estate’s new vintages are released, the recipes are revisited and tweaked once more – now with the help of winemaker Mark le Roux.

The success of the tasting experience, Richard believes, lies in its authenticity. It was created for the sole purpose of celebrating the wonderful flavours in Waterford Estate’s wines. As such, it’s a South African experience unlike any other – and one that should be on every wine lover’s bucket list.

Give the Waterford Estate Wine & Chocolate Experience a try: pop in at the Tasting Room, buy a Wine & Chocolate Experience voucher for a friend, or order a gift box that contains all three of the wine-and-chocolate pairings through our online shop.

by Waterford Estate
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Finding Waterford

When you sit in Waterford Estate’s generous and inviting courtyard at the heart of the Winery, intimately surrounded by the vibration of its operations, and enjoy a glass of their globally recognised award-winning wine, it’s hard to believe that this farms potential for quality was neglected. In just two decades, this pasture of promise in the protective shadow of the Helderberg mountain underwent a most sensational transformation – thanks to managing partner Kevin Arnold’s unrelenting vision, the financial backing and trust of owners Jeremy and Leigh Ord, and the support and effort of the willing staff.

The 120-hectare property that now forms Waterford Estate was registered as such in April 1998. At the time, Kevin had already made a name for himself as winemaker – first at Delheim and later at Rust en Vrede Estate. Despite his success at these two wineries, he dreamed of creating a fresh new brand that would make the world sit up and take notice of the world-class, unique wines that can be realised in Stellenbosch in South Africa.

Kevin’s first introduction to the Blaauwklippen Valley was as a Stellenbosch student in the 1970s. A few years later, as assistant winemaker at Delheim, he also had to tend to some of the vineyards in the area on the land that is now Waterford Estate. “The valley left an imprint on me and I often thought about it after that. I remember thinking about it as ‘the Constantia of Stellenbosch’.”

But Waterford Estate’s story really only started in 1997, when Kevin got an unexpected call from Jeremy Ord. Kevin barely knew the founder and CEO of Dimension Data but was excited: Jeremy and Leigh wanted to invest in a Cape Winelands farm, and asked Kevin to assist. The farms on the northern slopes of the Helderberg, which Kevin got to know as a young winemaker, came to mind, and these were acquired by the Ord Family.

The land was not only breathtakingly beautiful; it offered an interesting combination of different soil structures, elevation and climate, as well as stone and good-quality timber with which a cellar, tasting room and homes could be built. But, apart from a couple of vineyards, an old pack shed, an ancient Roux family graveyard and a few fruit orchards, there was little else. Kevin had to start from scratch.

The property also had to be given a new name, as both Kevin and Jeremy felt that a new identity suited a post-apartheid South Africa. And so, when the Ord and Arnold families popped a bottle of bubbly in celebration of their newly acquired property in August 1997, they were inspired by a waterfall that was visible from the property after heavy rains. “Waterfall” eventually became “Waterford” – a name that also celebrated the Ord family – and the rest is history.

Kevin started making wine as early as the summer of 1998, even before the property was officially registered as Waterford Estate. With the help of fellow winemakers Jan Boland Coetzee, Neil Ellis, Braam van Velden and Frans Smit, who made space available in their cellars , he was able to make Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and the first Kevin Arnold Shiraz in that same year.

“Jeremy wanted the estate to be cash-flow positive within six years,” Kevin recalls. “The only way I could remotely accept this challenge was if I used my own name on a wine. People didn’t know the Waterford Estate brand yet, but many of them knew who I was. I was known for producing Shiraz at Rust en Vrede Estate and I knew that a Kevin Arnold Shiraz could be successful.”

Kevin was right, and the property became cash flow positive only seven years after registration.
While Kevin and his only two full-time winery staff members then, Bernie and Hendrik Engelbrecht, were tending to the vineyards and harvesting fruit from the established orchards on the farm, his wife Heather planned and helped to create the estate grounds that are as unpretentious today as they are stunning. Within 11 months, an elegant tasting room was open for business.

Most of the winery’s current activities centre around the production of The Jem, the Estate’s internationally recognised flagship red wine. The one-of-a-kind blend, named after Jeremy, is made up of Estate-grown red varietals.

“With The Jem, we wanted to create a world-class wine on one property – a wine with its own unique DNA,” Kevin says. “Combining a potential 11 varietals from one estate into a single wine was something nobody else had done. Most vintages have around eight varietals in the blend. As such, the wine is a true expression of the Estate and its soils.”

Herein, adds Kevin, lies both the luxury and the authenticity of the Waterford Estate brand. “We’re in South Africa’s most beautiful wine-growing region, we’re close to two oceans, there’s Cape Town in the background, the town of Stellenbosch nearby, and there’s the fynbos, which can only be found in the Western Cape. All of this is reflected in a wine that’s 100% pure in its intention.”

When you drive through the well-maintained citrus orchards to the cellar’s entrance and walk through to the courtyard with its iconic fountain, it’s hard to believe that – just two decades ago – there wasn’t much here. And now one only has to enjoy a bottle of The Jem – with its unassuming label that perfectly summarises everything the estate stands for – to appreciate what a difference only 20 years can make.

by Waterford Estate
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Mentoring for success

Colleagues are wonderful, but mentors are even more important. And at Waterford Estate, mentorship is starting to play a key role in ensuring the long-term prosperity of our team.

Producing wine is a physical business: there’s the growing, picking, sorting and crushing of the grapes, and the fermentation, bottling and labelling of the wine. But beneath this layer of hard physical labour lies a soft core: the emotional wellbeing of the people who grow and produce the wine.

The Waterford Estate brand is built around people, and great care is taken in nurturing each individual employee as time goes by. But keeping team members motivated and passionate can sometimes be hard work, as Waterford Estate farm manager and viticulturist David van Schalkwyk discovered.

David spends his days among the farm workers, tending to the diverse soils and vines that make up Waterford Estate. Over the last few years, David and his predecessors started to hit a few stumbling blocks in keeping the team functioning optimally. “We found it increasingly difficult to attract younger farm workers,” David says. “The younger men and women didn’t stay for more than a season or two, and lacked energy, enthusiasm and a sense of belonging.”

A structured mentorship programme provided an opportunity in which to help motivate the younger team members while encouraging mentorship skills among the older generation – the men and women who already had great influence among the community of people who lived and worked on the farm. For David, it was important to get the farm workers, both young and old, excited about their jobs again, thus contributing to their overall health and wellbeing.

When David crossed paths with Emile Neethling, life coach and founder of the Karmic Group in Somerset-West, Waterford Estate’s first formal mentorship programme was set in motion. And so, early in 2017, a handful of farm workers started to attend weekly sessions with their new coach.

“Initially, the course was quite intimidating, as we all had to do a lot of introspection,” David recalls. “Trying to figure out who we really are and where we wanted to be was difficult, but Emile helped us to work through these questions and to find the answers for ourselves. The second part of the programme focused on building relationships and becoming mentors to the people in our lives. One of the big lessons was realising that each one of us could be a mentor.”

Ronnie and Richard, the two farm workers who just completed the first programme with David, both found the course incredibly valuable. “Emile taught me how to be more mature and disciplined,” Ronnie says. “In the past, when there was a negative situation among the team, I used to just jump in and say what I wanted to say. But now I take a different approach.”

For Richard, the course was a wonderful adventure that took him on a journey of self-discovery. “I usually wouldn’t share my deepest emotions with others, but I managed to do this during the course. I learnt that it’s important to not just force my opinion onto others, but to try to step into other people’s shoes and to first get their perspective on things. I really learnt how to listen.”

Blommie, one of Richard’s colleagues, immediately noticed the difference. “In the past, Richard would have criticised me. After completing the programme, he now just encourages me.”

When asked if, after the course, Ronnie and Richard found their jobs more fulfilling, Richard is quick to answer: “Absolutely. I used to be quite tense when coming to work in the morning. Now I’m more relaxed. It’s a choice I make every day.”

Only time will tell if the mentorship programme succeeds in encouraging younger farm workers to make Waterford Estate their permanent home. But, so far, it’s had a very positive effect on the team. And with the second course already underway, the future looks promising.

“Waterford Estate is having a massive, positive influence on their people’s lives. They’re changing lives more than they can imagine,” says coach Emile, adding that the group of farm workers are kind, generous people. “They have a passion for what they do and are, in return, always grateful for the opportunity to be part of this family and happy to work in a caring culture.”

by Waterford Estate
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Child’s Play

The newly established Waterford Estate Crèche offers wonderful learning opportunities for children who grow up on the farm.

There’s a striking quote by famous author Jess Lair that reads: “Children aren’t things to be moulded, but people to be unfolded.”

A brief visit to the Waterford Estate crèche – where a handful of children go every day to learn a new song or rhyme, to listen to a story, and to socialise with friends – is all that’s required to remind you of Lair’s words. Those first lessons really do set the stage for a lifetime of learning.

The Waterford Crèche was established in November 2016, after the school on one of the neighbouring farms had to close down unexpectedly. Alternative arrangements had to be made fairly quickly, and the Waterford team set out to find a site on the farm that would be close to the farm workers’ homes, yet spacious enough to offer the kids enough room to play. A basic shed with a kitchenette and toilet was erected and, over the course of 14 months, equipment was added to make the crèche as comfortable as possible.

The facilities are simple, but the kids who attend the school have everything they need: from a safe place to clamber around under magnificent oak trees, to boxes full of books and toys, and a cool space in which to take a nap after being cleaned and fed. Significantly, the crèche’s children have the privilege of being cared for and educated by members of their own close-knit community, in a setting that can only be described as idyllic.

The crèche is a way of supporting the members of the Waterford family who live on the farm, explains Waterford viticulturist David van Schalkwyk, who played a prominent role in setting up the facilities. “The school makes it possible for the families to earn a dual income,” he says. “Having the kids so close to home also makes it easy for parents to drop them off and pick them up after work, and even check in on them during the day.”

After the initial rush to set up the facilities, finding two teachers to take care of the children was, fortunately, fairly easy. Aisha Daniels, who grew up on the farm, was doing an Educare training course at the time and Sannie Blaauw, whose husband Richard works on the farm, was keen to earn an income while caring for her grandchild. For both Aisha and Sannie, it made sense to look after their little ones while taking some of the other farm children under their wing.

Seven children between the ages of five months and four years are currently in Aisha and Sannie’s care. Chanté and Enjay, the crèche’s two four-year-olds, are confident, inquisitive pre-schoolers. Both can write their names, count to 20, recite a string of rhymes, and navigate their way through the jungle gym with ease. There’s no doubt that, when they transition to Grade R next year, they’ll settle in well.

Chanté’s mom, Clarina Pietersen, is full of praise for the school. “I really like the fact that Chanté’s teachers have started teaching her how to write and count, and we always have a giggle when Chanté comes home with a cute new song or rhyme.”

For Waterford Estate’s owners, setting up the crèche for the farm workers’ children was a simple decision. The Waterford brand is built around people, and the owners take great care in ensuring their employees’ long-term success and prosperity. Making sure that the children who grow up on the estate have a strong educational foundation was a natural extension of this philosophy.

 

by Waterford Estate
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