South Africa brings to mind memories of watching the ‘Big 5’ and other fascinating wildlife species at Kruger National Park, strolling through the immaculate by-lanes of Cape Town admiring beautifully designed houses inspired by Dutch architecture, enjoying international cuisine at world-class restaurants, driving past manicured vineyards with rolling hills as a backdrop in the Stellenbosch region, which is the country’s most prestigious wine area, writes Sonal Holland, who met visiting South African winemaker, Guy Webber in Mumbai, on our behalf.
Other pleasures include stopping over at famous wineries and sampling deeply-coloured, gamey and earthy tasting red wines from South Africa’s own grape, ‘Pinotage’ among various international varietals.
South Africa, considered a ‘New World’ wine country although it has an old tradition of producing wine, which has recently been revived is making increasingly better wines. South African wines usually represent good value for money with uncompromised quality. Hill & Dale Wines are one such example offering exceptional taste at modest prices.
“I am proud of the Hill & Dale wines as I believe it is a bigger challenge to offer good quality wines at reasonable prices because that means one has to maintain a good balance between commercial and consumer interests,” said Guy Webber, the winemaker who has developed this wine brand to what it represents today – an unpretentious wine for everyday enjoyment. Webber admits that he benefits from the natural advantage of the richly endowed terroir of selected vineyards within the Stellenbosch region, from where the grapes are procured for Hill & Dale. These grapes eventually find their true expression at the Stellenzicht cellar, one among the top five farms of the Cape wine industry with state-of-the-art wine production facilities.
Stellenzicht is situated on the slopes of the Helderberg mountain between Stellenbosch and the Atlantic ocean which provides moderating cool breezes to otherwise scorching hot summers, and is often referred to as the Golden Triangle, with a reputation of producing a range of stunning wines, many of which have won international and national awards.
Guy Webber has been the winemaker at Stellenzicht since 1988, following stints at Malverne and Devon Hill winery where he honed his winemaking skills alongside his growing love for the Pinotage grape. We met for lunch in Mumbai during his first visit to India, accompanied by Neethu Sheth, the young and rather determined importer of Hill & Dale wines and whose business, The Wine Rack specialises in South African wine imports.
Webber emphasized the importance of quality grapes as crucial to the resulting wine. “The heat can be merciless on the grapes but effective canopy management, pruning methods and choosing low yields over quantity are key decisions for a winemaker. Besides, high temperatures help with extracting good tannins and colour although that does not necessarily make a balanced wine.”
Understanding and appreciating the importance of fine balance in a wine, where the body, alcohol and tannins are in perfect harmony with each other and the fruit flavours are in tandem with the acidity of the wine, is critical and something that every new winemaking country must strive to achieve.
Hill & Dale (I love the simple charm of the name) wines are available in Mumbai and Pune in select outlets and are attractively priced between Rs.1450 and Rs.1550. They currently offer Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinotage as single varietal wines and a Cabernet-Shiraz blend. I have tasted these wines and can vouch for the fact they give pleasure – both, on the palate, as well as the pocket!