RICHARD HOLMES discovers the concept of elevage at Bartinney, a Banhoek Valley wine farm where small, mountainside vineyards grow in harmony with fynbos.
A jackal buzzard soars high above the vineyards of the Banhoek Valley, scouring the grassland and fynbos for unwary prey. From our table on the terrace of the Tasting Shed at Bartinney, the vineyards glow vivid green in the bright sunshine of early summer. The screech and hum of energetic insects form the soundtrack to a sultry afternoon.
But it wasn’t always like this.
When Michael and Rose Jordaan purchased the property a little over a decade ago, “there was no noise on the farm: no insects, no birds”, recalls Rose. “We spent the first two years just removing the alien trees from the farm and replanting fynbos.”
More than 7 000 indigenous trees have been planted across the property and vibrant corridors of fynbos created between the vineyards. Today, these corridors are as much a feature of the farm as are its precipitous vineyards, while camera traps have recorded Cape leopard, honey badger and the rare Cape fox traipsing across Bartinney.
The farm owes its name to the original owners who, hailing from the English county of Cornwall, named it for a famous Iron Age fort set in a commanding position on a hillside near the coast. It’s an apt choice for this remarkable mountainside wine estate.
For Michael Jordaan, a former chief executive officer of First National Bank, the purchase of Bartinney also marked a return home. His grandfather had bought the farm in 1952 and Michael spent much of his childhood on the property. An alumnus of Paul Roos Gymnasium and a graduate of Stellenbosch University, he has roots that run deep in the Eikestad. The same goes for his wife, Rose, who grew up on a wine farm in the area and matriculated from Rhenish Girls’ High School before embarking on a successful career as an architect.
“Michael always said that he wanted to buy back the family farm,” explains Rose. “So when it came on the market in 2006, we knew we had to take the plunge.”
From the outset, conservation and sustainability have been guiding principles in the redevelopment of Bartinney and are reflected in, for example, a focus on creating employment opportunities and a deep concern for the wilderness landscapes bordering the estate. While the rejuvenated fynbos is the most obvious example of the Jordaans’ conservation-minded approach, a number of remarkable sustainability initiatives continue quietly in the background.
Water conservation is critical on the estate, so moisture probes are utilised across the vineyards to ensure accurate irrigation, and underperforming vineyards are pulled out to conserve water and ensure quality fruit. Indigenous cover crops help the soil retain moisture, while a wetland filters wastewater from the cellar into a reservoir for irrigation. Energy usage is also carefully monitored, with photovoltaic solar panels on the cellar roof supplying half of the estate’s energy requirements.
“We believe that if you have a healthy, balanced environment, it penetrates into the vineyards, and with that balance the wines are improved,” explains Rose.
A bellwether of the progress made in the valley as a whole has been the success of the Banhoek Conservancy, established in 2013, which sees landowners work “to protect the environment, to uplift the community and to re-establish a balance between human activities and nature”.
Part of the conservancy’s work is funded by income from the network of mountain-bike tracks that are open to the public. More than 100km of trails criss-cross the conservancy, the most famous of which, Skyfall, plummets down from the highest Bartinney vineyard in a precipice of singletrack.
“Everyone in the valley has really bought into the concept of community-based social and environmental upliftment in our whole area. We have all committed to the same planning and principles. We want to protect the indigenous flora and fauna, we want to conserve water and we want to encourage real biodiversity in our valley,” adds Rose, who says a collective effort is essential for successful conservation. “We’ve all been achieving our goals individually, and now we feel we can push our wine, tourism and adventure offering together. You can’t operate in isolation. It’s all about collaboration.”
That spirit of collaboration will also see Banhoek wineries join forces in branding and promoting the wines of the valley with a collective presence at the much-anticipated CapeWine expo in late 2018. For the end-point of the collaboration and conservation work is, of course, to craft memorable wines, and “Banhoek has a terroir that is absolutely unique,” explains Ronell Wiid, winemaker at Bartinney since 2012.
Planted on steep east- and north-facing slopes, the Bartinney vineyards range between 300m and 550m above sea level, the altitude and aspect ensuring long ripening periods before harvest. With just 17ha under vine, there is a single-minded commitment to quality from vineyard to cellar.
“When you have only 17ha to look after, you have to make every bunch count,” says Ronell. “Within our estate each and every vineyard block has its own personality, so they are all pruned, harvested and vinified individually.”
It’s a compact range of wines, with a steadfast focus on the classical cultivars: Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. “And there’s a small bit of Sauvignon Blanc, too, just because it’s Michael’s favourite,” laughs Rose.
“But I think it sends a strong message to have just those three varieties,” adds Ronell. “With that focus, and because the grapes we use are almost exclusively from our farm, we can really produce extraordinary wines that express this particular area. It also gives us the freedom to work with different parcels of the same variety.”
While Ronell’s richly layered expression of Sauvignon Blanc is certainly worth discovering, the Cabernet and Chardonnay are undeniably the stars of the Bartinney show, with both an estate and a flagship bottling on offer for each cultivar.
The structured Bartinney Chardonnay is a prime example of how this Burgundian classic thrives in Banhoek, with apricot blossom, lemon and a touch of oak character on the palate. The flagship Hourglass Chardonnay is even more impressive. Named for the shapely Chardonnay vineyard planted on steep slopes above the winery, this vineyard selection of the best fruit from the farm shows wonderful depth and complexity. With the hourglass a visual metaphor for the virtues of patience, it’s also a fitting namesake for this age-worthy limited release.
Patience is a quality any winemaker will need in abundance if they hope to craft top-notch Cabernet Sauvignon, and when it comes to Cabernet there are few corners of the Cape Winelands better suited to growing the ‘king of grapes’.
The Bartinney Cabernet Sauvignon makes full use of the diverse terroir, with grapes sourced from eight different sites on the farm. With a third matured in new oak barrels, it’s a wine that offers a perfect balance of fruit expression and structure. Little wonder the 2014 vintage won a coveted five-star rating in the 2018 Platter’s Wine Guide.
Part of that success is thanks to a simple ingredient: time. The Bartinney Cabernet Sauvignon is typically released four years after vintage, as “Cabernet is the one grape that really benefits from time in the bottle,” says Ronell. “It’s a powerful wine; it needs time to express its true character.”
While these estate wines showcase the farm’s unique terroir, the final wine in the Bartinney range includes influences from further afield. A blend of estate Cabernet Sauvignon and an ever-changing roster of traditional blending components sourced from other Stellenbosch vineyards, Elevage “is about expressing our vineyards in a different way, while working with the classical blending partners of Cabernet”, explains the winemaker. “Cabernet blossoms when blending those varieties. It adds a depth of flavour, a roundness.”
It is also an expression of the underlying philosophy behind Bartinney. The French concept of elevage – the notion of elevating raw materials to greater heights, of unfurling their most noble traits – ties in neatly with the Jordaans’ aim to express the unique Banhoek terroir of the property.
“We want to express a sense of place, and that is defined by our place in the mountains,” adds Rose. “The concept of elevage – of liberating the grapes from their humble beginnings into a more noble form – is entirely accurate. And that, of course, is just what wine is.”
The best of Bartinney
SIP on Bartinney wines at the Tasting Shed on the estate (R50 per person). Don’t miss the innovative Wine and Fynbos experience (R75 per person), which matches three estate wines with fynbos from the farm. Tables on the upstairs terrace offer wonderful views of the valley. Charcuterie or cheese platters are available. Tastings Monday to Saturday.
SLEEP at the farm’s stylish Vineyard Cottages. Four beautifully restored self-catering cottages offer a wonderful taste of farm life, just steps from the winery.
SOAK UP live music at the Tasting Shed every Friday evening. Vinyl nights with a resident DJ are also popular.
STOP IN at Bartinney Wine and Champagne Bar in the heart of Stellenbosch. This buzzing wine bar in the Oude Bank Building pours wines from both Bartinney and other leading local cellars.
www.bartinney.co.za / 021 885 1013
Montegray & Independents
Situated in the heart of Stellenbosch, Montegray & Independents adds yet another string to the Jordaans’ bow.
Opened in November 2017, this stylish wine bar has fast built up a loyal local following that enjoys its selection of Montegray Wines as well as an ever-changing roster of guest wines from premium producers. Unlike the estate wines of Bartinney, Montegray Wines taps into unique vineyard parcels, so look forward to Grenache, Chenin Blanc and exciting white blends. A range of artisanal gins is also available. It’s a stylish space, with art deco lighting, striking Ardmore-printed murals and an eye-catching brass bar. Alongside the wine you’ll find an unpretentious menu of tapas-style snacks: think cured ceviche, seasonal spring rolls, prawn tempura and charcuterie platters. Don’t miss the homemade bellinis.
Not only a chic spot to stop by for a glass, Montegray & Independents will also offer wine sales, as well as a monthly ‘wine discovery’ box that features wines from both Montegray and guest producers.
Water conservation is critical on the estate, so moisture probes are utilised across the vineyards to ensure accurate irrigation, and underperforming vineyards are pulled out to conserve water and ensure quality fruit.