From pillar to host: A quest for good wine
An immoderate number of pillars announce the main stone building at Stellenrust Wine Estate. On a gentle rise among the vineyards, with the Stellenbosch mountains staring loftily down, they stand in serried ranks, ushering the visitor to the door.
Perhaps it only seems so many because most of them support nothing: they were originally intended to be more functional, I believe, but it was realised that the splendid views might get spoilt. The prospect is rather handsome, but more grandly Graeco-Egyptian than one expects in the land of whitewashed gables.
More to the point are those vineyards and the wines they produce. I cannot immediately think of any producer – let alone a Stellenbosch one – offering such a large range of good, serious wines at prices that you’d think would have people stampeding past those pillars.
At the bottom end, there’s a quartet of R30 wines under the Kleine Rust label – but these are neither here nor there, decent enough competition for other dumbed-down, off-dry stuff on the lower supermarket shelves.
Genuine interest begins with the Stellenrust cream-labelled wines, which sell off the farm for between R40 and R50. These are mostly offered simply as single varietals – the usual suspects, from Chenin and Sauvignon to Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
All are modest wines in the best sense of that rather unfashionable concept: unshowy, unforced and elegant, mostly properly dry without being lean, with decent alcohol levels and little new oak to occlude the purity of the fruit.
The standout for me in this excellent bunch is probably the radiant, just-dry Chenin Blanc 2013 – again, if there’s a better wine for R40, I haven’t noticed it.
By the way, if you’re suspecting that such prices speak of particularly bad conditions for Stellenrust’s workers, I think not; this is, I believe, the Cape’s largest Fairtrade-certified farm.
On the grey-labelled range of top-end wines, the Chenin Blanc is probably also the finest – barrel fermented, it’s called; many in this range have some sort of qualifier in the name.
This comes off low-yielding old vines (48 years old for the 2012, as proudly announced on the bottle), which produce – for R120! – a concentrated, subtle, fascinating and sheerly lovely wine: a beautiful blonde with brains and personality, perhaps. If Catherine Deneuve were a wine, she might be this.
Of the reds, I particularly enjoyed two recent additions to the range – perhaps because both are from grapes that particularly benefit from the winemaking tact, restraint and sensitivity shown by Tertius Boshoff, Stellenrust’s intense young cellarmaster, on all his wines.
The bright, delicious Old Bush Vines Cinsault 2011, for a start; and on a more serious, ambitious level (because it’s a grander grape), the Cabernet Franc 2010 – delicate and elegant but not lacking force.
At R80 and R95 respectively, these are the cheapest wines in the top range, but not the only ones of good value. I really think you can’t go wrong at Stellenrust, unless you prefer an oakier, sweeter and richer style.
It’s an old farm, this, but the revived label is young. Tertius and viticulturist Kobie van der Westhuizen are the joint dynamic force, building something very special at Stellenrust.
As Tertius sums it up so far: "We started with no money and five barrels. We still don’t have money, but seven years later at least we have more barrels. And lots of pillars." And lots of good wine at good prices.