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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES (article first published : 2002-01-18)

Avontuur is a 70-hectare wine estate at Stellenbosch which is owned by a former Zimbabwe tobacco farmer Tony Taberer, who is also well known in the horse-racing world. Avontuur is Afrikaans for “adventure” and the name is appropriate. The wine industry is still very much male-dominated but Tony Taberer has appointed women to key positions at Avontuur and one of them was once destined for a military career.

This is Lizelle Gerber, a 28-year-old Western Cape woman who left the army to attend the viticulture courses at the Elsenburg Agricultural College at Stellenbosch. She graduated seven years ago and has never looked back. Since 1999 she has been winemaker at Avontuur, which is a highly regarded cellar. The general manager is another woman, Pippa Mickleburgh.

Lizelle did a presentation of her wines in Durban at the Christmas tasting and dinner of Belinda Croxon’s Wine Glass club. With excellent wines, good food and music from a string quartet it was a memorable occasion.

Lizelle, who must be one of the best-looking winemakers in the business, introduced eight of her products, all of them of high quality at Durban prices varying from about R25 a bottle to R46. Mingled with the expert commentary were some off-beat insights into the wine industry. An empty bottle may cost R2 and the cork in it another R2 – pity the poor fellow who is trying to produce a low-priced wine. In Burgundy helicopters are used, with whirring blades, to dry valuable vines that have been soaked with too much rain.

Among the Avontuur wines which we tasted and discussed were a 2001 Chenin Blanc, with a powerful, herbaceous, green fig aroma and taste, 14 percent alcohol; Avon Rouge 2000, a top-selling red, a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, fruity and rich; Cabernet Franc, a grape not much used in South Africa but this red wine is excellent and is a big seller in Britain; Pinotage 1998, coffee scents, some port flavours; and Merlot 1998, a lovely, luscious red wine.

* * * * * * * * *

The year-end tasting of our private group was conducted by Joan Seebregts who presented eight white wines, all different cultivars. This kind of blind tasting should be relatively easy but it seldom is. The wine types were semillon, chardonnay, Rhine Riesling, chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, viognier, pinot grigio and gewürztraminer.

We tasted and scored blind and in the end top marks went to the Durbanville Hills chardonnay of 1999. Second place was occupied by a fine 1998 semillon from Neethlingshof, and joint third were the Neethlingshof gewürztraminer of 1999 and Fairview’s Viognier 2000, the latter a very new grape on the Cape scene (it originates in France).- Michael Green




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