Category Archives: In the Press

Pesticides banned in French Town

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

Fiona Beckett – getting to know South Africa

Fiona Beckett’s weekly Guardian article features Elgin Ridge Wines

Fiona Beckett Elgin Ridge

Fiona writes

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.

Fiona Beckett

To read more of Fiona’s articles go to

http://gu.com/p/3zjf4/tf 

 

Elgin Ridge Organic Wine by Jamie Goode

Brian Smith Elgin Ridge
Brian Smith

 

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.’

organic sauvignon blanc
Elgin Ridge Sauvignon blanc

‘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 Organic Pinot Noir
Elgin Ridge Organic Pinot Noir

 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]

Originally posted on Jamie Goode’s Wine blog

Christian Eedes tastes our Sauvignon Blanc

Elgin-Ridge-Sauvignon-Blanc-2012An 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

Score: 88/100.

Elgin is cool by Jamie Goode

Elgin is cool—both in terms of the wines it is producing, and also in its temperature. While South Africa has quite a few wine regions, it only has a few Elgin Ridge Vinesthat are cool enough to be able to grow fussy cooler-climate varieties such as Riesling and Pinot Noir well, and Elgin is one of them. This is one of the reasons why there is such a buzz about this relatively new region.

 

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

 

Lunch at the Commodore, Cape Town

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.

 

Elgin Ridge and the Cape South Coast

Original article by TV masters of wine, Susie & Peter, view Susie and Peter’s website

Cape South Coast by Peter

The New World’s ongoing quest for elegance, complexity and drinkability in its top wines – both white and red – has often led to the sea.

The briney’s cooling, moderating influence tends to give longer hang time, lower alcohol levels and altogether more rewarding wines than hot inland areas in warm countries.

True, the viticulture can be more challenging, the land costlier, the risks higher – but the finest wines have always come from marginal climates and risky, challenging endeavours.

In this context, it was fascinating recently to taste a range of wines (100, to be precise) from South Africa’s newly created Cape South Coast appellation. To clarify – these aren’t all newly created producers or wineries (many of them already have an impressive track record). It’s simply the umbrella appellation that’s new, to take in a number of smaller wine areas along the cape’s south coast (namely Cape Agulhas, Overberg, Plettenberg Bay, Swellendam and Walker Bay districts as well as the Herbertsdale and Stilbaai East wards).

Phew.

As for the wines, it was Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah that most impressed, with Pinot Noir more variable (as it tends to be, especially when some vineyards are young) but seeming to have a bright future. The names that most impressed were Paul Cluver (whites), Brunia, Ataraxia, Hamilton Russell, Beaumont, Luddite and Catherine Marshall. The overall standard was very creditable and disappointments were few, though Bouchard Finlayson deserves a reprimand for consistently bland, underwhelming wines.

Top tips are featured below.

Tasting notes (from 18th July 2012)

Paul Cluver Riesling 2010, 11.3%, Elgin (£10.99-11.99, Halifax Wine, SA Wines Online, D Byrne, SH Jones, Oxford Wine Co) – lovely clean, crisp, succulent style – well rounded, with defined red apple flavours. Lovely stuff, delicious. (The Close Encounter Riesling, a touch pricier but also lovely, is also worth a try.) 7/10

Brunia Sauvignon Blanc 2010, 13.5%, Walker Bay (£8.95, The Wine Society) – complex, mineral, layered flavours. Understated but vibrant too. Juicy grapefruit and pear flavours, with ripe citrus acidity. Elegantly textured, very long. (The 2011 is also tasting very nicely too.) 6.5-7/10

Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc 2011, 13%, Walker Bay (£11.49, Wimbledon Wine Cellar, Waitrose) – effortlessly elegant and engaging. Rounded, mineral and with beautiful earthy citrus character. Hint of honey together with a refreshing sea-spray freshness. Puts other ‘wannabe’ wines into context. 7/10

Elgin Ridge ‘282’ Sauvignon Blanc 2011, 14%, Elgin (£12.99, Les Caves de Pyrene, Green & Blue, Bedales, Wine Direct) – succulent, mineral – layered and long. Very well judged, albeit in a ‘bigger’ style, with flavours of roasted lemon and peas. 7/10

Shannon Sanctuary Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2011, 13.5%, Elgin (£13.32, SA Wines Online) – aromas of anis, wax, herbs and lime rind. This has a touch of Semillon, which adds this complexity and pithy character. Succulent and complex, lovely stuff. 7/10

Ataraxia Sauvignon Blanc 2012, 13.5%, Western Cape (£15) – a really classy wine, with subtle but profound flavours of ripe citrus, honey, grapefruit and roasted herbs. Dense, graceful and complex. Very good. 7.5/10

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2011, 13%, Hemel-en-Aarde (£21.99, Quaff, Fortnum & Mason, Harrods) – benchmark stuff from this reputable producer. It’s bright and characterful, with aromas of melon and burnt cream, but also well grounded with a ripe lemony acidity and mineral notes. 7/10

Catherine Marshall Pinot Noir 2010, 14%, Elgin (£14.20-15.20, Tanners, SH Jones, VIvat Bacchus) – pale, limpid, elegant style. Earthy and cultured, with scents of wild berries and warm clay. Very nice. 6.5-7/10

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2010, 14.5%, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (£29.49, Quaff, Planet of the Grapes, Fortnum & Mason) – effortlessly elegant in the context (older vines?) with earthy, herbal, berry fruit aromas and a dense, polished, refined palate. Still a big style but lovely harmony. 7.5-8/10

Luddite Shiraz 2006, 14%, Bot River (£26.49, Les Caves de Pyrene, Green & Blue, Roberson, Bordeaux Index) – elegant peppery, spicy style with a juicy flavour profile. It’s relatively broad and spicy in style but elegant too. 6.5/10

Brunia Shiraz 2010, 13.5%, Walker Bay (£12.50) – toasted, ashen, black pepper flavours and a smooth yet spicy flavour profile. Understated, good. 6.5/10

Ataraxia Serenity 2008, 14.5%, Western Cape (£13.95, Stone Vine & Sun) – elegant, leathery style. Baked herbs; serious, grown-up style, needs food. Broad, structured, very classy. 7/10

Elgin Ridge at The Test Kitchen – Cape Town

Original article by Terri Dunbar-Curran in Cape Times

INSTEAD of whipping up that old trusty vanilla sponge for your lunch guests this weekend, try something new with fresh seasonal produce. Now that apples and pears are in season, it’s the perfect time to whip up tasty tarts, crisp salads and baked goodies.

Tru-Cape decided to celebrate the season and the versatility of its apples and pears with a lunch at The Test Kitchen in Woodstock, where chef Luke Dale-Roberts created a variety of dishes featuring the fruit.

Sipping on apple bellinis  and Elgin Ridge Wines, guests tucked into a decadent lunch  of Abate Fetel Pear salad with parmesan, wild rocket and candied pecan nut brittle; braised pork belly with roasted baby Fuji apples stuffed with pork sausage mince and wrapped in bacon; and a syrupy Granny Smith tarte tatin.

The range of dishes you can create with fresh fruit are endless. So why not start with the humble, succulent pear?

Named after the Abbot who discovered the fruit in 1866, Abate Fetel pears are now available in supermarkets. They are usually exported and so are not often seen here, but because of over-supplied European markets, we have the chance to enjoy them too

It’s best to keep them in the fridge and eat them within a week, but when they start to lose their crispness, don’t get rid of them – add them to your favourite dishes.

To get you started here are a few tantalising recipes.

l For more recipes and information, see www.tru-cape.co.za

Green bean, bacon and pear affair

25g feta cheese, crumbled

50g pine nuts

60g streaky bacon cut into cubes

200g green beans

5ml olive oil

10ml unsalted butter

1 pear, cubed

1. Remove the heads and tails of the green beans, cut them in half diagonally and steam for 5 minutes or until al dente.

2. Add the pine nuts to a non-stick pan and toast over a high heat for 3 minutes, continually tossing them to prevent burning. Rremove and allow to cool.

3. Heat the oil and 5ml of the butter in a non-stick pan, fry the bacon until crispy, drain on paper towel.

4. Wipe the pan clean and heat the remaining butter. Add the pear and quickly fry for 1 minute.

5. Pour the pear and the pan’s butter over the green beans, add the bacon and toss well.

6. Sprinkle over the toasted pine nuts and crumble over the feta cheese.

Pear and blackberry tarts

50g butter, melted

50g blackberries, defrosted

30ml castor sugar

1 egg, beaten

2 pears, cored, peeled and sliced thinly (Use Abate Fetel, Beurre Bosc or Conference pears)

4 sheets of phyllo pastry

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.

2. Cut the phyllo pastry into rectangles (12.5 cm x 11.5 cm).

Brush half the pastry rectangles with butter and place the remaining pastry on top of the buttered pastry.

Then brush the surface of the pastry with the beaten egg. Draw  a 1cm thick border with a sharp knife around the surface of the  pastry.

3. Heat 25g of the butter over a medium heat in a saucepan, add the pear slices and gently fry for 1 minute on each side, then cool the slices slightly.

4. Place the pear slices in the centre of the pastry, ensuring you do not go over the inner border. Brush the pear slices with the remaining melted butter and scatter the blackberries over the slices. Sprinkle over castor sugar and bake for 13 minutes.

Nutty Pear Fools

60g unsalted butter

100g nutty crunch biscuits, crushed

200g peanut brittle

80ml white sugar

250ml cream

250ml Greek yoghurt

120ml boiling water

2 pears, peeled and cored, thinly sliced

1. Melt the butter in a  saucepan and stir in the crushed biscuits.

2. Beat the cream until stiff, and fold in the yoghurt.

3. Melt the peanut brittle over a low heat with the boiling water and sugar until melted and syrupy, stir in the pear slices.

4. Layer the ingredients in the following order in a martini glass: biscuit, cream, pear slices, cream. Top with broken peanut brittle and a few pear slices.

5. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Where goodness translates into good wine

This article originally appeared on www.wine.co.za and has been read 1393 times

When asked why he was mulching with egg shells, my fathers’ favourite saying was this: “everything goes back to nature”. This might be a little too simplistic a view of organic farming, but true in this context.

Marion Smith with her beloved organic Sauvignon blanc vines

What you put back into the ground, you get back out and he wanted to place as much goodness back into the soil as possible. We used mulch with ground egg shells, ash from the fire, grass, leaves and food waste. The point of the legendary compost heap at the bottom of the garden wasn’t just to provide entertainment for us as children and the odd assortment of vegetables that grew from the occasional seeds which found their way onto the heap – it was to provide an incredible natural source of nutrients, earthworms and structure to the soil of our garden.

The menagerie of geese, ducks and chickens we kept would be on egg duty, snail patrol and for the occasional sport of chasing the cat and small child (me) around the garden. Weeds were simply pulled out using child labour (me again) instead of using weed killer.

Snails (if they weren’t eaten by the ducks, chickens or geese) met their untimely demise in a tin of brine – the same with other insects. Spiders that managed to find their way into our home were gently invited out by my father, inside a glass bottle. The point of my whimsical meanderings was that we tried to make sure that we would rarely use chemicals in our garden to provide what we termed ‘easy gardening’.

Elgin Ridge organic vines

Now ‘easy gardening’ and wine-making have a great deal in common, except on a grander scale because there is a commercial and financial gain to be made. It isn’t growing a crop of tomatoes to sell at the village market it is large scale business involving greater production levels, processing, supply chain and financial risk. Chemicals have to be used to keep pests at bay, soil has to be treated to provide as much nutritional value as possible for the vines, the yield per hectare has to be able make financial sense where your commodity is sold per ton and spoilage greatly reduces that gain. The cosmetic factor of having animals, birds, bees and butterflies, is by the way side on a large-scale commercial farm and certainly not as important as the financial gain of the product. Or is it?

The answer is simple if you look at what my father used to say: “what you place into the ground, you get back out”. Now much the same with can be said regarding the use of harmful chemicals: if you put these into the soil, ultimately your soil becomes tainted with undesirable contents, the soil could become barren – in constant need of additional nutrients and attention – and eventually the soil stops providing the rich nutritious food it once did. The birds, butterflies and insects all push off for pastures better, not just greener.

According to WOSA, a total of 101 016 hectares of vines are planted in the Cape wine lands and other regions, farmed by more than 3600 farmers. Give or take a couple of numbers as the year progresses. However out the 101 016 000 hectares, only 0.8% (approx 125 hectares) was ‘Certified Organic’ as of 2010 according to Monty Waldin’s Biodynamic Wine Guide 2011.

Surely I ask, with the increasing consumer demand for traceability, ethical and holistic practices in food production and in turn healthier eating and drinking, why only so few fully registered? The answer rests in the effort and desire for farms to become organic.

Josef Lazarus of Lazanou Organic Vineyards’ superb quote in the Spring edition of Winestyle 2011, “I find it quite amusing that organic producers have to be certified to farm in the most natural way possible”, sums up the frustration some farmers feel at the process of becoming organic. The time, effort and cost sometimes are simply far too great for some producers.

There are also a great many producers who are adhering to organic practices but the volume of paperwork is outstandingly large. The other side of the coin is that many farms claim to be organic, riding on the wave of ‘organic production’ but hide behind the excuse of ‘too busy to do the paperwork to get certified’. In reality, these farms use chemicals that are banned from certified organic viticulture.

Pinot noir grapes on Elgin Ridge

On a recent visit to the Elgin Valley, I had the enormous pleasure of visiting Elgin Ridge – the only Certified Organic vineyard in the Elgin Valley. Four hectares of Sauvignon blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay and Pinot noir are grown on the sloping property overlooking the valley. Acclaimed viticulturist Kevin Watt was on board from the start of planting to provide advice and valuable knowledge to owners Marion and Brian Smith.

Elgin Ridge has international accreditation like the majority of South African organic grape and wine producers. Under EU regulations, the vines have had to produce grapes grown in organic conditions for at least three years. Products that are only certified as organic can be used on the vines and soil, for example guano from Namibia and Seagrow.

Owner Marion Smith explained why she wanted to farm organically: “Having sold our successful IT business in London we decided it was time to pursue a dream we had always nurtured: to make outstanding wines in small quantities that reflected our passion. We searched most of the wine growing regions in Europe, but eventually concluded the Elgin Valley in South Africa was the ideal place to realise this dream. The small farm we purchased was run down but showed great potential, and we planted our first vines in 2007. The objective from the beginning was to be organic, and as the farm had been fallow for many years, suited this objective perfectly.

At Elgin Ridge, our focus is on farming the land organically, in a way that is sustainable and ensures the wines truly represent the land itself. With quality grapes, there is less to do in the cellar, and our winemaking philosophy of ‘minimal intervention’ – carried out by winemaker, Niels Verburg – allows a natural approach throughout, from vine to bottle.

Our vines are on land 282 metres above sea level that was and still is completely untouched by chemicals. We recycle our farm vegetation and make our own compost to ensure our vines are truly natural, aided only with approved organic materials. We like to celebrate our grapes as they are, so leave the responsibility of pest control to some smaller but equally important members of the team: our beloved ducks. These are hatched on our farm and trained to eat pests daily.”

Dorper sheep, Peking ducks and chickens are used to keep the vineyard in check. Snails get eaten by the ducks and chickens, the sheep mow the grass in the vineyards and apple orchard.

The trainee snail patrol ducklings

The ducks and chickens also provide a source of free range eggs which are for sale (along with Marions’ delicious homemade chutney), in the tasting room adorned with the original prints by gonzo artist Ralph Steadman. (More of his prints and work can be viewed at www.ralphsteadman.com)

The two wines available are the 282 Sauvignon Blanc 2011 and 282 Chardonnay 2010 which both reflect the wine making style of Niels Verburg: “minimal intervention” and the quality of the vineyard: “a good vineyard will produce good wine”.

The Sauvignon Blanc 2011 was classic crisp Golden Delicious apple tartness, pear and grapefruit with undertones of green herby characters. Big juicy fruit flavours with green melon on the palate.

The Chardonnay 2010 (unwooded) is light and quaffable with notes of nectarines, white peaches and pears, fruit blossom and a little spice on the nose and palate. This is the maiden vintage of Chardonnay produced on the farm, so I am looking forward to seeing how it will develop on 2011 and 2012.

Sold and served only through restaurants and from the Elgin Ridge Tasting Room, these wines are gracing the wine lists and top sommelier recommendations in South Africa and the UK. From the Taj Hotel, Test Kitchen, Sotana in Cape Town to Marcus Wareing at The Berkely, The Glasshouse Restaurant, and Searcys in London.

I really enjoyed both wines and also the story behind Marion and Brians’ desire to farm originally. I left the farm with a smile on my face, arms laden Marions’ apple and cranberry chutney and with freshly laid duck and chicken eggs tucked in their boxes for the journey back to Cape Town. I also felt good knowing I was supporting a producer that was doing good by the earth and adhering to the formula: good soil = good vines = good wines.

This article first appeared on Pauline’s blog and has been republished here with her permission.

BLOG POST BY Pauline Nash – 6 MARCH 2012