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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES #143 (article first published : 2006-01-21)

Elgin, about 70 kilometres east of Cape Town, is an inland plateau surrounded by mountains and bisected by the N2 to Port Elizabeth and Durban. The valley lying in this plateau has long been noted for its apple orchards, but over the past two decades some farmers have gradually converted their lands to vineyards.

The result has been that Elgin is now regarded as a prime wine-growing region with a big future. The terrain and the cool climate remind me of the vineyards of New Zealand, which these days produce some of the world’s best white wines. Likewise, Elgin is rapidly earning a big reputation with its whites and its cool climate reds such as merlot and pinot noir.

A newcomer on this elegant scene is Elgin Vintners, a partnership of six grape growers who have recently placed their first wine on the market, Elgin Vintners Sauvignon Blanc 2005. Five of the six are deciduous fruit farmers who have decided to diversify, and they seem to have made a sound choice.

The partners are Derek Corder, Max Hahn, Alastair Moodie, James Rawbone-Viljoen, Rob Semple and Paul and Nicky Wallace, and some of these surnames are very well-known in the Western Cape. Paul Wallace is the technical man, a viticulturist in the wine industry for 25 years and an independent consultant for the past ten years. He is highly enthusiastic about Elgin, which he says has ideal wine-growing conditions: cool climate, good soils, above-average rainfall (about 1,250 mm a year}, varying slopes and high altitudes.

The Elgin Vintners Sauvignon Blanc 2005 is indeed a distinguished wine. It was made by Ross Gower, formerly of Klein Constantia, in his cellar at Elgin from grapes supplied by the partnership. Interestingly, the bottle has a screwcap, something distinctly unusual in a wine that retails for about R60 a bottle. The argument is that the metal cap provides a good seal and prevents any danger of cork taint.

The wine is a bright straw colour with a greenish tinge and has the typical sauvignon tastes and smells of green figs and gooseberries. And it has, predictably enough, a whiff of Granny Smith apples. It is quite potent, 13,23 percent alcohol, and is delicious now but should improve in the bottle for a further 12 months. A wine to savour with a good meal or by itself on a hot day.

Only 2,000 six-bottle cases have been produced, so this wine may be a bit difficult to find in KwaZulu/Natal. The phone/fax number of Elgin Vintners is 021 848 9744, e-mail: wallovale@mweb.co.za – Michael Green




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