An incredible score and compliment for our Chaos White 2017 from Greg Sherwood MW. A true testament to quality biodynamic wine grown and made in the beautiful Elgin valley.
We were delighted to be selected by Peter Richards MW, as one of the 30 great New World wines, in the February edition of the renowned Decanter magazine. Peter says
“The London IT industry’s loss was Elgin’s gain when Marion and Brian Smith upped sticks and launched a biodynamic wine estate. This is a complex, spicy, highly original Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend with beautiful texture, huge energy and a delightfully funky edge.”
Peter selected our Chaos White 2016 as one of his “30 great New World buys under £30” – chosen from over 1,000 potential candidates – which represent the “most intriguing, exciting and mould-breaking winemaking in the world today”!
To read the full article, see Decanter
Our entry is below
Our Chaos 2016 release is sold out. If you would like to request an allocation for our 2017 release, please email Marion at Marion@elginridge.com
It’s a busy time for wine lovers while the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium rumbles on in Brighton, London has just finished six weeks of celebrating natural wine, with events based around the REAL and RAW wine fairs
Read this wonderful article by Caroline Henry on Wine Seacher
Interesting article from The Telegraph.co.uk
A small town surrounded by farms has become the first in France to ban the use of pesticides within 50 metres of homes as fears grow that they may be to blame for a rise in cancers and other illnesses.
The ban was introduced in Saint-Jean, near the southern city of Toulouse, after a long campaign by a doctor and deputy mayor, Gérard Bapt.
Read the full article, here
We are so excited here at Elgin Ridge, our wine label has made the finals in the Label Design Awards run by Christian Eedes at WineMag.co.za.
We now need your vote to make us a winner, please vote for our 282 Label by clicking the Vote Button and giving Elgin Ridge the thumbs up.
Only one vote is allowed, so please vote for Elgin Ridge..
Marion and Brian
Fiona Beckett’s weekly Guardian article features Elgin Ridge Wines
Fiona Beckett writes, Imagine for a moment describing all French wine as “French wine”. It wouldn’t begin to give you a sense of the diversity of what the country has to offer, or where to go for the best example of a particular type – Burgundy for chardonnay and pinot noir, for instance. Yet there’s still a tendency to refer to wines from “new world” countries as South African, Argentinian and Chilean, as if there were no regional differences.
Granted, at the most basic level there aren’t – wines will be sourced from whatever fruit is available at a particular price point – but spend a bit more on a bottle and you will be rewarded by the best of what the country has to offer. In South Africa, for example, it pays to be aware of which regions do what well: Constantia, Darling and Elgin are the key areas for sauvignon blanc, Hemel-en-Aarde for chardonnay and pinot, Stellenbosch for attractively supple, bordeaux-style reds, and the Swartland – South Africa’s “wild west” – for syrah and chenin blanc.
Elgin is, I think, currently the most exciting or, as one winemaker put it, “the coolest area in South Africa, and not just climate-wise”. To begin with, its sauvignons seemed like a crude attempt to ape the New Zealand style, with too much asparagus and green pea character. Now, though, producers are more self-confident, letting grapes ripen longer and picking later to get more complexity. Wines such as the organic Elgin Ridge 282 sauvignon blanc (£12.50, at www.winedirect.co.uk £12.99, 14% abv), which I ordered recently in a restaurant, have real elegance and finesse, and cost no more than a supermarket sancerre.
The best-known name in the region is Paul Cluver, who also makes a good, if slightly less refined sauvignon blanc under the Ferricrete label (£11.99, Marks & Spencer; 13.5% abv) and, in the same range, a pretty, floral, off-dry riesling (£12.99, M&S; 10.5% abv) which works particularly well with Asian-style salads and noodle dishes. (Marks & Sparks also has Cluver’s luscious, late-harvest riesling at £14.99.)
I also discovered a gorgeously creamy, burgundy-style chardonnay, the Kershaw Elgin Chardonnay 2012(14% abv), which is made by an English-born master of wine, Richard Kershaw – it’s a bargain at £18.99 if you’re a Naked Wines “angel”, £31.99 to the rest of us. Unusually for Naked Wines, it is worth the full amount, but I do find the talk of “wholesale” prices misleading – check on wine-searcher.com, as the wine may be cheaper elsewhere.
To read more of Fiona’s articles go to
Had a great lunch at the Glass House, Kew on Monday, with Brian Smith, a now-biodynamic winegrower in Elgin, South Africa. I first met Brian and his wife Marion at the same restaurant just over a year ago (so my blog tells me), and they’ve now got to the point where they have their first Pinot Noir bottled. Plans are afoot to produce a Chardonnay-based MCC (sparkling wine), but this won’t be ready for a while.
It’s interesting that Brian and Marion have adopted biodynamics so enthusiastically, to the point that they are now certified fully. Marion has been the driver behind this: Brian says that initially he’d have been quite happy to spray chemicals everywhere, but now he has converted too. They now have a Percheron horse that he’s very proud of, as well as 11 cows and some sheep. ‘The Percheron is the most beautiful horse,’ says Brian. ‘It’s 16 1/2 hand, and weighs 1100 kg.’
‘The tough thing is to get organic certification. Once you get this you are part of the way there,’ says Brian. ‘The soil on the farm was tested for chemicals to give the vines the best start.’ He adds, ‘when you think of all the horrible things farmers used to use, it’s a wonder that the land is living at all.’
Brian and Marion are gaining confidence. For example, with the Sauvignon, the 2012 is the first where they felt able to do 100% natural ferment. In the previous vintages they did the small tanks natural, and the large inoculated, for safety reasons. Now they leave the wine on lees until December (the harvest is early March). In 2012 Brian says he made 90% of the wine (with help from Niels Verberg); in 2013 he made 100%.
Elgin Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2012 Elgin, South Africa
Lovely aromatics: expressive, bright, beautiful fruit – white peach, pear, citrus with subtle green notes. The palate is so well balanced with ripe fruit and lovely weight and precision. There’s real presence here, a proper Sauvignon [92/100]
Brian says that he planted Pinot Noir because he’s ‘a red wine drinker trapped on a white wine farm.’ The 2012, first release, won’t be out for a while, but it’s looking very promising.
Elgin Ridge Pinot Noir 2012 Elgin, South Africa
Natural ferment (done on the spur of the moment when the destemmed grapes were in the tank), 10 months in oak (20% new, the rest very old). This is South Africa’s only organic Pinot. There’s a bit of spice from the new oak but the dominant theme is the lovely pure, focused red cherry and berry fruit. Amazing finesse and purity. Still primary with potential for development [92/100]
An organic sauvignon with a certain Je ne sais quoi is how Christian Eedes describes our 2012 Sauvignon Blanc
The Sauvignon Blanc 2012 from Elgin Ridge retains the winning quirkiness while simultaneously losing some of the rough edges of previous vintages.
No exaggerated aromatics but Golden Delicious apples, green melon and an intriguing hint of spice on the palate.
Total acidity is 6.7g/l but you’d never guess – nine months on the lees adds plenty of texture without the wine becoming unduly heavy.
Owners Brian and Marion Smith set out to be organic since acquiring the small property in 2007 and acquired official certification in October 2011. “I’m pleased we’re avoiding the green, acidic style of Sauvignon. I agree with you about that quirkiness but I’m not sure where it comes from,” says Brian. My guess is that this is another instance where organically grown grapes are contributing to a wine that isn’t same old, same old.
Read more about Christian Eedes at www.whatidranklastnight.co.za
In terms of South Africa’s wine region classification system, Elgin is currently a ‘ward’, but is likely to soon become a wine ‘district’. And of the country’s wine regions, it’s the only one with natural boundaries – in this case, three mountain ranges and the sea. Geographically speaking, Elgin is a bowl surrounded by mountains, with the valley floor at 300 m, and the highest vineyards are 900 m. If harvest date is used as a measure of climate, this is the coolest wine region in South Africa.
Elgin is famous for its orchards, and apples are still the main crop here, with 60% of South Africa’s apples coming from the region. The first orchards were planted in Elgin by Sir Antonie Viljoen in the early years of the 20th century, on his enormous Oak Valley estate. Viljoen was also the first to plant vineyards here. However, wine production stopped in the 1940s, and it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that vines were to return to Elgin.
The modern era of Elgin wine began in 1985, with the planting of an experimental vineyard at Oak Valley. The following year, the first commercial vineyards were planted by Paul Cluver, and the first wine released from the region was the 1990 Paul Cluver Riesling.
‘It’s amazing how this valley has developed over the last 10 years,’ says Paul Cluver Jr. ‘When interest in South African wines exploded in the 1990s, various players began to recognize the potential of the valley,’ says Cluver. ‘All these big names from traditional wine growing areas began investing in this valley,’ he says, naming Thelema, Tokara, Rust en Vrede, Vergelegen, Simonsig and Nederberg. ‘The average age of an Elgin brand today is 3 years.’
Cluver is one of South Africa’s few Riesling specialists, making three different styles: dry, ‘kabinett’ and noble late harvest. There are fewer than 200 hectares of Riesling in the whole country, though. ‘We almost pulled Riesling out,’ says Cluver. ‘It was hard to sell in South Africa.’ As well as exceptional Riesling, Cluver are also making superb Sauvignon Blanc and an impressive Gewürztraminer. For reds, the focus is on Pinot Noir, although it wasn’t always. ‘We had a dream of producing a Bordeaux blend from our property,’ says Cluver. ‘Paul Pontallier visited and at the end of the tasting he said that the red wine is the Pinot Noir, and so this changed our focus, back in 2002.’
Another Elgin pioneer is Andrew Gunn, whose property is Iona. In 1997, having made his money from a medical suture company, Gunn bought a run-down apple farm in the Elgin region. Now it’s one of South Africa’s leading producers of Sauvignon Blanc, although 15 hectares of apple trees still remain alongside the vineyards. It’s at an altitude of 420 metres, with a view of the sea, which is just 3 km away.
Gunn didn’t plant blind; he knew what he was doing in selecting this site. Initially, he put temperature loggers around the farm, and found that the climate here was significantly cooler than expected over the three months that the loggers were recording data. He was able to compare his farm data with those from the Elgin weather station. Because there was a consistent relationship over his three month trial, he was then able to extrapolate his data out over the whole growing season. The exciting results showed that this site was cooler than equivalent places in Europe where Sauvignon Blanc was grown. If the grapes could ripen, then the results could be quite exciting. Peak summer temperatures here are usually 24–25 °C, and if they experience three days over 30 °C, then it’s unusual.
Gunn’s uncle was a professor of geomorphology, and he came out in 1997 to do a survey of the site. It showed that the farm had post-glacial alluvial soils: it was an old river valley. The first harvest was in 2001: by South African standards, it was a late one, straddling the end of March and beginning of April. Gunn found that he was getting good fruit set and a long ripening period, which seemed ideal.
Sauvignon Blanc is the main focus, and 65% of Iona’s plantings are accounted for by this variety. Gunn also owns another farm down in the valley, with Syrah, Mourvèdre and Viognier planted. He never has to acidify. The main farm has 29 hectares of vines, while the property in the valley is 11 hectares, making a total of 40.
Elgin is quite a new region. When Andrew Gunn started out, Paul Cluver was the only producer in the region. Oak Valley was third. ‘We believe it is the up and coming wine region,’ says Gunn. ‘Shortly after I started planting I called a meeting of farmers to share experience. We formed the Elgin Wine Guild, with a view to promote quality.’
And what of Oak Valley, another of the Elgin pioneers? Although they planted their first experimental vineyards in 1985, their first serious vineyards weren’t planted until a few years later. It’s an 1800 hectare farm, with most of the area devoted to fruit production. On the farm there are 48 hectares of vineyards. Oak Valley make superb Sauvignon and Chardonnay, and the Pinot Noir is also really good.
Then there are newcomers, such as Elgin Ridge, owned by Brits Brian and Marion Smith. They moved there in 2007 after selling their Kingston-based IT business. They’d always wanted to do a vineyard project but it took them a while to decide where to do it. Initially they had thought about making sparkling wine in the south of England, but the land was just too expensive. Then they considered France, but found that the wine industry was in turmoil and most of the properties on the market were there because the people were struggling to sell their wine, and they were expensive to boot.
So they turned to South Africa, and a property in Elgin that ticked all the boxes. Marion had first visited Cape Town in 2002, and liked it so much she came home having brought a holiday flat. Brian visited in 2003 and while he was staying there tasted a Sauvignon Blanc that he liked so much (the debut vintage of Iona), he went to visit the owner, Andrew Gunn. They became friends.
The combination of affordable land, and knowing people there led to the purchase of an abandoned 10 hectare apple farm in 2007. ‘It turns out that we have wonderful soils,’ says Marion. ‘This was more luck than judgement,’ Brian adds. ‘It is great that we were able to plant from scratch.’
They have so far planted 4.5 hectares, with 3.5 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc and half a hectare each of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They are organically certified, and as of this year Marion – who looks after the vineyard – has decided to go biodynamic, a decision prompted by a visit from Monty Waldin. They have just bought two Dexter cows, to complement their ducks. ‘The dogs and cats don’t know what to make of them,’ says Brian.
Production is 15 000 bottles this year, rising to 20 000 next year. The goal is to peak at 40 000.
Another newcomer, albeit only geographically, is Catherine Marshall Wines. Established for a while but previously based in Stellenbosch, Cathy moved into her Elgin winery in 2011, and is making top quality Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc with grapes purchased from Elgin growers.
The real strength of Elgin seems to be its ability to produce top quality wines from a range of varieties. Riesling is superb; so is Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnay is superb; so is Pinot Noir. It seems to be hard to pigeonhole this fascinating cool-climate region, and with increasing experience of the terroirs here as well as advancing vine age, it seems the best is yet to come.
Jamie Goode is a UK based award-winning journalist and blogger who is crazy about wine, read more of his articles on http://www.wineanorak.com
I was honoured to have lunch yesterday at the Commodore Hotel, Cape Town, with the Irish ambassador, Mr Brendan McMahon and the visiting Irish trade delegation. In addition to the Irish trade delegation, led by Ireland’s Minister for Trade and Development, Mr Joe Costello, TD, several Irish business owners, who now live in South Africa, also attended.
The charitable organisation, The Niall Mellon Trust, was well represented with members wearing T-shirts showing they have now built over 20,000 houses in townships, housing some 100,000 people. Follow the link to their website
South Africa is Ireland’s fifth largest trading partner and it was announced that a contract worth Euro 500m had been won by an Irish company to build wind farms in SA. Ireland has been particularly successful in the technology sectors, and it is expected that this visit will establish not only more trade to South Africa, but also encourage South African businesses to expand into Ireland.