Singita is recognised as one of South Africa’s most influential buyers of wine, with an extensive cellar showcasing a premium selection of wines, including some of the country’s most sought-after private reserves and limited release wines. François Rautenbach heads up Singita Premier Wine, managing the selection, purchase, storage, and service of the wines at Singita lodges, in addition to managing Singita Premier Wine Direct which allows guests to order wines to be shipped home at the end of their safari. As a buyer of premiers wines Francois spends time at some of South Africa’s finest wine estates – we’ve asked him to share some of his experiences as he scouts out the best labels for Singita’s cellars.
Deep into mid-winter in Southern Africa there is a dramatic change in the bush colouring from verdant dense greens to the straw-browns of the dry season. Extended animal movements abound as they search for the last vestiges of green fodder and the elusive pools of fresh water.
Having been requested to speak at the inaugural Winebiz Conference on wine marketing and sales, I travelled once again to the wintery Winelands. A great time to be hosting such an event in the Cape as the winemakers use the cooler wet days to finalise their blends and bottle those vintage wines that have been slumbering, developing magnificently in barrel. The wine marketers grab onto these new and exciting developments and releases to enhance the attraction of their portfolios.
In this regard it may seem odd that a ‘bush wine specialist’ was requested to speak on the topic ‘Put your best foot forward – optimising cellar door experiences’. However with the many years of hosting thought-provoking and informative wine tastings in the Singita Cellars not to mention the wonderful success of the Premier Wine Boutique as an added-value home of wine, information and passion, it suddenly seemed quite possible that we could add real value and insight into the Wine Farm’s visitor experience.
On a cool, bright and sunny day the conference turned out to be both stimulating and informative and well worth attending even as a delegate let alone as a speaker.
Further to the conference I received an impromptu invitation to Ken Forrester Vineyards nestled in the foothills of the Stellenbosch – Helderberg Ridge mountains for a vertical presentation of the now 10 year production of the famed single-vineyard ‘FMC’. Now that sounded like an absolutely rare and unique opportunity. An exciting prospect as I departed for the farm enthralled by a magnificent sunset of pink and orange hues.
Ken a renowned, lifelong restaurateur realised his dream of wine making when he purchased a small run-down farm with his family. Realising that not only was Chenin Blanc the wine style that offered South Africa it’s greatest potential for renown but that this newly acquired farm hosted one of the unique ‘heritage’ blocks of old dry-land bush vine Chenin planted in 1967 (Mmm, my own lifelong wine endeavours – sharing the same birth date!). Ken set about a tireless journey to revitalise the vineyard and image of this historical grape.
Roping in Martin Meinert, winemaker and blender extraordinaire and long time restaurant partner into this new project they tackled the 1998 & ’99 vintages with gusto but with little success. Even greater care and attention ensued with each bush vine pruned back to one bud which captured the entire root system’s energy into a couple of bunches but resulted in a yield of less than 1 ton of grapes per acre. Wow – the resulting first release 2000 vintage showed ground-breaking concentration yet remained balanced and enthralling!
With a single long, farm-style table at centre stage in the tasting room sandwiched between small and jam-packed barrel maturation and fermentation rooms the tableau of ten spaces set with five large glasses each raised the expectations even further for an individual experience. Personally pouring each vintage Ken held us enraptured with tales of the wine’s development, the original description of the FMC’s acronym (now know in political correctness as the Forrester-Meinert Chenin) and the attention given to each of the multiple hand harvests completed through the vineyard to ensure perfectly even ripeness throughout the bunches of grapes used to fill each individual 400 litre Loire Valley French oak barrels.
Presented with the youthful, distinctly green tinged 2009 vintage redolent with stewed apple and ruby grapefruit on the nose we set off on a journey through the last decade. What concentration displayed by this emerging teenage wine with promise of supreme pleasure in years to come.
Quickly followed on by an enticingly approachable 2008, a deep yellow in colour, bouquet and stone fruit inspired palate already offering tremendous pleasure.
Next the powerful 2007 with a deep golden yellow hue fit for an artist’s brush. An entry of delicate herbal ‘Garrigue’ or Cape Floral notes underpinned by distinctive almond and marzipan leading to a riveting flavour demanding rich food or further maturation time.
Just when we thought we had seen the spectrum, the 2006 emerged to enthral with dainty intensity, freshness and elegance. The lightest coloured and most superbly balanced – what difficulty to not consume in one draft.
Finally the 2001 flowed into it’s receptacle to offer complete integration with the richness of matured marmalade upfront and the tight and lengthy finish to follow – supreme now yet with a portent to further years of pleasure to come.
As the ‘Cape Doctor’ South-Easter started blowing, rattling doors and windows we could ruminate over the first decade of a now internationally iconic wine as we savoured giant tempura prawns dipped in hoisin sauce, crisp pork belly and artisinal cheeses subtly proving that the food matching versatility of Chenin Blanc is unsurpassed.
Nodding off to sleep some time later I looked forward to the development of Singita Premier Wine’s own stocks in maturation and to the next decade of a developing heritage.