When Namibian (desert) rhymes with Wine

Our Namibian adventure started in Upington, in the Orange River, on the border between South Africa and Namibia. Once we crossed the border, a 2600-km road trip commenced!

South of Namibia - 40° degrees outside

South of Namibia – 40° degrees outside


Namibia is like a series of postcards. An opencast patchwork. From the arid parts of the South, to the dunes of the West – the oldest dunes in the world, dating back over 3 million years, through the mountains of the North and the green meadows of the East, every landscape rivals of beauty and lets you dream. The country has 2.11 million people for 825 418 km2* (30 times less inhabitants than in France for an area 20% larger)… and the icing on the cake : 4 wineries !

It is difficult to produce wine when the rainy season is in summer (mainly from January to February, with harvesting time approaching) and an average temperature of 40°c…but far from impossible. Proof.

Step 1 : Neuras Wine and Wildlife Estate
Welcome to the middle of the Namibian desert. At 1200m above sea level and 80km from the mythical dunes of Sossusvlei, Neuras winery represents a little less than 2 hectares of vines for an annual production of 3,000 bottles. Neuras is part of the Naankuse foundation, which helps in the preservation and rehabilitation of wild animals like leopards and in which Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are involved. Their daughter, Shiloh Nouvel, was born in Swakopmund, Namibia. The vines were planted in 1997 and the first vintage was in 2001. Two cuvées : Neuras Shiraz (100% Shiraz) and Namib Red (a blend 80% Shiraz-20% Merlot) . Pleasant surprise for both red wines aged for nine months in barrels with an 13.5% alcohol. The palate is light but the fruit is present, giving freshness to the wines and it offers an immediate pleasure. Wines to pair on the spot with a piece of juicy Namibian beef, cooked on the coals.
More information : http://www.naankuse.com/neuras-estate-of-naankuse

Neuras Wine and Wildlife Estate

Neuras Wine and Wildlife Estate


Step  2 : Kristall Kellerei Winery
This 4.5 hectares vineyard was created in 1990 by Helmuth Kluge, the pioneer of modern viticulture in Namibia, and ransom in March 2008 by Katrin and Michael Weder. We are in Omaruru, 200 km northwest of Windhoek, the capital. Here, at 1400 meters above see level, wine production and the distillation of brandy – produced from grapes but also from plants – co-exist in perfect harmony. Moreover Colombard, the dominant grape, is used for both productions. Their white, Rüppel ‘s Parrot, a light 100% Colombard, whith notes of citrus and pear, is a perfect refreshment. The red, Paradise Flycatcher, is a blend of Tinta Baroca (30%), Shiraz (25%), Ruby Cabernet (25%), Malbec (15%) and Pinotage (5%). Nose of prune which have the flavours of a Porto. An easy drinking wine.
The house specialty : MATISA Prickly-Pear, a brandy made ​​from cactus flowers of the field.
More information : www.kristallkellerei.com

Harvest @ Kristall Kellerei

Harvest @ Kristall Kellerei


3rd and last step: Otavi region, baboons territory
We are surrounded by mountains, at 1300 meters altitude. At nightfall freshness arises. In the distance we hear the baboons screaming, it is impressive. In front of us, 1.5 miles away, two wineries face each other.
Tonningii Wynkelder, created in 1990 and whose vines were planted in 1998, is Otavi’s oldest winery. It is also the farm of Dr. Boshoff, a touching and close to nature man. During the morning, Dr. Boshoff consults at his cabiner in Otavi. He is a local star in the region, all the African people know him. In the afternoon, he puts on his winemaker cap and run in his field, 10km away, to take care of his vineyard, his second passion, but also to take care of the chickens, pigs and cows . He even collected a baby eland a few years ago, which horns he cut so it doesn’t hurt his wife, because the two are inseparable. A doctor-farmer-winemaker in Namibia… I love it! The wine: 1 pure Shiraz coming from 1ha of vines. “Of course there is a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Merlot and Chardonnay here and there, but it’s just for fun and to experiment, I don’t bottle them”, he says with humour.

Dr. Boshoff & his deer

Dr. Boshoff & his deer


On the other side, at the end of a path invaded by grass, is the Montavi winery, held by Laurent Evrard & Stefan and Martha Schulz, a Franco-German tandem. During the week they work and live in the capital. On weekends, they take the car and drive the 360 km that separate them from the domain, just for their passion for wine. At the moment their Syrah, Mourvèdre, Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon are not marketed. The wines don’t even have a label! These two wine lovers have learned the job and are still playing. “Every year we learn a little bit more, we buy additional equipment. Step by step we are moving on, always taking pleasure !”, says Laurent. One day maybe they would market… We spent the weekend with them harvesting Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre. A great time. Wine buddies. And scoop for Wine Explorers : they will label and sale their 2013 vintage !

Namibia is not (yet) a great nation of wine. But the apprentice-winemakers we met have all demonstrated one thing: anybody making wine with his heart can make good wine !

Paysage désertique Namibie
One last stop in Windhoek to enjoy a beer at Joe’s Beerhouse, the fashionable and unavoidable spot of the capital. A good night’s sleep followed by a fantastic breakfast in the countryside in Voigtland Guesthouse, a few kilometers from Windhoek Hosea Kutako International Airport. And here we go again. Direction Zimbabwe !

Wine Explorers’cheers,
JBA

*source : wikipedia

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