South African wine farms are diverse with many offering not just wine, but experiences, pairings and world-class gastronomic experiences. Diversity aside, there is a golden thread that runs through and binds many of our most well-known estates: history. Since the humble beginnings of our country as a halfway station between Europe and India, wine has been an established part of that history. Groot Constantia, Vergelegen, Blaauwklippen, Muratie, Alto (to name a few) were all established within the first century of the Dutch setting foot in the Cape. In 1791, Nederburg was bought by Philippus Bernardus Wolvaardt for 5600 guilders and the estate took its place in SA wine history. And this historical (and oenological) gem is hiding in plain sight.
As with most historic places, a visit to the estate is by far the best way to appreciate the heritage. Walking into the Nederburg tasting room, the history of the farm is set out in panels with beautiful images bringing to life the rich past of the estate. There is also a central display dedicated to their Heritage Heroes, a tribute to the owners and winemasters of the farm, incredible people with incredible stories that are represented by incredible wines.
The Heritage Heroes range consists of five wines. The Anchorman Chenin Blanc represents the first owner and winemaster of the estate, Philippus Wolvaardt, who had the vision and passion to create and establish Nederburg, paving the way for the estate we know today. The Brewmaster (Bordeaux blend) is a tribute to Johannes Graue, who co-owned a brewery in Germany before moving to South Africa to play his part in revolutionising the wine industry through clonal experiments and his attention to improving source material for the vineyards. The Young Airhawk Sauvignon Blanc commemorates Johan Graue’s son, Arnold. Arnold was known for his brilliance in continuing to improve winemaking and viticulture techniques but he died tragically in an a light aircraft crash at the age of 29. After the death of his son, Graue was devastated. He nearly quit the farm, but instead opted to go to Germany and bring back the next winemaster: Günther Brözel. Known for whizzing around the farm on his 250cc motorcycle, a fitting name for the wine to honour him is the Motorcycle Marvel (Rhône blend). The last wine to be released in the series was The Beautiful Lady (Gewürtztraminer), remembering Graue’s wife Ilse, who played an important part in making the estate what it is today. A beautiful wine for a beautiful lady.
Nederburg is one of the Distell brand homes and offers a number of wine ranges, suiting every taste and budget. These include the Foundation range, 5600, Winemaster’s Reserve, Manor House, Heritage Heroes and Ingenuity. The tasting room offers tastings of the different ranges as well as a “Which wine, which cheese” tasting with gorgeous locally sourced goats cheeses. The Manor House is home to The Red Table restaurant, bistro style fare with jaw-dropping views of the estate.
Tasting through the entire range offered at Nederburg is quite a task, so we skipped the Foundation and 5600 range as well as the Baronne and the Duet (not because of snobbish tendencies but because I’m very familiar with the ranges and wanted to invest time in some of the unknown wines). We ended up tasting 15 wines and I won’t prattle on with a review and overview of each wine, but the ones worth stocking up on include:
- Young Airhawk Sauvignon Blanc – Slightly wooded, zesty with mineral undertones and a smooth finish.
- The Beautiful Lady – Without a doubt, my favourite wine of the day. Inviting, engaging and beautiful and a gentle sweetness on the palate.
- Motorcycle Marvel – Silky, smooth tannins with good structure. Hit of acidity highlights fruit in the wine. Great summer red.
- The Brewmaster – Nicely wooded, complex with dark fruit and savoury notes. A warm, winter wine which would go well with stews, especially those of the French persuasion
- Edelrood (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend) – Easy drinking, juicy wine. Pine needles, eucalyptus hints from the Cab with great softness from the Merlot. Great “standby” wine for unexpected braais or pizza evenings.
- Winemaster’s Reserve Chardonnay – Straightforward. Honey tones on the nose, unassuming, middle-of-the-road Chardonnay. Not overly wooded, not overly fruity.
Ingenuity White – 8 varietal blend (Sauvignon Blanc led, with Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Viognier, Semillon and Verdelho). A serious white wine. Rich, creamy finish with Riesling, Gewürtz and even the Viognier coming through on the nose. The 2013 is fantastically balanced, with the varietals not fighting each other in the bottle but rather working together to complement.
- Manor House Sauvignon Blanc – If you like green pepper Sauvignon Blanc, this one is for you. Chill as much as you dare and set it down by the pool to make the hot summer bearable.
To conclude, permit me a little waffle about perceptions. Nederburg is part of Distell and the Boutique-ONLY wine crowd will undoubtedly sniff and grumble at the thought of quaffing anything produced by “big corporate”. This attitude irks me no end as I am very familiar with many of the Distell brands and I know the quality that can be found in their products. Yes, it’s a massive company. Yes, it produces hundreds of products, some more “commercially accessible” shall we say, than others. It may not have the intimate, boutique-appeal that some farms champion and it may be far from a “hidden gem” but Nederburg caters for nearly all tastes. From the eternally dependable, staple of my student days Baronne (which I can still happily pick up at any wine shop and know exactly what I’m getting – there’s something to be said for consistency!) to the Heritage Heroes range through to the Ingenuity, Noble Late Harvest and the Edelkeur, Nederburg offers a little bit of everything for everyone.
The importance of heritage, history and passion for wine is also evident not only from the Nederburg story, but from each wine produced today. Many estates have the history and the heritage sites, but few make it as part of their every day story as Nederburg, where the essence of the winemasters echoes still in every bottle.