South Africa Unusual beginnings, passion and unforseen challenges

By Lindsay Oram
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Waverley Hills Tulbagh South Africa

The winemaker, Johan Delport, is a quiet and understated man, but clearly passionate about his wines.  Waverly Hills produce 200,000 bottles of organic wine annually. The origins of this wine estate, which started in 1999, are somewhat unusual as it is owned by Brenn-O-Kem(Pty) Ltd. a company that recycle by- products created by South African wineries. These by-products include wine lees, skins, seeds and tartrates. These by- products are then used to produce items such as cream of tartar, grape spirit and grape seed extract, as used in Oxiprovin tablets, anti-oxidant and free radical scavenger, said to protect against certain diseases such as cancer. The removal of by-products, which although necessary, is something, as wine communicators, we rarely consider.

 

Nonetheless, as worthy as recycling is, it can have unforeseen consequences; in the years prior to becoming a vineyard winery by products were spread on the Waverly Hills land. These have led to the challenge of higher than ideal potassium levels in the soil, resulting in higher than desired pH levels in grapes; therefore the must is generally acidified.

Additionally there are challenges in being 100% organic, these include control of weeds and obtaining organic spirit to produce their fortified wine. Red Gerepigo is a Cabernet Sauvignon organic fortified wine with 194gms rs and 17% abv. In order to maintain Gerepigo’s organic status the fortifying spirit is produced using Waverley’s own grapes, but has the advantage of giving greater control over the quality of the finished wine. The control of weeds in the vineyard can be especially difficult for organic producers as few options exist; the problem is solved here by the use of shade netting, thus depriving the weeds of sunlight.

 

As South African produces more wine than it consumes it is often assumed that export is the most important revenue stream, but this is not always the case, at Waverly Hills only 25% is exported leaving 75% sold in the local market. The winery restaurant and shop accounts for 30% of sales and with immediate payment terms, and less transport costs this makes economic sense.

 

So what of the wines? I often find the personality of the wines reflects that of the winemaker, and here is no exception. These are polite, quietly spoken, well-crafted wines with pure and defined flavours. The reds show gentle extraction, resulting in velvety tannins while the whites display texture and complexity.  Our tasting included the following.

  1. Pinot Grigio (but not as we know it!) shows minerality and ripe tropical fruit
  2. Viognier, Semillon Chardonnay blend 2014 has a lovely texture from skin contact
  3. Reserve Shiraz 2012 with velvety tannins and layers of flavour
  4. Red Gerepigo, one of our party could not put this down!

Some wines are available in the U.K. from Vintage roots.

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