Riebeek Cellars in the heart of the Swartland recently enjoyed a complete reimagining and re-entered the market as the newly minted Riebeek Valley Wine Co., boasting the captivating tagline ‘Guardians of the Swartland, Custodians of Quality’. We caught up with Alecia Boshoff (head winemaker and head of production) and Kara van Zyl (international marketing and sales manager), to find out what this means to them, and why they made this bold move.
What’s in a name? Riebeek Valley Wine Co. unveiled
According to Kara, the repositioning of the brand and their overall offering at the cellar is a focussed strategy towards long-term sustainability – both in terms of the business itself, but, most importantly, in terms of the producers who form a part of the cellar, the vines they tend, and the community who depends on the cellar as one of the largest employers in the region.
“Our rebranding was a little controversial because people become rather attached to a name,” explains Kara. “However, our winery has actually had quite a few name changes since it was established 80 years ago, evolving with each generation. For us, it’s an important part of the next stage of evolution for the winery in order to keep adding value to our community while protecting the heritage we have in our Swartland vineyards.”
When the cellar was established all those many decades ago, it was the dream of a handful of local farmers to build someting lasting for their families and the greater community. Five producers initially joined forces, and more than three generations down the line, they are as passionate as ever about realising this ideal. However, for many, keeping their vines in the soil had become a matter of pride and passion and a real test of courage in the face of lower yields and soaring costs.
Riebeek Valley Wine Co. has always been proudly and authentically Wine of Origin Swartland, focussing exclusively on wines that are 100% wine of origin Swartland. But Swartland grapes are becoming scarcer because the dry-land conditions make farming difficult and expensive.
“To secure the future of our vineyards, we’ve been investing significantly into the vineyards and the winery to craft only high-quality wines that showcase the specific blocks and special vineyards that tell the story of the unique quality of the Swartland terroir,” says Alecia.
“We love this place and these people. Our cellar has to thrive because there are lots of families who depend on us. At the cellar alone, we employ 60 people, and proper training and development of our people is important to us, so they can live with the hope of a bright future. We invest back into the community,” she explains.
“Riebeek Valley Vine Co. is not only about vineyards, heritage, status and winemaking expertise. It is also about hope, determination and triumph in the face of adversity,” says Kara.
Seeking inspiration beyond our comfort zone
In true South African ‘boer-maak-‘n-plan’ style, Riebeek Valley Wine Co. pushed boundaries to diversify winemaking at the cellar. Taking learnings from wine regions in America and Australia that faced similar challenges, the winery made the bold to move towards custom crushing, boutique winemaking, the provision of wine services, as well as a renewed focus on making high-quality wines rooted in exceptional vineyard management.
“We have so many hidden treasures in the Swartland and we needed a way to showcase these individual parcels of grapes, from exceptional vineyards,” explains Kara.
“At the moment, Riebeek Valley Wine Co. is the only cellar in South Africa with a custom crush facility that is supported by a grape-to-glass, in-house production system. We offer flexibility to winemakers to make their wine dreams come to life, while offering full support on the administration front, which can be real headache. We based the boutique cellar we built for this purpose on what we saw at Napa Valley Wine Company. We went to Napa, we spent time there and we learned,” says Alecia.
“Our producers, on the other hand, went on an extensive tour to learn from the high-end producers in the Barossa valley in Australia earlier this year, to see how they do it. Our aim for the next 10 to 20 years is to improve the quality of our top vineyards. We wanted to give our Riebeek Valley grape producers a big-sky picture of what is possible under similar water- and climatic challenges. These Australian producers have cracked the code, and this is why we went to visit them.”
Welcome to The Playroom! Custom crush & boutique winemaking services
But, wait a second – what exactly is a ‘custom-crush’ facility and how does this fit into the overall Riebeek Valley Wine Co. strategy?
“Our custom crush facility was developed as part of our long-term plan to convert the cellar to a facility that is well-geared to deal with smaller harvests from the Swartland. This helps us to make our own smaller volumes of hand-crafted wines, while also making the winery work harder to benefit the greater Swartland wine-making community,” explains Kara.
In the Swartland, where there are so many passionate, innovative, independent winemakers who want to do their own thing, Riebeek Valley Wine Co’s boutique cellar and wine-making services create the freedom to experiment, while providing the infrastructure and support to make dreams, reality.
“During our travels in America we learned more about how wineries made processing capacity in their own cellars available to smaller winemakers. We knew that there was a need for something like this in the Swartland and we geared up,” explains Alecia.
The idea behind ‘The Playroom’, as the custom crush cellar is fondly referred to, is to offer a one-stop-shop with a great menu of wine services from which smaller producers can pick and choose. From making to distribution, Riebeek Valley Wine Co. offers the full value chain as a series of services.
“We can connect you with some exceptional vineyards, we can make the wine in exactly the way you want it, or you can bring your own grapes and make the wine yourself. We do all the admin, look after your wine and give you all the equipment you need to make it. Essentially, you come play and we clean up after you,” Alecia explains.
From making wine dreams come true in the ‘The Playroom’, to protecting vineyards through sustainable, quality winemaking, Riebeek Valley Wine Co. is no ordinary winery. They are breaking the mould and standing strong in their self-appointed role as ‘Guardians of the Swartland’.
Here in the Swartland only the toughest vines and people thrive and against the odds of dry, rugged conditions, Riebeek Valley Wine Co celebrates this tenacious, courageous spirit in all of us.
When & where to try and buy Riebeek Valley Wine Co. wines
Riebeek Valley Wine Co. wines are available from an array of accessible outlets throughout the Western Cape and the rest of South Africa. However, if you want to come taste it right here in the sunny Swartland, you can do so at the cellar door or at the Wine Shop on the pretty town square right in the heart of Riebeek Kasteel.
- Mondays to Fridays: 09h00 to 17h00 (Cellar Door & Wine Shop)
- Saturdays: 09h00 to 16h00 (Wine Shop)
- Sundays: 11h00 to 16h00 (Wine Shop)
- Public Holidays: 11h00 to 16h00 (Wine Shop)
How to find out more about custom crush & boutique wine services
Are you intrigued about the notion of making your own wine using world-class facilities while you enjoy the insight of seasoned winemakers and seamless support of exceptional admin staff? Find out more about the great menu of wine services offered at the Riebeek Valley Wine Co. by getting in touch with Alecia to arrange a meeting and see The Playroom for yourself!