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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES #165 (article first published : 2007-01-19)

Many fine wines are emerging these days from the cool, high-altitude area of Elgin, 75 kilometres south-east of Cape Town on the N2 national road that leads eventually to Durban.

This plateau in the mountains of the southwestern Cape is historically famed for its fruit, particularly apples, but in recent years the farmers have broadened their activities and planted vineyards, especially with those grape varieties which like cool weather.

Anthony Rawbone-Viljoen is one such farmer. His unusual name is very well known at the Cape. His great-grandfather was Sir Antonie Viljoen, an Edinburgh-trained medical doctor who was knighted in 1916 for his reconciliation efforts after the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. He served in that war on the Boer side, was captured by the British and allowed to see out the war on his farm at Elgin guarded by two British soldiers, for whose services he had to pay!

He had three daughters, and he stipulated that any inheritor of his substantial estate should bear the name Viljoen. So in due course his son-in-law George Rawbone became Rawbone-Viljoen.

Two generations later Anthony Rawbone-Viljoen runs the same 1,800-hectare farm, Oak Valley, which now has 225 permanent employees plus 450 seasonal workers. Apples are still the economic backbone of Elgin (the first orchards were planted in 1900), but Anthony, who has been with Oak Valley for 34 years, saw the potential for wine grapes. He planted his first vineyards in 1985 and later delivered chardonnay, pinot noir and merlot grapes to the Bouchard Finalyson cellar near Hermanus for use in their wines.

In 2003 he bottled the first Oak Valley wine, a sauvignon blanc, with excellent results and now he and his winemaker, Pieter Visser (who himself grew up in the Elgin area), have produced a red blend.

Both wines are now on the market. The Oak Valley Elgin Sauvignon Blanc 2005 is an elegant dry white with the characteristics typical of this cultivar: aromas and tastes of gooseberry, fig, grapefruit, plus a flinty dryness. Alcohol content is 13 percent, quite high for a white, and none the worse for that. The retail price is about R65 a bottle.

The Oak Valley Blend 2004 is a big, imposing red, 14,5 percent alcohol. The wines in the blend are merlot (88 percent), cabernet franc (9 percent) and cabernet sauvignon (3 percent). The wine was matured in French oak barrels for 18 months and bottled a year ago.

The result is a wine with a dark red colour, fruit and berry flavours, and a certain spiciness on the nose and palate. Very good, and it would go well with most dinner dishes. Price: about R110 a bottle.

Oak Valley have produced 33,000 bottles of the sauvignon blanc and 12,600 bottles of the red blend. The cellar’s phone number is 021 859 4110. – Michael Green




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