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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES #151 (article first published : 2006-05-29)

Clos Malverne, the well-known wine farm in the picture-postcard Devon Valley near Stellenbosch, is in a sense a combination of three traditions. Its unusual name derives from the fact that it was once owned by Colonel J W Billingham, Mayor of Cape Town, about 50 years ago, who named it Malvern Heights after the rolling hills around his home town in Worcestershire, England.

Seymour Pritchard, then a commercial grape-grower, bought the farm in 1969 and about a dozen years later he gave the name its present Gallic flavour - “clos” means a vineyard and the additional “e” made Malverne sound vaguely French --- because France was then the centre of the wine universe. Since then the farm has become a leading producer of the quintessentially South African wine, pinotage.

Today Clos Malverne, expanded by the purchase of other farms and still owned by Seymour Pritchard and his wife Sophia, produces about 24,000 cases of wine a year, in a range covering about a dozen different styles and grape varieties. Recent releases include a distinguished prize-winning red and a high quality sauvignon blanc.

The red wine is Clos Malverne Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2001, which has won some important prizes, including the 2001 General Smuts Trophy for the champion wine at the National Young Wine Show and has now been released in a limited quantity, 500 12-bottle cases, to mark the farm’s 21st harvest. The wine has been held back for five years because Seymour Pritchard believed it needed that time to reach its full potential.

This wine is 60 percent cabernet, 40 percent merlot. It was matured in new oak barrels for 12 months. The tannins have softened and the wine is now rich, full-bodied and velvety, with a herbal, fruity character. It is big and powerful, 14 percent alcohol.

Clos Malverne’s winemaker, I P Smit, who has held this job for the past nine years, is excited about the wine, and justifiably so. It is expensive, about R145 a bottle and it is a wine to be sipped and savoured on a big occasion.

A recent survey has suggested that serious South African wine drinkers prefer sauvignon blanc to all other white wine varieties, the voting being roughly two to one ahead of the second favourite, chardonnay. It is small wonder then that many Cape wineries are planting new sauvignon vineyards. Clos Malverne have for some years produced well-rated sauvignon and are apparently aiming to step up output.

Their latest release in this department is the Clos Malverne Sauvignon Blanc 2005. It comes from the only sauvignon vineyard the farm has at present, a site on the cool valley floor which is often overlaid with a blanket of mist in the mornings, resulting in temperatures of up to five degrees lower than vineyards on higher ground. This gives an extended ripening period, creating luscious and healthy grapes.

The wine of the 2005 vintage is quite dry but is nevertheless fruity, with the typical sauvignon characteristics: flintiness, asparagus, figs on the nose and palate. Alcohol content is 13 percent, and the retail price is about R45 a bottle.

Clos Malverne is open to the public for tastings and sales (tasting fee R15 a head) and you can bring your own picnic lunch. It is on the Devon Valley Road just west of the town of Stellenbosch. Phone 021 865 2022. – Michael Green




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