Written by: Clifford Roberts; Photography: Johan Viljoen
In June 2022, one of the Swartland’s latest wards was promulgated under South Africa’s Wine of Origin Scheme. In essence, the approval meant Piket-Bo-berg’s soils, climate and geography were deemed sufficiently different from surrounding production areas and that wines from there may reliably be expected to reflect this difference.
It was a crucial victory for winemaker Johan “Stompie” Meyer who instituted the application and re-ignited the cultivation of vineyards in an area where fruit and flower farms are common. The reason: vineyard site has become an important driver of value in wine.
Getting here has been a long road, as highlighted by this year’s celebration of the 50th anniversaries of both the Wine of Origin Scheme and legislation that allowed qualifying wineries to identify as estates – originally, farms with wines made and grown on their own properties.
Today, the focus has sharpened even more on the importance of vineyard location through programmes such as single vineyard classifications and the Certified Heritage Vineyard or Old Vine initiative.
The official application for ward status stated about Piket-Bo-berg that “the description of the ward is mainly aimed at including areas located higher than the 500m contour. It can therefore be classified as a high-lying area with a considerably cooler climate and largely different vegetation than that of the lower-lying Swartland areas around the mountain. The predominant Table Mountain sandstone geology on top of Piketberg Mountain is also vastly different to the rest of the Swartland, which is mainly comprised of Malmesbury shale.”
Piket-Bo-berg is some two hours north of Cape Town, at the same approximate longitude as Paternoster, though it is 40km from the coast as the crow flies. On a clear day, even Table Mountain is visible from the elevated Platteklip Vineyards, home of Stompie and his spouse Anri.
At the time they bought the land in 2016, there were no other vineyards in this area, at these heights. The last of the farmers had turned to other crops when prices had become unsustainable.
Having planted vineyards and built a cellar, the Meyers soon received a neighbour in the form of winemaking duo Thinus and Hanneke Krüger. They too set up a wine cellar, which handled its first harvest this year.
More about Platteklip Vineyards
“We’re much cooler than the rest of the Swartland; easily by eight degrees than the Paardeberg,” says Stompie, referring to the more well-known Swartland ward.
“Our vineyards are located up to 800m above sea level and are the highest vines in the Swartland.”
He has planted 10ha with an additional 3,5ha being a very recent addition. There are many varieties, he says, “but my focus is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay”. He describes his style as lighter, fresher red wines, so he baulked when various consultants advised Sauvignon Blanc. He planted it, nonetheless. Other varieties include Trousseau, Mencia, Gamay Noir, Grenache, Carignan, Mourvedre, Cinsault. Cinsault Blanc, Muscat, Palemino, Colombar, Semillon, Marsanne, Roussanne, Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Claret.
“Many are interplanted so they’ll be harvested and vinified as field blends, which will give great complexity, particularly in the whites,” says Stompie. “At this stage, we’re also learning what works and what doesn’t; it’s trial and error.”
He’s excited about the prospect of delivering wines typically associated with cool climate from a region – the Swartland – that is more well-known for varieties that excel in warmer conditions. To him, the size of the Swartland is problematic because it creates a perception of homogeneity. “To give you an idea, the distance from Paardeberg to the Hemel en Aarde near Hermanus is smaller than the distance from Paardeberg to me!”
The Paardeberg is where Stompie cut his teeth, creating what is now labelled under Platteklip Vineyard Wines and Mother Rock Wines.
He still trucks grapes from there to the new winery, which has handled less than a handful of harvests already. Eventually, he hopes to have a total of 16ha planted at Platteklip Vineyards, delivery around 6ha/ton.
There’s much to do before then. Before the coming harvest, he still needs to finish expanding the family home and add a cold room.
More about FRAM Wines’ new home
Thinus Kruger is most well-known for his FRAM label and has always rented winery space, while Hanneke is the winemaker at AA Badenhorst Family Wines. They also rented a home outside Riebeek West.
Soon after the birth of their firstborn, however, they started looking for a place of their own. “It had to be affordable and have charm,” he says. “This place came up, has a beautiful view and I love mountains!”
They acquired the 90ha property from a neighbouring farmer who’d not planted anything here after a fire tore through the area in 2016. It really fit Thinus’s organic requirements and they immediately set about building a winery with a separate, family living space at one end. This year was the first harvest for the new construction.
The grapes came in from their various locations – Clanwilliam, Chenin Blanc from the Piekenierskloof, Shiraz from the Paardeberg, Grenache Gris from Voor Paardeberg and unwooded Chardonnay from Bonnievale.
Over time, he’ll be expanding his own vineyards and has done soil preparation for 1ha of Cabernet Sauvignon. “We’ll see how it goes. Cab is a hardy grape and hopefully, a good one to start with,” says Thinus.
Part of the challenge will be keeping the antelope out of his vineyards, but he’s not too fussed.
“I just want to make lekker wine,” he says.