De Wetshof might be known as being South Africa’s pioneering Chardonnay producer, but this Robertson wine farm was also one of the first Cape farms to make Rhine Riesling, a wine that attracted Superior Status for De Wetshof from the SA Wine and Spirits Board. The fact that De Wetshof helped pioneer this iconic German variety at the Cape should come as no surprise considering Danie de Wet’s wine background, which included studying viticulture and winemaking at the prestigious Geisenheim Institute in the south east part of Germany on the right back of the famous Rhein River.
Danie’s time studying here from 1969 to 1971 played a profound role in influencing him towards introducing grape cultivars that were not yet established in the Cape in the 1970s and early 1980s, including Rhine Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and – of course – Chardonnay.
His German alma mater recently served-up a bit of nostalgia when it invited Danie to attend an on-line tasting of Riesling wines made by him and other Geisenheim students from around the world.
“This year’s event was actually to commemorate the tasting of Rieslings from former Geisenheim students held in February 2001,” says Danie. “Twenty years ago, Geisenheim held a tasting of Riesling wines made by various former students. This year they revisited the tasting, tasting the exact same wines from the same vintages included two decades ago. It was wonderful to see old friends, some with whom I studied at Geisenheim as well as members of the university staff. Real nostalgic stuff, made more so by us tasting Riesling, a variety that truly inspired and continues to inspire anyone who has studied winemaking and viticulture in Germany.
The line-up included Schloss Vollrads 1999 (Germany), Weingut Prager 1999 (Austria), Bonny Doon 1999 (California), Weingut Tesch 1998 (Germany), Henschke 2000 (Australia), Weingut Eugen Muller 1999 (Germany) and – last but not least – De Wetshof Riesling 1998.
“The original tasting in 2001 was also done virtually, but was quite a performance in getting all the guys on-line from around the world, as back then the technology was nowhere near as efficient as it is today,” recalls Danie. “I remember having to go the local post office to get linked-up to a media-feed, one helluva story. Fortunately, seeing old friends and enjoying Riesling made that all worthwhile.”
During the recent Geisenheim tasting 20 years later, Danie was amazed at how his 1998 De Wetshof Riesling had matured. “We still have a few bottles left in our vinoteque but had lately not found a reason to open them. So when the Geisenheim on-line experience came along it allowed me to experience this wine again,” he says. The result? Well, the collected audience that had gathered for the Geisenheim tasting agreed that of all the Rieslings in the line-up, from around the world, the De Wetshof had aged the best. The official statement being: The wine showing the most youthful characters, both in colour as well as sensorial aging wat the De Wetshof 1998 Riesling.
“Hearing this from my peers was heartwarming and a true compliment,” says Danie, who presented the tasting in fluent German. “The occasion was one of those magical examples of wine’s ability to rekindle old friendships, the common factor here being the shared association with Geisenheim. And to hear that the De Wetshof wine was still showing the freshest profile was a true compliment.
“Along with Chardonnay, Riesling is the white wine that express the origin of site the best. To thus receive these accolades from so many Riesling experts is true recognition for Robertson and South African terroir. Now I am just waiting for the whole Geisenheim team to visit De Wetshof so we can have a true reunion. Which will be one big party – seeing and hearing them on-line is just not the same.”