There really is a first for everything. We recently visited South Africa for the very first time and we are the first to admit that our experience with wines from the region was limited at best. Relatively speaking, few South African wines make it to Canada so our experience has been inconsistent in terms of quality. Our first visit to the region of Franschoek began with a stop at storied family winery Haute Cabrière. We were drawn to this particular winery because of its history and the fact that they are reputed to make top quality Pinot Noir and Sparkling Wine. We discovered not only does this winery’s reputation precede it, it’s a reputation that is well deserved.
We met with viticulturist Tim Hoek on a warm winter’s day (warm by our Canadian standards at 22 degrees Celsius!). Originally from Swellendam, a two-hour drive from Cape Town, Tim has been in the wine industry since 2002 and at Haute Cabrière for the past three and a half years. Prior to his current role at the winery, he spent five years at Jordan Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, worked overseas, and subsequently returned to South Africa to help start a small winery for a couple in Somerset West. After almost four years there, he was invited to come join the family at Haute Cabrière.
The background of Haute Cabrière is similar to many wineries with a very long history in some ways but uniquely different in others. The property dates back to 1694 when it was granted to French Huguenot Pierre Jourdan. He, in turn, named it Cabrière after the town he had emigrated from in France. Achim von Arnim purchased the farm in 1981 while still working as the winemaker at Boschendal Wine Estate just 15kms away. Achim was heavily influenced by French wines and it was always his vision to make wines in the style of the Champagne region. He saw a strong resemblance between Franschoek’s terroir and that of Champagne and in 1982 he planted exclusively Chardonnay, one of the two main varieties used for sparkling wine.
In 1991, Achim bought the second farm where Haute Cabrière now sits and planted entirely Pinot Noir because he recognized it had a much warmer slope and clay soils and was better suited to this variety. In 1994, 300 years to the day the original farm was granted to Pierre Jourdan, Haute Cabrière opened its stunning underground cellar. Today, the two farms are still separate with one growing Chardonnay and the other Pinot Noir, the only two grapes the winery works with. The winery’s still wines are produced under the name of Haute Cabrière, while their Sparkling Wines are produced under the name Pierre Jourdan, paying homage to the history of the farm that dates back three centuries.
As Tim relates the winery history, we stand outside the tasting room and are immediately struck by the sheer beauty of the surrounding valley and the Franschoek Mountains. He takes us through the main tasting room and down the winding stone stairs to the stunning underground cellar that is literally built into the mountainside. It encompasses the winery, the barrel room (complete with massive chandelier), and a separate room with an iron gate that serves as a unique and special spot for a private tasting.
Haute Cabrière produces 9 different wines, all of them either blends of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir or 100% Chardonnay or 100% Pinot Noir. According to Tim, they are one of only a few wineries in South Africa that do this, “The thing about South Africa is that we specialize in a lot of different varieties and have small pockets of excellence. It’s a fairly young industry in terms of figuring out what the terroir gives us but we’re definitely getting there.” He adds, “We’re really pulling together and the wine community is realizing it’s more important to raise South Africa’s profile internationally as a region to help perception first.”
For their Sparkling wine, Haute Cabrière uses the Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) which is the same as Méthode Champenoise—it is second-stage bottle fermented and must be on the lees for a minimum of 9 months. As Tim confirmed this, he mentioned there was an impending meeting regarding this requirement, “We’re looking to change it from 9 months to 12 months as a minimum requirement and have an option for 18 months as well. We feel at 18 months is where South African Cap Classiques hit their stride and really age well.” He adds with earnest, “Sparkling wine is such an exclusive club that if you do it, you must do it well.”
The tasting lineup of wines included 3 sparkling wines and 2 still wines. What we discovered were balanced and elegant still wines along with top quality Sparkling wines that are certainly worthy of Achim’s vision (see tasting notes below). Currently, only 5% of their wines are exported although they’re looking to increase exports in the coming months. To our readers worldwide, if you find their wine, buy it. The price point, particularly for the level of quality is not only worth it, but likely won’t remain so in the long term as they get discovered outside of South Africa.
Our first trip to Franschoek certainly won’t be our last and we can say with great certainty that South Africa is producing some fantastic wines at very fair prices. This is without a doubt a region to watch in the coming years. As for Haute Cabrière, Achim passed the winemaking duties to his son Takoun five years ago and we’ll be the first to tell you that the family legacy is in very capable hands.
NV Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose
This delicious sparkler spent 15 months sur lies and was fermented partially dry (4.2 g/l residual sugar) and then received another 2 g/l in dosage. The result are lovely strawberry and delicious apple notes that come through on a medium+ frame, a nice, slightly rich texture, and good back end acidity. Disgorged in 2016, 100% Pinot Noir.
Very Good/Excellent (R170 at their tasting room)
NV Pierre Jourdan Brut
This blend of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir shows notes of citrus, tart apple, with hints of dry toast. Medium body, the Chardonnay character seems to be in the driver’s seat while the Pinot adds to the body. Elegant.
Very Good+ (R120 at their tasting room)
NV Pierre Jourdan Blanc de Blancs
Here all the dials are turned up. The base year for this wine is 2011; 40% of the wine was aged in French oak barrels for a period of 4 months while the balance was raised in stainless steel. The wine spent a further 6 years in bottle before being disgorged. This gives the wine a lovely medium/dark gold colour. Lime notes mix with the autolytic character picked up from its long rest on the lees. Dry and elegant, this is a top quality MCC and will give a good run to a lot of sparkling wines coming from outside of Champagne.
Excellent (R350 at their tasting room)
2017 Chardonnay Pinot Noir
This was a first for us: a still wine that was a blend of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir. Light gold in colour, this had the flavour profile that leans towards stone fruits: white peach, pears and golden delicious apple with notes of lemon and lime coming through on the back end. Very refreshing!
Very Good+ (R90 at their tasting room)
2014 Pinot Noir Reserve
Light red in colour. We pick up red cherry, minerals and baking spices on a medium frame. The wine spent 9 months in French oak barrels which add a bit of texture, but it retains an overall elegance and very good balance.