The Worcester Wine and Olive Route is considered the bulk wine basket of the industry. This perception, however, is being turned on its head with the region’s winemakers and producers making top-notch wines in the valley. Lisa Lottering #explore(s)theunexplored.
During lockdown, we have been restricted to travel within our borders, but have you ever taken a day-trip to explore one of our beautiful wine regions?
Last week WineLand Media, along with a group of influencers, bloggers, and wine enthusiasts, visited the Worcester Wine & Olive Route for an unforgettable mini-roadtrip through this spectacular wine valley.
Our bus departed from Cape Town at 07:30 to make the 110 km trip to Worcester. We had to make a much-needed pit-stop at the famous Peregrine Farm Stall for a cup of joe and to stretch our legs before our scheduled visit to six wine farms in the region (challenge accepted)!
The Worcester Wine Route includes the Nuy Valley and De Doorns, with a myriad of wine styles and talented winemakers that produce quality Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Columbar, and Muscadel.
Even though Worcester competes predominately in the bulk wine sector, there’s an unrivalled level of quality of wines to be found here, with price tags that won’t break the bank. The region also sports a bout of accommodation hotspots, and exciting tourist attractions.
The Worcester region could very well be the hidden gem of the wine industry, but now it’s up to local (and international) tourists to #exploretheunexplored.
Stettyn Family Vineyards
Stettyn Family Vineyards is located 15 km north of Villiersdorp and is situated between the Overberg and the small Karoo.
Winemaker and production manager JM Crafford says the producers’ attention to detail in the vineyard, as well as the distinctive terroir, gives the Worcester wine region that almost indescribable quality.
He says Stettyn strives to add value to their product offerings, and are constantly on the lookout to see how they can stand out from the crowd. JM says it’s pointless to compete with mass-producing cellars. “We stick to our strengths.”
Bottled products from Stettyn is exported to China and bulk wine is shipped mostly to Europe, including Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Despite a challenging 2020, JM says Stettyn experienced a “fairly decent production” but relied heavily on their export market to make up sales.
“Even though the region is not devoid of trial and error experiments, wine producers maintain a consistent level of quality in the vineyards. “Wine starts in the vineyard and it’s my responsibility to guide that process,” he says.
Cilmor winemaker Quintin van der Westhuizen, is meticulous about the way he handles grapes that come into the cellar. “I play around with reductive winemaking and try to keep the movement of juice as minimal as possible,” he says.
When it comes to white winemaking, Quintin likes to ferment the grapes while it’s really cold. “I try to stress the yeast so it works a little bit harder to develop the flavours, which will improve over time.”
Quintin is confident in his winemaking skills and has a clear objective in terms of the different styles he wants to produce. “I don’t only want to produce wine just for the sake of it. This goes for both bottled and bulk wines.”
“I have a clear vision of where I want to be in five years and that’s what drives me. If you don’t have that kind of determination, something will get lost along the way.”
While many were consumed by the challenges of the Covid-19 crisis, Alvi’s Drift experienced a stellar year. Recent accolades include top spots in both the FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top 10 and Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top 10 competitions, Gold in the Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards including various other awards in top international wine competitions.
Since receiving this sprout of accolades, winemaker, Alvi van der Merwe says very little has changed at the winery, but one thing remains the same. “We always give 100% in whatever we do.”
“We frequently taste competitor wines and measure ourselves against international brands to determine how we can improve and where our shortcomings are.”
Alvi says criticism is a learning curve. “You need to look at your wine styles and compare them with wines that excel. We constantly aim to improve ourselves because as soon as you rest on your laurels, someone comes along that’s even better. Being complacent is not an option for us. Alvi says decreasing price points can be a potential challenge for producers in the near future.
Speaking on future trends in the wine industry, Alvi predicts a resurgence of premium bag-in-box wines. He also believes traditional markets like China will revert to conventional wine bottles with corks.
He describes the South African wine industry as “humble” and says the camaraderie between producers is commendable. “The warmth within our industry is amazing. This is the most wonderful place to work in and it’s such an honour to be a part of it.”
Conradie Penhill Wines
Conradie Penhill Wines is a boutique winery based at the foothills of the famous Langeberg Mountains in the Nuy Valley, situated between Worcester and Robertson.
Sales administrator Lorraine Viljoen lives and breathes all things wine. She started her journey here in 2018 and does something of everything. From exports to sales, marketing and will even host the odd wine tasting.
Conradie Penhill Wines produces two ranges of wines, most are highly-priced in both South Africa’s and international competitions. This includes the Conradie Family Vineyards range consisting mainly of single noble variety white and red wines.
The Penhill range, launched for the first time in September 2015, consists of two blended varietal wines – a premium white and red blend wine.
At the heart of every tradition, there’s a lesson. Lorraine says they are a tight-knit family who work hard. “We work together through good and bad times. We are truly a valley of friends.”
Aan de Doorns
“History is part of you and part of your winemaking journey,” says Aan de Doorns winemaker Chris Geldenhuys.
Initially, Chris, who has no winemaking background, wanted to become a pesticide rep because all he wanted to do was “drive around in a bakkie around the farm”.
But during his student years at Stellenbosch University, his interest in wine became apparent. He completed his studies at Elsenburg, worked a harvest in Napa, and eventually became winemaker at Aan de Doorns.
Currently, six employees manage 32 000 tonnes of grapes, and only 1% of the wine is bottled, while the rest is allocated for bulk export.
According to Chris, it takes time to build your position in the market and bulk wine is no different. “Wine is a competitive game, so receiving accolades and getting your wine into a big distributor is a game to win on its own.”
Aan de Doorns’ main export markets is Europe, including Germany, the Netherlands, and France.” Although the winery’s main focus lies with bulk, ensuring and maintaining a quality component remains top of mind.
“You need to know which building blocks are required to produce quality wines, because it’s not so easy when you have to produce large quantities. If you’re a small estate, you’re a lot more hands-on.”
Chris says Covid-19 dealt a serious blow to the entire South African wine industry. “We were unable to ship wine to our international markets due to ports being closed. Now, our tanks are full of surplus wine and we need to make space for the 2021 harvest, which is right around the corner.”
Chris believes if it wasn’t for Covid-19, this would probably have been the best winemaking year for South Africa.
“Weather conditions were favourable for optimum fruit set. Now we need to produce quality wine that can compete internationally.”
Nuy on the Hill
Situated in the picturesque Nuy Valley between Robertson and Worcester, Nuy Winery has a long history dating back to 1905.
Their wine range includes Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and two bubblies – an off-dry Sauvignon Blanc and sweeter Muscadel. The Nuy Wine Cellar’s flagship range, Legacy, includes a white and red blend, an MCC, Muscadel and a potstill brandy.
During the lockdown period the nostalgia around the brand picked up as consumers opted to drink more of the older wines like the 1982 red Muscadel.
Their Muscat Bubbly is generally a hit with the fairer sex, while the men opt for the winery’s world-famous brandy. And if you’re in the mood for craft gin, Nuy’s got you covered.
Established in 1963, the Nuy Wine Cellar has gathered a loyal following over the years and was built on one corner stone, namely quality.