By now, the happy news that local-boy-made-good Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen chose cellar master Frank Meaker from Org de Rac organic winery in the Swartland to create two bespoke wines for his Michelin-star Restaurant JAN in Nice has spread far and wide. How proud are we?! There is nothing we love better than a coming-together of great minds, and this is exactly what happened when Frank met Jan Hendrik.
Frank Meaker is a legend in the local wine industry. Grandson of late Kanonkop owner Paul Sauer who left deep footsteps in the South African wine industry, Frank cut his teeth at Distillers Corporation and has since positioned himself as a trailblazing organic winemaker. The truly great thing about Frank, however, is that he didn’t get into organic wine because it is fashionable. As Emile Joubert noted so eloquently on his blog, The Wine Goggle, “As cellar master at Org de Rac in the Swartland, Frank has become a keen follower of organic agriculture. No gimmick or marketing hype. For him, organic is purely about farming as it had been done in them early days. Before a chemical that could blast hell out of the slightest sign of a critter or one pumping volumes of nitrogen into the soil could be ordered at the touch of a button.”
Long-time friend and fellow Elsenburg-graduate, Zakkie Bester, former CEO of Riebeek Cellars, now owner of Bester Family Wines, describes Frank as an adventurous winemaker. “He loves new challenges and has always pushed the envelope. I think it’s best to describe him as a dedicated and investigative winemaker. He also takes exceptional care of his wine. I, for one, am truly inspired by how Frank tackled the challenges of organic winemaking and made such a great success of it. In my opinion, it was his verve and vigour that transformed Org de Rac into the paragon of organic winemaking it is today.”
Bon jour, Jan!
Jan Hendrik, of course, is everyone’s favourite international success story – the farm boy who was awarded a Michelin star after feeding the famously fussy French bobotie and peppermint crisp tart and having them line up for more. The best bit is that this talented chef, photographer and author didn’t disappear into the gentrified fabric of international cuisine – he remains stoically South African and returns to our shores as often as he can. This sets him apart from the Charlizes and Trevors who often lose their local flavour once they hit the big time.
Jan Hendrik has close ties with the Bacon family who own Org de Rac, which is how he met Frank. It wasn’t long before the two were in cahoots and started the process of creating two bespoke wine blends for Restaurant JAN.
And, of course, the wines!
Both blends were inspired by Mediterranean wine styles, which he has grown to appreciate since living in the South of France. JAN White is a blend of Chenin Blanc, Roussanne and Verdelho. JAN Red features a combination of Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Verdelho.
“I believe in the concept of organically grown grapes – as chefs we want the finest ingredients farmed in natural conditions, so why should it be any different when it comes to wine?” says Jan Hendrik. “Combine this with the Swartland region’s unique climate and soils, and one has a very special quality of grape to work with.”
The blends, that are now available for purchase online or at Restaurant JAN in Nice, are currently making quite the splash on the French wine scene. Michael Schmitt, die sommelier at JAN, says, “Our diners find the wines intriguing because it combines so many flavours and grape varieties they haven’t tasted before. They call it ‘a wine from the sun’, and regularly comment on its singular finesse and spellbinding spices.”
There you have it, a wonderful success story and feather in the cap of the Swartland wine industry. Santam Swartland Wine & Olive Route would like to congratulate Org de Rac and Frank Meaker on their great achievement. Here’s to many more years of pushing the boundaries and placing our wonderful wines on the international map!
Let’s be honest, things are looking dire for the Western Cape at the moment. With Level 6b water restrictions in place from the 1st of February and Day Zero looming on the horizon, there is plenty of cause for pessimism. In the wake of the 2018 Olive Festival being cancelled due to the constraints it would place on the Riebeek Valley’s natural resources, the question on every wine drinker’s lips seems to be what will become of the 2018 grape harvest.
Fortunately, we have some good news. According to an article published by the region’s local newspaper, dié courant, on Wednesday 31 January, the region’s foremost producers are cautiously optimistic about the grapes they’ve taken in so far and the effects of the drought, although substantial, has not curtailed the area’s yield completely.
Riebeek Cellars in the Riebeek Valley began the harvest by taking in white muscadel and sparkling wine three weeks ago. According to production manager Alecia Boshoff the season is running later than last year but is actually on par when compared to a 10-year average. “We’re expecting a lighter harvest as a result of the drought. Although most of the vineyards still look good, sunburn and other stress symptoms are becoming apparent. In December, we were still very optimistic, but the vineyards really need some rain at the moment.”
According to David Sadie, owner and winemaker of David & Nadia, a member of the Swartland Independent Producers in the Paardeberg-area, this harvest is stressful for both the vineyards and the winemarkers. “We started the harvest two weeks ago and already took in all our Pinotage. The harvest is approximately a week later than the norm, but the slower ripening process can be explained at the hand of less dense foliage and fewer leaves as a result of the drought. The bunches are fewer with lighter berries, and the harvest will definitely be smaller, but that doesn’t mean the quality of the wine will suffer for it. According to Drinks Business, an industry publication, this year will be the smallest harvest in South Africa since 2005, but that vintage is also known as one of the most extraordinary in recent history. We are satisfied with what we get and believe that quantity and quality will balance out in the end.”
Riaan van der Spuy, head winemaker for Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards Swartland, says he is cautiously optimistic. Although they only took their first grapes two weeks ago, he already suspects that the overall harvest will be between 20-30% smaller in comparison with last year. “The drought is choking the vineyards. We’ve learned that in certain regions the producers are facing a yield of up to 50% smaller. So far, we can tell that the bunches and berries are smaller and lighter, but the white wine grapes we’ve already taken have lovely flavours and the harvest is very healthy. The quality of the grapes depends on where it was planted, and if there was some groundwater available to the vineyards. We believe our old stalwarts, Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, will do well. In the meantime, we are hoping for some cooler weather for the rest of the harvest season.”
It’s only the start of the harvest, and total outcomes are yet to be determined, but it helps to have producers with a positive outlook at the helm. This year may be tough, but the Swartland’s winemakers are tougher.