Christophe Durand, a South African Norman in the vineyard

« I love wine but it must be good »

Former mannequin model and passionate about karate, nothing pre-destined Christophe Durand to viticulture. However, meeting with a self-educated wine lover.

Christophe Durand in his vineyard @ Perdeberg

Christophe Durand in his vineyard @ Perdeberg


WINE EXPLORERS : Before becoming a winemaker for Wines d’Orrance, your vineyard, it seems that you’ve had a thousand lives. What brought you to South Africa ?
CHRISTOPHE DURAND : I discovered this beautiful country in 1989 when I was here for six months modelling and I have always vowed to return one day. It was only a few years later, after my separation from my first wife, South African herself, that I decided to drop everything to be with my first daughter , Ameena .
Arriving from my native Normandy with my clogs to start from scratch wasn’t easy. So I started by picking up small food jobs from server to bodyguard. Life is made of beautiful encounters and opportunities that must be seized. My meeting in Cape Town with Claude Gillet, owner of a Burgundian cooperage, was my first turning point in wine and an upheaval in my life. Believing in me, he not only chose me as his South African agent but above all, he gave me his passion for wine and his love for Burgundy. My passion and my curiosity for the cooperage industry were such that my company was an immediate success. In just three years I already had 10 % of the market.

WE : What lead you to make your own wine ?
CD : During these first three years in contact with South African producers, I had the chance to make wine experimentations for fun. I found my style and I took my chance in 2000, making my first wine under the name Cuvée Ameena, the name of my first daughter who is now 20 years old. I didn’t grow up with winemakers or wine people in general, so I had to learn fast, very fast and from scratch. I discovered a passion that would never leave me. I read a lot, tasted a lot to train my palate and always listened to any advice, good and less good.

WE : What is your philosophy regarding the wine you produce and wines you like to drink ?
CD : Unearth beautiful terroirs and let the nature take its course, that’s my philosophy. Working in the vineyard, harvesting the finest grapes possible, and once in the cellar, do as little as possible, simply by monitoring the harvest, like taking care of a child taking its first steps.
I love fruity wines, easy to drink, which reflect their terroir, the sexy wines of Burgundy, the great ladies of Bordeaux, the finest of Rhone Valley, the precision of Alsace, the minerality of Sancerre. I love wine but it must be good.

WE : Can you give us details on your 3 wines ?
CD : The Cuvée Ameena is a pure Syrah. Half the vines are bushvines in the Swartland region, more specifically in Perdeberg, a terroir providing good structure and a black fruit character to the wine. The other half is coming from the Elgin region, closer to the sea and offering elegance, spices (white pepper) that I always look for in the Syrah. Both plots, once harvested, will undergo their fermentations separately and then be blended to age in French oak for 18 months.
The 2nd wine is named Cuvée Anais, name of my second 9 year old daughter, is a 100 % Chardonnay coming from two beautiful vineyards, one in Elgin, the other one in Franschhoek, regions which bring elegance and minerality to the whites.
Kama, the 3rd wine, is a Chenin Blanc, in honor of the Indian origines of my wife. Kama, in Sanskrit language “the pleasure of sens”, comes from a bush trailed single vineyard, allowing the Chenin Blanc to give the best of itself. This wine is my favourite and I like to take care of it because Chenin Blanc is more fragile and sensitive to oxidation .

WE : Was your meeting with Claude Gilois, founder of “Vins du Monde“ and “Chasseur de Crus“ the turning point of your wine life ?
CD : The meeting with Claude Gilois, who I like to call my ” Spirits father “, was the begining of my wine life. He first discovered me through my wines. Then in 2003 he started importing my products in France, and step by step, thanks to word of mouth, we now export to 14 countries. He guided me, exposed me to the world of wine, meeting a lot of great personalities, which was a unique opportunity for me, not coming from a vineyard setting. It helped me to affirm my style. I owe him a lot.

Christophe Durand & Claude Gilois - Waterfront, Cape Town

Christophe Durand & Claude Gilois – Waterfront, Cape Town


WE : Your greatest emotion on a South African wine ? On a world wine in particular ?
CD : My first great emotion was for a South African Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 from Neil Ellis, a nice and balanced wine with grapes from Stellenbosch. Ornellaia 1992 or a Charmes Chambertin 1949 from Laporte and more recently a Château Clinet 2007. I constantly discover with excitiment the world of wine…

WE : Can you tell us more about your new  cellar in the center of Cape Town ?
CD : We were, my wife and I looking for a place in the center of Cape Town for four years, to be able to produce and raise our wines, but also to offer tastings and sales of our products on site. Something that wasn’t always evident in the past because I rented a place from another producer.
We luckily found a 300 years old place being part of Heritage Square building, officially dated from1771, right in the center of the city. This is an incredible opportunity to have got hold of this 320 square meters place full of great history, with a natural freshness and constant temperature of 20 degrees (60cm thick walls), perfect for wine.

WE : Any project in the future ?
CD : As we say in English, “the sky is the limit“… This year I will have some Roussanne, an exciting Rhone varietal, and next year I start to produce Pinot Noir.

Wine Explorers’cheers,
JBA

More information about Vins d’Orrance : www.vinsdorrance.co.za

Top 5 South African wines tasted !

(outside Pinotage)
CompoBouteille_AfriqueduSud_1
1-    Strandveld Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Strandveld Estate
M93A9051_EDT100% Sauvignon Blanc
A winery located in the Elim area, the most southerly wine region in South Africa and whose vines are named “cap front”, as they are close to the ocean (at Strandveld the estate’s vines are on average 6 km from the sea). The sea air brings freshness to the wine.  I like to dream – it is a very personal opinion – that the air charged with iodine gives a salty taste to the wines, especially the whites.
Tasting:  nose of fresh herbs and asparagus characteristic of the SB316 clone, sometimes seen as a defect, but which in reality is a marvel of purity.  Beautiful freshness in the mouth and good length. It is flexible and it ends with notes of pear and citrus.  It makes you want to eat grilled fish and Greek dishes … A delight!
Winemaker: Conrad Vlok, since 2004.
Cellar price: R98 (about 6.90€)
More information: www.strandveld.co.za

2-    Kama Chenin Blanc 2013, from Dorrance Wines
M93A7352_EDT100% Chenin Blanc
A very nice Chenin Blanc originating from the Swartland region, which is known for its more continental climate, offering elegant and fruity wines.
Tasting: nose of exotic fruits (pineapple, passionfruit), very nice, with little notes of white peach and apricot on the finish. Nice palate, ample. Good freshness and length.  An elegant bitter finish that supports the wine.  Delicious.  Why not enjoy a lobster salad or a tuna carpaccio with it ?
Winemaker/Owner: Christophe Durand. His 1st vintage dates from 2004.
Cellar price: R100 (about 7€)
More information: www.vinsdorrance.co.za

3-    Morkel Malbec 2010, Bellevue Estate
M93A7333_EDT
100% Malbec
The estate is located in Bottelary in Stellenbosch – Stellenbosch being generally considered as the most famous wine region of South Africa. Bellevue Estate has beautiful clay and sandstone soils. The uniqueness of the area is to be surrounded by trees, the “Blue Gum” trees, which give to wine scents of blackcurrant.
Tasting: nose of cassis, blueberry and eucalyptus, slightly minty finish. A taste of candy and a very delicate cassis finish. Fine and supple tannins and good length. Would go very well with a rabbit with prunes.
Winemaker/Owner: Dirk Morkel
Cellar price: R95 (about 6.65€)
More information: www.bellevue.co.za

4-    Trilogy 2010, Warwick Estate
M93A7538_EDT
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%), Cabernet Franc (30%) and Merlot (10%)
Warwick, a “Biodiversity and Wine Initiative Member“, is also located in the Stellenboch region.
Tasting: nose of red fruits (gooseberry) and also blackcurrant. Slightly grassy. Very nice wine with soft and fleshy tannins. Can age very well (up to 10 years). Freshness and balance in mouth. Decant for 2 hours. Nice match with roast beef and mushrooms for example.
Winemaker: Nic Van Aarde ; Owner: Mike Ratcliffe
Cellar price: R275 (about 19.25€)
More information: www.warwickwine.com

5-    Integer Syrah 2007, Hoopenburg Wines
M93A9456_EDT
100% Syrah
Hoopenburg is located on the R101 in Stellenbosch, 30 minutes from Cape Town. It enjoys a temperate microclimate which brings freshness to the wines.
Tasting:  nose of flowers (violet) and licorice with subtle spices on the finish.  Intense and fresh on the palate. Soft tannins, ample. Fleshy fruit supported by spicy notes (black pepper). Serve with marinated venison stew… sublime!
Winemaker: Helanie Olivier, since August 2013
Cellar price: R110 (about 7.70€)
More information: www.hoopenburgwines.co.za

Well … impossible to limit myself to 5 wines … not after drinking Crystallum Paradisum!

* Crystallum Paradisum 2011, Crystallum Wines
Paradisum 2011
The wine is a blend of Shiraz (50%), Grenache (38%) and Cinsault (12%), produced in the Walker Bay region.
Tasting: aromas of cherries, strawberries, blackberries and a hint of leather, cloves and cardamon to finish.  Great intensity of flavour on the palate with well-integrated tannins and a balanced and refreshing finish.  Nice depth.  Drink within the next 2-3 years.
Owners/Winemakers: Andrew and Peter-Allan Finlayson, sons of the legendary South African winemaker Peter Finlayson, who was the first to plant Pinot Noir in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley.
Average price on internet : about 39€
More information: www.crystallumwines.com

Wine Explorers’cheers,
JBA

Braai vs Pinotage

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page“, said St Augustin.
Sout Africa is the first page of our book…for the moment.

First of all a touch of history…important to understand the wine culture.

The roots of the South African wine industry date back to the XVII century, in 1659, when the founder of Cape Town, Jan van Riebeeck, produced the first wine recorded in the country. His venue was linked to the explorations of the Dutch East India Company which established a supply station in Cape Town.

Kaapzicht vineyard in summer

Kaapzicht vineyard in summer


However the boom of the South African wine industry is very recent. In 1918, growers in the Western Cape founded the “Koöperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging“ (KWV), in order to increase the production and the quality of wine. But production quotas were only abolished in the 1990s. Prior to the end of Apartheid in the 1990’s South Africa was very isolated.  When Apartheid was abolished the boycotts of South African products were dropped and the world’s export markets opened to us.
« The real changes in terms of winemaking and production came about in the last 20 years », according to Helanie Olivier, winemarker at Hoopenburg Winery, in Stellenbosch. « We have come a long way since those early days.  South African winemakers nowadays are generally well travelled and innovative.  We draw from many different influences, as creative people tend to do, and find joy in creating elegant wines that truly express our unique terroir. », she added.
In 2012, South Africa produced  870.9 million litres of wine, becoming word 9th biggest wine producing country. Exportations are increasing every year. In 2013 South Africa’s wineries exported 525.7 million litres, beating the previous record achieved in 2012 by 26%, according to Chris Mercer (Decanter, Monday 13 January 2014).

A splash of geography…also very important.

Wine Regions of South Africa (copyright SAWIS)

Wine Regions of South Africa (copyright SAWIS)


Two important points to remember.

South Africans don’t have an “AOC system“ like in France. The wine regions of South Africa are defined under the “Wine of Origin” act of 1973. All South African wines listed as “Wine of Origin” must be composed entirely of grapes from its region. As a result, the WO does not place adjunct regulations on wine regions such as delineating permitted varieties, trellising methods, irrigation techniques, and crop yields. It only divides growing regions into four categories.
The largest and most generic are geographical units (such as the Western Cape region) which subsume the smaller, but still broad spanning regions (such as Overberg). Under these are clustered districts (like Walker Bay, Stellenbosch, Paarl or Swartland) and within them are wards (such as Elgin).
South Africa is located at the tip of the African continent with most wine regions located near the coastal influences of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, as you may know. These regions have mostly a Mediterranean climate that is marked by intense sunlight and dry heat. In many South African wine regions irrigation is essential to viticulture.
For more information : http://www.wosa.co.za/sa/

Now that you have some information in your hands to become an expert on South African wines, let’s talk about what excited us the most during our stay: Braai & Pinotage. Two lovely discoveries from the South African culture, which goes extremely well together !

Braai = Friends, Meat & Wine (or beer)

Braai @ L'Avenir Wine Estate

Braai @ L’Avenir Wine Estate

 

Any Braai is a unique moment. A social experience. A sweet way of relaxing yourself after a long day of work, around a fire, chatting with your friends, a drink close to you. Braai means “barbecue” in Afrikaans and the traditions around it can be considerably different from our european barbecue.
According to Helanie Oliver, « using gas is cheating.  The use of charcoal and briquettes is common, mainly due to their convenience, but using wood for the fire is the tradional way of preparing a braai.  The additional bonus is that it makes good use of alien plants that have been removed in aid of preserving biodiversity. For a bit of background: the Cape floral Kingdom has the greatest non-tropical concentration of higher plant species in the world and is located entirely within the borders of South Africa.  Most of the region is covered with fynbos which is home to an amazing diversity of plant species ».

Braai Masters' book

Braai Masters’ book


Braai Day is a celebration of South Africa’s rich cultural heritage and its unique national pastime, the braai. South Africans are known as the rainbow nation, and across race, language, region and religion, they all share this common heritage, celebrated on 24 September (South Africa’s Heritage Day).
We had the chance to experience several Braais with friends during our stay in Stellenbosch, Paarl and the Orange River. It was always a fantastic time !

Pinotage, a red grape made in South Africa

Pinotage Grappes - Stellenbosch

Pinotage Grappes – Stellenbosch


Pinotage is for the South African wine industry what the Eiffel Tower is for French tourism : a signature. Pinotage is a viticultural cross of two varieties of Vitis vinifera, Pinot noir and Cinsaut (also known as “Hermitage” in South Africa) and created in 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold, the first Professor of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University. It represents 6% of the total South African wine production as well as more than 95% of the world Pinotage cultivation. In addition Pinotage is also grown in Brazil, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, United States and Zimbabwe. It is a required component in “Cape blends“, red wines with a proportion of Pinotage blended with other grapes (30-70%).
The vines are vigorous like their parent Cinsaut and easy to grow, ripening early with high sugar levels. Pinotage can be grown via the trellised system or as bushvines. The older Pinotage vineyards are predominately planted as bushvines and it is perceived that these lend a higher concentration of fruit and more depth to the wine. This cultivar  is naturally high in tannins which can be tamed with limited maceration time but reducing the skin contact can also reduce some of the mulberry, blackberry and damson fruit character that Pinotage can produce. Tannin management is key.

2 delicious Pinotage we had the chance to test :
Compo_Bouteille_Pinotage1_SouthAfrica
Pinotage Grand Vin 2012, from L’Avenir Estate
Comes from the Stellenbosch area. Nose of berries. Smoke, leather and spice enlivened by distinctive floral notes. Harmonious mouth with elegant tannins, nice freshness. Black fruit on the palate. with a juicy plum fruit. Nicely balanced. Good now with decanting for two hours minimum but also long term potential. Fine match for game and braai in general ! 3,000 bottles produced/year.
Winemaker : Dirk Coetzee
Cellar price : 250 rand (about 17.5€)
More details : www.larochewines.com

Le Vin de François 2011, from Chateau Naudé
Produced in limited quantities and made from only the best examples of Pinotage found in the Cape Winelands, le Vin de François is the pinnacle of Chateau Naudé Wine Creation’s range. Comes from seven Stellenbosch and Bot River producers. Complexe nose of ripe mulberries and plum with a touch of licorice. Fresh and juicy mouth, well composed with enough tannin to reward extended cellaring. Fine match with a chocolate cake.
Owner/winemaker : François Naudé
Auction price: up to 5 200 rand for a case of 12 (about 30€ a bottle)
More details : www.levindefrancois.com

Thank you South Africa for your warm welcome.  Now there remain 91 pages – countries – for us to write and we will be able to complete our “wine world experience“ book.  

JBA