Thousands of miles from the wet pavements and grey skies at Exsus HQ, this week brings the start of the wine harvest in South Africa. At Steenberg, a wine estate in Constantia, just outside Cape Town, we grabbed winemaker JD Pretorius for a few minutes away from his harvest.
How long have you been winemaker at Steenberg, and how did you end up doing it?
Three years, going in to my 4th harvest at Steenberg. I have always been a very big wine fanatic, and grew up in a house that appreciates fine food and wine, so it was an easy decision to study winemaking.
What makes the Constantia area so well suited to winemaking?
We are very close to the ocean, with a lot of wind. It brings in cold air from the ocean, creating a long and slow ripening season for the grapes. Fertile soils on the mountain slopes create interesting and unique sites for vineyards.
In Cape Town you’re not short of hip bars and beautiful vistas- where’s your favourite spot for sitting with a glass of wine?
Any place with a view, preferably at the coast.
If we’ve never tried wine-tasting before we visit, what are your top tips for the novice wine-taster?
Don’t complicate it, ultimately it’s about liking the wine or not. Be open-minded about new wines and have fun.
Once we’re down in Cape Town, we’d like to try the wine from a few different vineyards. Aside from Steenberg, what other wine estates would you recommend visiting?
Klein Constantia, Constantia Uitsig, Rustenberg and Graham Beck Wines. (NB: A top tip from Exsus’s Africa expert, Alex: “ If you’re going to make a day trip from Steenberg to the other wine estates, try to hit Constantia Uitsig at lunchtime- the restaurant here was voted one of the best in South Africa).
All this talk of wine-tasting is making us hungry. If we were drinking a bottle of Steenberg’s finest, what should we eat alongside it?
The Merlot matches very well with a leg of lamb and our Nebbiolo goes incredibly well with duck, or any rich meats, it also enjoys truffles.
Have you tried any English wine? If so, what do you think of it?
No unfortunately I have not.
The South African wine industry's often described as a halfway house between old and new worlds do you think that's selling it short?
I think South African wine definitely has a bit of both going for it, with the richness and ripeness with of the new world, but also with a savory character and minerality of the old world. I think South African wines has improved in leaps and bounds over the last 20 years, with better understanding of vineyards and sites as well as winemaking techniques, the best is only to come.