De Wetshof: The House of Chardonnay

The picturesque entrance towards De Wetshof Wine Estate’s tasting room tugs at my heartstrings and it’s official: I have fallen in love. The journey towards the tasting room represents old world charm with a hint of modern chic. A misty, foggy morning added to the mystery of this beautiful place and I couldn’t take my eyes off this scenic journey. Completely overwhelmed by the serenity and minimalist views, I continued down the gravel road on to what turned out to be one of my greatest tasting adventures.

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The fairy-tale entrance to De Wetshof Wines.

Tall, muscular Jacaranda trees with lavender-coloured flowers give way to the most spectacular white double-story building, the tasting room of this esteemed estate. Manicured gardens and a sparkling water fountain adds to the well-groomed appearance. The building, a replica of the Koopmans/De Wet House in Strand Street, Cape Town, was designed by French-born South African architect, Louis-Michel Thibault. Thibault was known for his neo-classicism architecture and this large white building with it’s big, square windows fitted perfectly into the ambiance of this charming place.

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Views to spoil even the fussiest landscape snob.

De Wetshof Wines, or the House of Chardonnay as it is known in local circles, is a third generation family farm dating back to the 1970s. However, winemaking as a profession has been practiced by the De Wet family since 1694 when the first De Wets arrived at the Cape. The first Chardonnay in South Africa was produced on this very farm with some of the oldest Chardonnay vineyards still present here.

The stairs that flow into the centre of the tasting room give it an almost royal feel, and I swear it is with this very majestic air that Johann de Wet, co-owner and son of De Wetshof walked down to meet with me. It is also with this poise and confidence that he shares his wealth of winemaking knowledge with me.

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The royal-like staircase that flows into the tasting room (left) and the majestic antique door entrance.

Johann, eldest son of the legendary Chardonnay pioneer, Danie de Wet, oversees the estate’s marketing operations, while brother, Peter manages the winemaking process. Danie de Wet, the founding father of South African Chardonnay, took to the noble white varieties when he studied winemaking at the famous German Wine Institute in Geisenheim, Germany. As a result, Chardonnay wine has become synonymous with the De Wetshof brand.

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The De Wetshof building was designed by French-born South African architect, Louis-Michel Thibault.

“While most farms have opted for the lifestyle feel with their wine-tasting areas, we wanted to give visitors a slightly different experience when they visited De Wetshof,” says Johann. “The tourists who come to our door are people who want to know more about the winemaking process and so we choose to inform and educate them. Our entire tasting experience is thus also a learning session. We tell them about our wine varieties, and about our soils, and of course about our wines. And we do this in a comfortable environment that allows for the tasters to relax while they are learning.”

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De Wetshof co-owner and son, Johann de Wet.

“We don’t follow trends,” says Johann. “We’ve been making wine for a very long time and that’s why we don’t hunt the latest winemaking trends to stay fashionable. Trends come and go. We like to stick to the traditional way of winemaking, particularly focusing on the Chardonnay variety, which is our area of specialisation. We’ve found in the past that many other cellars have tried to copy our Chardonnay recipe but failed. That’s a sign that we are doing something right,” says Johann with a slight grin.

De Wetshof currently produces seven different types of Chardonnays, all from the various types of soil on the Estate. “Each Chardonnay we produce is site specific,” explains Johann. “That means that the grapes from each Chardonnay come from a specific vineyard. Each vineyard on the Estate has a different soil composition which adds to the unique expression in each of the wines.”

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Johann with his innocent-looking Weimaraner, Wotan. Don’t be fooled by those puppy-eyes, he’s quite the active one.

“The latest technology has mechanised the winemaking process so much that it’s easier to make wines today than it was a decade ago,” says Johann. “The Langeberg area’s moderate climate also ensures that we are able to produce a good harvest almost every year which ultimately leads to a better quality end product.”

Johann is very excited for the future of the wine industry both locally and abroad. “Wine drinking has moved away from the exclusivity that it previously enjoyed. We’ve entered into a period where wine is now enjoyed almost daily with just about any meal. People used to save it for special occasions but times have changed. This is great news for wine producers and we believe the wine industry will continue flourish.”

Johann pulled out all the stops to present their best selection of premium Chardonnay wines and I was an all-too-willing participant.

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De Wetshof’s Bateleur, The Site and the Finesse Chardonnays.

De Wetshof Bon Vallon Chardonnay

The Bon Vallon 2008 was a lovely start to my tasting experience. Soft and gentle on the palate, this white wine has a hint of sweet and presented a very comfortable drink. I especially enjoyed it because of the limey and citrus flavours that exploded in my mouth from the very first sip. It is a lovely comfortable wine to enjoy on just about any occasion.

De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay

The Limestone Hill Chardonnay was the wine that completely exceeded their expectations when they first produced it in the late 90’s, says Johann. “Of course, as a wine producer you hope that the general public will like the wines you make, but we didn’t think that this wine would be so well received. It has since become one of our best-selling wines and we couldn’t be happier.”

Un-wooded and soft on the palate, this Chardonnay proved why it is such a favourite amongst locals and foreigners alike. I was delightfully surprised by the rich complexity that embodies this Chardonnay. It was a real treat.

De Wetshof Finesse Chardonnay

Ten months wood-matured in second and third-fill barrels, I found the Finesse Chardonnay softer on the nose yet more robust on the palate. A hint of zesty, citrus fruit with a long nutty finish, this white wine added another dimension to the tasting experience. I loved that it was full-bodied but yet gentle enough to appeal to both the simple and complex palate.

De Wetshof ‘The Site’ Chardonnay

Named after the site were this vineyard is planted which overlooks the most beautiful views against the mountain tops, ‘The Site’ Chardonnay was possibly my absolute favourite of the entire selection. I loved the complexities that accompanied this wonderful Chardonnay. Twelve-months wood matured in first fill barrels, this wine was exclusive and you can taste it with every sip. Elegant and sophisticated, this lovely Chardonnay had me head over hills. I also loved the hint of lime that plays softly on your palate.

De Wetshof Bateleur Chardonnay

Their most premium Chardonnay, the Bateleur derived its name from the Bateleur eagle, and like its namesake, this white wine literally glides onto your palate. The wine embodies all the characteristics of the hunting bird; it is elegant, sophisticated but complex, aggressive and robust. Twelve-months wood matured this Chardonnay is a true delicacy and should be shared between kings and queens. It is a special occasion wine to be appreciated leisurely.

I’d like to thank Johann de Wet for taking time out of his busy schedule to sit down with me. Thanks also to Marketing Manager Bennie Stipp who assisted in setting up the interview. I had such an amazing experience at De Wetshof Wine Estate. If you’d like more info on their wide selection of wines, please visit their website. Please also follow them on facebook and twitter.

Did you like this review (of course you did!)? Then please subscribe to my blog (see top right hand side). Please also follow me on twitter and follow my blog on facebook. I’ll be posting a lot more reviews over the coming months.

Till next time, hugs and high5’s!

xoxo

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