Speaking at an Agulhas tasting post-Cape Wine 2022, winemaker Bruce Jack, who put down roots here with his The Drift Estate near Napier after a career spanning his own Flagstone brand and Accolade’s Kumala, explained what drew him to South Africa’s newest and coolest winemaking area.
“It is very different from the rest of South Africa, in terms of its climate, particularly driven by the wind because of its proximity to cold oceans, and also the soils. It’s not homogenous, it changes in very short spaces of time,” says Jack.
“That is both a problem and a challenge for us, but if you learn to embrace that differentiation in the soil and learn to grow the grapes in those differentiated soils, then you get inbuilt complexity and elegance, and that is one of things that this area is known for.”
Rewinding a little, Land’s End, the oldest estate in the Agulhas Wine Triangle, was created as far back as 1993, playing to the two grapes that consistently ripen here.
“A few viticulturalists and winemakers looked at this area, it was a real experiment, and it could have gone south”, says Ed Beukes of Du Toitskloof Wines, which took over the Land’s End label in 2015.
It didn’t go south though, as ongoing outside investment suggests, with Land’s End’s Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc still pointing to what have become the varieties most associated with the region, which stretches from Elim and Napier in the west to Malgas and Swellendam in the east, with Cape Agulhas forming its southernmost point.
However, the region has been the expanding possibilities in terms of what has and is being planted, along with the old vines that already exist here, that are creating waves as Agulhas becomes better known for its own labels, rather than as a source of cooler climate fruit for other wineries elsewhere on The Cape.
For example, Jack’s wines include Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah, plus Pinot Noir, along with blends that fold in a host of Mediterranean and Portuguese varieties, such as his Moveable Feast (Malbec, Touriga Nacional, Shiraz, Pinot and Tannat), hinting at what the region can deliver.
Charla Haasbroek, winemaker at Sijnn, the David Trafford-owned label, says that the possibilities are just being unfolded, adding: “Grenache is very exciting, and Chenin is also adapting very well here.”
The Sijnn label from Malgas simply features a white and a red, with Chenin/Roussanne/Viognier and Syrah/Mourvedre/Touriga/Cinsault prominent in the blends, similarly suggesting the range of varieties that can flourish here. Assyrtiko has also just been planted.
“We have low rainfall, so very low yielding vines,” says Haasbroek of this inland estate, some 15km from the ocean. “These are very good conditions for the vines.”
Tasting with the winemakers here, what is also apparent is that spirit of collaboration and conservation, with a strong focus on sustainability in this remote outpost of the continent. There’s an enthusiasm and energy reminiscent of that in Swartland when it first broke onto the wine scene, with intriguing yet successful blends and characters to match, staking a claim as one of The Cape’s new hotspots for quality winemaking.