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MICHAEL GREENíS WINE NOTES #168 (article first published : 2007-03-4)

Not long ago I wrote about some of the fine wines now coming from Elgin, 75 kilometres east of Cape Town. This area has for a hundred years been famous for its apples, but a fair chunk of the farmland is now being converted to vineyards, with gratifying results. The terrain and the climate are not dissimilar from those of parts of New Zealand, a country which is known for its white wines in particular.

The Elgin Valley is a high inland plateau surrounded by mountains. Vineyard altitudes range from 210 metres above sea level to 600 metres. Elgin is fairly well protected from the strong south-east winds that sometimes buffet the rest of the Western Cape winelands.

One of the new producers in this area is Elgin Vintners, a partnership of six grape growers who moved into the market a year ago with a distinctive sauvignon blanc. The Vintners have now released three reds, plus a new vintage of their sauvignon blanc.

The partners, who have their own farms supplying grapes to Elgin Vintners are:

Derek Corder, who grew up on the apple and pear farm Beaulieu; Max Hahn, who is planting pinot noir grapes; Alastair Moodie, owner of a fruit and poultry farm which now includes merlot and sauvignon blanc vineyards; James Rawbone-Viljoen, apples, pears, plus various wine grapes; Rob Semple, fruit and grapes; and Paul Wallace and his wife Nicky, Paul being a very well-known viticulturist who is now a grape farmer. Another member of the team who gives technical advice is Justin Hoy, a winemaker from Franschoek who now farms at Elgin.

The partners have supplied their best grapes to be made into wine in various cellars at Elgin and Stellenbosch (they themselves do not have a production cellar).

I have tried two wines from the current issue of Elgin Vintners and both are first-rate. The Elgin Vintners Sauvignon Blanc 2006 is made from grapes which were harvested from three different Elgin farms and were vinified at Jeff Grierís Villiera Wines cellar at Stellenbosch.

The wine has the freshness and vigour of a cool climate sauvignon. There are aromas and tastes of green pepper, gooseberry and passion fruit. It is lovely now (and quite potent, 13,6 percent alcohol), but the wine is expected to develop further in the bottle and should reach its full potential in about a year.

Like many quality white wines these days, it is bottled with a screwtop. Price: about R65 a bottle.

A cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend has the unusual name of Elgin Vintners Agama 2005. This is the maiden release of the Vintnersí flagship red wine and it is named after the Southern Rock Agama, a lizard that lives in the Cape fynbos. There are plenty of them in the Elgin area, and one of the Vintners partners, Rob Semple, who loves lizards, snakes and birds, delighted his colleagues when he dived into the fynbos on his farm and emerged with a handsome blue male agama.

The grapes for this wine were vinified by Ross Gower in his cellar at Elgin. The wine, 72 percent cabernet and 28 percent merlot, is a deep red colour and has aromas and tasted of caramel, cinnamon, plums, blackberries. Price: about R110.

The other wines released by Elgin Vintners are a Shiraz 2005, price about R100, and a Merlot 2005, price about R95.

Elgin Vintners have tastings and sales on one of their farms, Beaulieu, just off the N2 national road from Cape Town to Durban. Phone 021 848 9587.




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