Sometimes it’s good to step back in time, even in the wonderful world of wine.
So many wineries are full of modern technology – great caverns of stainless steel tanks, shiny pumps, miles of gleaming stainless piping, chilling plants, pneumatic presses, air conditioning systems and electronic measuring devices everywhere.
It’s easy to forget it’s really all about soil and grapes and sunshine.
And thousands of years of tradition.
This is why I enjoy a visit to a farm like Annandale, where former Springbok rugby player Hempies du Toit makes his great wines in the slow, old-fashioned way.
Wine has been made at Annandale for more than three centuries, and it seems as though nothing much has changed in all those years.
Annandale’s tasting room is in the original dwelling of the farm – yellowwood beams have turned jet black with age. Festoons of cobwebs act as curtains across the tiny windows. Barrels rest in semi-darkness. Some of the Annandale wines spend up to eight years in barrels, gathering elegance and stability.
“You don’t need fancy equipment to make good wine,” says Hempies, who learned his craft from his father,starting at the age of six or seven. He uses an outdated horizontal wine press to make his wines. “It works just as well as modern presses,” he says, “but I have to stand by it all the time in case it clicks off and needs attention.”
In the cluttered farmyard old winemaking machinery rests in the shade of the great oak trees, a tiny miniature horse strolls casually past and the farm’s huge boerboel dog, Bliksem, sleeps on his back in the sun, revealing his masculinity unashamedly.
Time seems to stand still. Photographs of Springbok ruby players adorn the tasting room walls. A stuffed springbok gathers dust at the door. Hempies proudly opens a bottle of his 2005 Merlot. “This is the wine I made for the Monaco royal wedding,” he says.
He was asked by Charlene’s father to select something special for the wedding, so he chose the 2005, as the couple said that was a significant year for them. The wedding bottles – all magnums — wore a special label and the name Charlbert, a combination of the names of the bride and groom.
It’s delicious – rich with dark chocolate flavour. It spent six years in barrels and at R250 a bottle it’s a real treat. Not often you can share a wine experience with royalty!
I loved his blend called Cavalier. Made from Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, it’s as smooth as velvet, intense and spicy. At R100 a bottle I believe it’s a bargain.
His Cabernet Sauvignon, which won the Grand Prix d’Honneur at Vinexpo, spent three years in barrels and was then aged for a further three in bottles before being released. The 2004 vintage is now on sale at R125 a bottle.
Annandale is just off the Stellenbosch – Somerset West road, near the rather garish field of scarecrows of the Zetlers’ farm stall.
When you visit the cellar, make sure you give yourself plenty of time.
This is not a place where you sip and run.
The atmosphere feeds your soul, just as the wines soothe your thirst.
Say hello to Bliksem from me.
Photograph: D Biggs