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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES #190 (article first published : 2008-02-15)

The Momberg family have owned the Middelvlei estate, on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, for nearly 90 years, so it is not surprising that their new flagship red wine should be called Middelvlei Momberg.

This is a 2004 vintage, a blend of pinotage (37 percent), shiraz (29), cabernet sauvignon (17) and merlot (17). It is unusual for pinotage to dominate a quality red blend, as it does here, but the result is outstanding. Pinotage wines, made from South Africa’s own home-bred cultivar (a cross between the pinot noir and hermitage, or cinsaut, grapes), have come a long way from the days when they reminded tasters of nail polish and worse.

In this Momberg blend the pinotage adds a rich fruity dimension. The wine is dark red, full-bodied and fruity, with a hint of wood derived from its 17 months of maturation in French and American oak barrels. It has a lingering aftertaste, is excellent now and will remain so for some years.

I wrote recently about the complexities of winemaking and the painstaking methods used to produce top wines. In the case of the Middelvlei Momberg four vineyards were involved, one for each grape variety, and these vineyards were chosen because they had consistently produced the best quality fruit for several years. The vines varied in age from four-year-old cabernet to 18-year-old merlot.

The Momberg wine has already won a Michelangelo gold medal, much to the delight of the Momberg family: the paterfamilias Stiljan Momberg, his sons Tinnie and Ben, and Ben’s wife Jeanneret.

Middelvlei Momberg retails at about R150 a bottle, so it is a wine for a special occasion. Other red wines from the estate are Middelvlei Pinotage 2005 (about R67), Middelvlei Shiraz 2006 (R74), Middelvlei Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (R77), Middelvlei Pinotage Merlot 2005 (R52) and Middelvlei Red Falcon 2005, a blend of merlot and shiraz (R35).

The estate makes one white wine, Middelvlei Chardonnay 2007 (R42) and it is a big seller. Middelvlei’s total output is about 35,000 cases a year, from 130 hectares of vines.

Middelvlei was one of the first farms to end the dop system, the much criticised practice of paying labourers in part with liquor. Its twenty worker-families all live on the estate. They have their own clinic, crčche, library and community centre. Most of the children attend the Devon Valley Primary School, which was built on land donated by the Momberg family thirty years ago.

Middelvlei offers visitors tastings, sales, cellar tours, barrel tastings and vineyard walks. And you can meet the animals who live on the farm: the donkeys Port and Jerepigo, Ruby the Jack Russell, the Blumenweilers Chianti and Rose, the dachshunds Pinotage and Pongracz, Tinta the Great Dane, Pontac the boerbul and Malbec the ridgeback. These have been joined recently by three wallabies and two baby Cape foxes, found abandoned on the farm. They frolic with the dachshunds. This is the third set of foxes that Ben Momberg has hand-reared. He hasn’t tamed them because they are being trained to be re-introduced to the wild, and the Momberg family don’t want to become too attached to them.

Middelvlei’s phone number is 021 883 2565 (Jeanneret Momberg). – Michael Green




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