Stylish, sparkling Cap Classique is one of South Africa’s leading wine categories. Since it was first made at the Cape in 1971, various icon personalities have paved the way for this wine’s reputation for quality and its growth in popularity. In 2023 a new wave of Cap Classique personalities with wine sparkles in their hearts are taking their beloved product to new heights. EMILE JOUBERT talked, looked and learnt.
LIZEMARI AND HER TEAM LOVE THE CHALLENGE OF SOMETHING NEW. THE LATEST IS A CHENIN BLANC CAP CLASSIQUE FROM THE 2023 VINTAGE.
Lizemari Geldenhuys, Kleine Zalze
There is a well-worn adage that wine is made in the vineyard. Well, as the late wine legend Duimpie Bayly loved to retort to this statement, “The vineyard is important, but no one wins the Durban July without a jockey.” In other words, it is the winemaker who defines and determines the final outcome. And few, if any, wine styles are as dependent on the consistent involvement of a winemaker as Cap Classique.
This suits Lizemari Geldenhuys, winemaker at Stellenbosch’s Kleine Zalze Wines responsible for the winery’s range of Cap Classiques, to the proverbial tee. “That’s what I love about making Cap Classique: the fact that the wine in each bottle is individual, undergoing its own secondary fermentation process in that bottle,” she says. “This and other aspects of the category allow a winemaker to be creative in determining each specific style of Cap Classique, as you are basically making two wines.
“The first is the base wine from early-harvested grapes with bracing acidity that must carry through to ensure freshness in the final wine, while demanding attention in the cellar to ensure complexity and character. Making the ‘second’ wine involves priming it with a yeast portion I call the ‘yeast bomb’. This bomb I have to get started, feeding and growing it like you do when preparing a yeast mother for sourdough. The yeast is then added to the base wine, which is bottled and sealed to begin the secondary fermentation. That’s when the bubbles and all those typical Cap Classique flavours develop in the wine.
“All this demands my constant attention for the year or more the wine develops in the bottle, making it a hands-on wine that I find truly rewarding to make and love to see through to the end.”
Lizemari graduated from Stellenbosch University as a winemaker and viticulturist before working in California and Australia, as well as at Boschendal in the Cape. Although these experiences include none with Cap Classique, upon joining Kleine Zalze in 2016 the making of bubbly fell on her shoulders. “It’s grown into a mild obsession,” she says. “Making Cap Classique for a big established winery such as Kleine Zalze is immensely rewarding, as you know there is a large consumer base of people loyal to the brand due to its overall reputation for wine quality,” she says.
“Consumers have also really taken to Cap Classique over the past decade. It is no longer something reserved for celebrations and special occasions – although no celebration is complete without Cap Classique! – but is enjoyed as part of the inclusive wine lifestyle.”
Besides the satisfaction of total involvement in the process of making Cap Classique, Lizemari and her team love the challenge of something new. The latest is a Chenin Blanc Cap Classique from the 2023 vintage.
“This is truly exciting, as it’s a wine made from registered Old Vine Chenin Blanc and, to boot, the base wine was fermented and aged in clay amphorae, giving it a unique flavour profile. But like everyone else, I will have to wait for the final product as it is now fermenting in bottle, with release pending until 2025.”
Product loyal, Lizemari opens a bottle of Cap Classique to celebrate life. “Waiting with a glass of Cap Classique is the cherry on top!”
ACCORDING TO THE GRAHAM BECK ETHOS, THE IMPORTANCE OF TERROIR IN CREATING ITS CAP CLASSIQUES IS NON-NEGOTIABLE IN THE CONTINUOUS PURSUIT OF PERFECTION.
Pierre de Klerk, Graham Beck Wines
There must be a certain degree of envy when Cap Classique producers look at Graham Beck Wines. Not only for the immense presence of this leading South African brand in the local and international markets, but also regarding the team responsible for creating a range of classy Cap Classiques in considerable volume. There is Pieter Ferreira, the voice of Cap Classique, as Graham Beck’s chief operating officer, with Pierre de Klerk riding shotgun in the role of cellar master.
Some 13 years after joining Graham Beck under the auspices of Pieter, Pierre has become a recognised Cap Classique man in his own right, acknowledged today as one of the category’s most skilled, visionary and thoughtful practitioners. Not bad for someone who during his initial job interview told Pieter, “I know nothing about bubbly.”
How times have changed.
“Looking back now, I can hardly believe I uttered those words in Pieter’s presence, as today every aspect of Cap Classique holds for me mystery, intrigue and fascination,” he muses. “It is a wine that is challenging and frightening for a winemaker, as well as immensely rewarding.”
Being a specialist Cap Classique operation, for Graham Beck the focus, heartbeat and lifeblood is the nuanced sparkling wine created from the right grapes, grown on suitable soils and bottle-fermented to allow the magic of the bubble to occur. Fashion and image might play a major role in the appreciation of the final product. But getting there can be interpreted, as Pierre is not shy to admit, as rather geeky.
“Yes, it is about detail from the word go,” he says. “Making Cap Classique takes no prisoners and doesn’t allow you to take your eye off the ball.”
There is the pinpoint accuracy of determining the days for picking the grapes. “Using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in early stages of ripening to get the right levels of acidity for the base wine means we have a two-week window to get the grapes to the cellar,” explains Pierre. “There is no recipe here. Each year presents grapes with their own charac- teristics, so decisions must be made on fermentation yeasts, different vessels for ageing various sections of base wine, accurately blending to get to the desired style of each final wine, dosage composition. The degree of patience involved in all this was something I had to learn, but fortunately I’ve got it now.”
According to the Graham Beck ethos, the importance of terroir in creating its Cap Classiques is non-negotiable in the continuous pursuit of perfection. Pierre and his team select Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from 12 regions in the Cape Winelands, each area providing distinctive flavour profiles and palate expressions.
“I get into the vineyards of our 25 different grapefarmers as much as I can, because this is where it all starts. Here Cap Classique is blessed, with ourselves and other producers having access to a varied spectrum of grape diversity that allows us to compose our wines from a palette of terroir expressions.” A discernible challenge in making Cap Classique that fascinates Pierre is that elusive striving for perfection. As Pieter Ferreira says, “Quality is not a destination, it is a journey.” And Pierre concurs.
“We are always seeking new ways, methods and influences in our approach to Cap Classique,” he says. “Secondary fermentation under cork instead of the traditional crown cap, for example. Exposing the base wine to ceramic vessels … There are so many steps in the process of Cap Classique that despite what we have achieved with this wine style over the years, I sometimes think we are only just scratching the surface.”
“CAP CLASSIQUE WINES CAN PROUDLY STAND ALONGSIDE CHAMPAGNE, PROSECCO AND CAVA.”Shirley van Wyk, Terre Paisible
Shirley van Wyk, Terre Paisible
Like all the fine sparkling elixirs made from the vine, Cap Classique depends on an image of style, class and elegance as much as it does on that engaging pop of the cork and the effervescent rush of flavours on the palate. For me, Shirley van Wyk, MD of Terre Paisible in Franschhoek, has always been the embodiment of this element of style and grace in wine marketing.
Coupled with this is her love of Cap Classique and fervent ambition to see it at the top end of the Cape’s wine offerings, comfortably standing alongside Champagne and the rest that the world has to offer when it comes to things sparkling.
No surprise then that when she was tasked to make of Terre Paisible a world-class destination for wine, food and accommodation, overseeing the presence of a premium Cap Classique was at the top of her agenda.
“As a wine category, Cap Classique has leapt to the forefront of our country’s wines, in terms of quality as well as image and status,” she says. “Fifty-two years after the first South African sparkling wine was made in this style of bottle fermentation, we find ourselves with a diverse array of Cap Classique wines that exude excellence and express the amazing terroir of the Cape’s wine regions. These can proudly stand alongside Champagne, Prosecco and Cava. As one who has an international outlook in terms of realising the potential of Brand South Africa, I believe this recognition of Cap Classique as a local product desired in a global context is something we in the industry must advance.”
As a marketing specialist and brand custodian with experience in California and South Africa, Shirley is no stranger to the wines that sparkle. Working in the Los Angeles film industry made Champagne a part of her everyday life.
And in the Cape, Shirley headed up marketing for Boschendal, one of the country’s first Cap Classique producers, where she played a major role in taking Boschendal Cap Classique to new heights in creating an image of style and desirability, especially in the so-called ‘new market’.
“The beauty of marketing and promoting Cap Classique – and I’m sure the same goes for the promoters of Champagne and Prosecco – is that it’s about more than the quality of the product; it’s about the image and expectation. The brand and every detail in that brand need as much attention as the quality of grapes, the chemistry of the base wine and the levels of dosage,” she says.
“One can equate it to the world of fashion. When a designer creates a beautiful gown, they ensure it is worn and seen so that it can be fully appreciated. However, if the fabric or stitching of the gown is not exquisite, the complete design will lose its lustre. Quality is the ingredient that ensures an exquisite design becomes desirable and truly valuable. Similarly, crafting an exceptional Cap Classique is only half the fairytale – how it is presented is what creates the magic.”
At Terre Paisible winemaker Adam Mason has created the Vivre Cap Classique, a Blanc de Blancs expressing the property’s terroir and ability to offer a sparkling wine of energy, refreshment and life (vivre).
“What I love about creating a Cap Classique brand is that one does not have to make excuses for offering a luxury product,” says Shirley. “And with luxury at the core of Terre Paisible’s total offering, this is one Cap Classique that came
naturally for me.”
“IT IS SUCH A GREAT REWARD WHEN YOU MEET THE FINAL PRODUCT AFTER ALL THE TIME AND PATIENCE IT HAS DEMANDED OF YOU.”Danna de Jongh, Simonsig Estate
Danna de Jongh, Simonsig
Anyone who has taken the desolate, sun- soaked Namibian highway from Windhoek to Swakopmund will know that by the time you reach the town of Okahandja, a drink might be called for.
And a glass of chilled Cap Classique refreshment is just what the doctor ordered. Whether this is relevant to Namibian-born Danna de Jongh’s love of Cap Classique has yet to be confirmed. But since leaving her home town of Okahandja, Danna has laid down her own road in the world of sparkling wine and is currently responsible for Cap Classique at Simonsig Estate, where South Africa’s bottle-fermented sparkling wine began in 1971.
“This legacy as the pioneering estate of Cap Classique remains hugely important in every aspect of what we do at Simonsig – and it was the main reason for me jumping at the opportunity of working here,” she says.
“Led by Michael Malan, grandson of Frans Malan who made the first Cap Classique, the rest of the team and I realise how important it is to continue this legacy. The fact that Simonsig remains such a successful brand in the wine market is still largely attributed to us as pioneers – along with the excellent Cap Classiques we continue to make, of course.”
Although all talk of quality sparkling wine at some or other time drifts back to Champagne and France, Danna’s roots as a winemaker are embedded in the soils and slopes of Germany. She left Namibia to broaden her horizons and with no initial plans to make wine yet, found herself studying at the famous Geisenheim Institute, one of the world’s leading centres for education in oenology and viticulture.
“All the professors there are renowned academics and researchers in their respective fields, and Geisenheim’s motto is ‘To be the best, you have to learn from the best’,” she explains.
Her experience with sparkling wine included working at Schloss Vaux in Germany’s famed Rheingau region, where the main grape variety used is Riesling. Known for making single-vineyard sparkling wine, Schloss Vaux also produces bubbly from Chardonnay and Grüner Veltliner, and a red version from Pinot Noir. “I worked under a sparkling wine maestro in Joachim Renk, who grounded me firmly in the tenets of this category with an astute approach to vineyards and a scientific methodology in the cellar, as only the Germans can!”
It was this international experience that instilled in Danna a firm belief in the status and potential of Cap Classique as a leading sector of South African wine. “Champagne dominated the international sparkling wine market for decades, being seen as the only sparkling show in town,” she says.
“Some 15 years ago the Italians put Prosecco onto the stage and suddenly the image of sparkling wine changed from premium to more affordable and accessible. And the sector became more commercial. This is where Cap Classique, for me, is so special – it sits in the middle between the affordability of Prosecco, but with the quality of Champagne.”
Danna says the popularity of Cap Classique and other sparkling wines has a lot to do with its fashionable image, the bit of glitz and glamour appealing to the Gen Z crowd who market the wine’s image through social media and events.
“One mustn’t be afraid of glitz and glamour, as this is what the consumers of the future look to,” she says. “And by giving them a product of great quality, along with a trendy image, they will stand behind you well into the future. That’s where Cap Classique is–and to paraphrase Dom Pérignon, when I look at the future of Cap Classique, all I see is stars.”
“I THINK LEGACY AND TRADITION PLAY A MAJOR ROLE IN BOSCHENDAL’S OVERALL IMAGE AS A PREMIUM PRODUCER OF CAP CLASSIQUE.”Danielle Coetsee, Boschendal Estate.
She walks in the footsteps of giants, but with tremendous ease, efficiency and a seemingly unflappable serenity.
As winemaker responsible for Cap Classique production at Boschendal Estate in Drakenstein, Danielle Coetsee is all too aware of the fact that she bears the legacy of one of the Cape’s leading wine brands that was an early pioneer of Cap Classique.
It was here that the legendary Achim von Arnim made Boschendal’s first Cap Classique in 1981, the second winery to do so after Simonsig’s Frans Malan started it all 10 years earlier.
“I think legacy and tradition play a major role in Boschendal’s overall image as a premium producer of Cap Classique,” says Danielle. “With its history going back to 1685, generations of legendary winemakers and being a brand that has been part of South Africa’s wine history for as long as most people can remember, Boschendal has achieved icon status. My job of making Cap Classique thus comes with a lot of responsibility in ensuring that our legacy continues. But working for an established and admired brand is a tremendous inspiration – that and my total obsession with Cap Classique.”
Danielle showed her prowess with Cap Classique from an early age. She was only in her 20s when, in 2019, she made her way to the rostrum to receive the award on behalf of Boschendal as overall winner of the annual Amorim Cap Classique Challenge, the leading competition committed to honouring winemakers in this category.
“Actually, I don’t really take to the term wine-‘maker’,” says Danielle. “The process of getting something like Cap Classique from vineyard to bottle is such an extensive, multi-faceted journey involving nature, science and various people along the way that I see myself as a guide more than a maker of something tangible. Although the final responsibility does lie with me.”
In this ‘guiding’ from grape to bottle to glass, the magic for her lies in the detailed steps required to get to the final product, as well as the sensory skills involved along the way.
“I love getting into the vineyards when I can, harvesting and creating the base wine and then seeing the wines come alive with bubbles during the secondary fermentation in bottle,” she says enthusiastically. “But the result depends on me and on the team’s analysing of the wines’ flavour profiles and aromas to ensure the final product is of the standard expected of Boschendal. That makes it such a terrifically rewarding job, knowing you have to rely on your senses to get to the final result.”
Recognised as one of the Cape’s leading Cap Classique specialists, Danielle’s inspiration for this wine style lies in just that: the style.
“Cap Classique is the closest one can come to having something in your glass that is alive,” she says. “I have never been sad when pouring and holding a glass of bubbly, and the fact that this is such a beloved product among consumers reminds me that I am not the only one who feels this way. As a winemaker, it is just such great reward when you meet the final product after all the time and patience it has demanded of you. When I see those bubbles rising in the glass, it is as if the wine is giving me a wink and saying, ‘Congratulations, we did it!’”
Blaauwklippen Brut 2020
Stellenbosch’s Blaauwklippen Estate is renowned for its Zinfandel wines, so it’s no surprise to see this grape variety used for its Cap Classique (except for purists who believe that Chardonnay and Pinot Noir lie at the heart of Cap Classique pedigree). This bubbly shows an extraordinary refinement, from its dense mousse, the energetic bead and the aroma of brioche and citrus. The attack on the mouth gushes a maritime thunder, leading to delicious flavours of lime peel, red berries and just the slightest hint of savouriness. Hats off to winemaker Narina Cloete for going out on a limb with this off-beat Cap Classique and seeing it all work out splendidly.
Cap Classique specialist Le Lude can be trusted for true quality at every level of its extensive offering of fizz. This rosé is made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier and spends 36 months in bottle, ageing on the lees and drawing complexity and sparkle.
It is a gloriously luxurious wine, the mousse being dense and sensual as it rides on the salmon pink colour. The wine lies full and commanding on the palate, but exudes a life-affirming energy with notes of oyster shell, rose petal and a slight salinity.
Laborie Blanc de Blancs 2018
For those who have not yet discovered this wine, take it from me: it’s the best-kept
Cap Classique secret in all the world. Check out the array of awards it has won: the proof is there. Made from 100% Chardonnay, this bubbly exudes a classic brioche aroma, the result of superbly managed lees-aging, and a flavour that spills over onto the palate. Here the brioche meets yellow citrus, jasmine flowers and honeysuckle, the tapestry of flavours combined with a brisk freshness – as classic a Cap Classique as can be.
Pierre Jourdan Cap Classique Brut
From Achim von Arnim’s great Cap Classique house of Cabrière, this sparkling wine represents one of the Cape’s pioneering brands in this category. Consistent in its excellence, Pierre Jourdan Brut is the classic combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and in its making cellar master Tim Hoek remains true to the
style created by the great Achim. Blue-blooded Cap Classique aromas of snapped biscuit are immediately joined by an exciting earthiness. The entry to the mouth is bracing and dramatic before notes of Granny Smith apple, loquat and Cape gooseberry come to the fore. A restless energy makes this wine of the ‘moreish’ kind, which means this brand is always to be found in a refrigerator in my office or home.
Lanzerac Blanc de Blancs Brut
A wine that deserves to stand out in Lanzerac’s extensive range of classy wines. Winemaker Wynand Lategan ages a portion of the Chardonnay base wine in old oak casks before the secondary fermentation kicks off in bottle. Here the wine lies for 18 months before disgorging and the result is a fizz of complexity and body with a refined elegance that you can describe as regal without making a fool of your- self. After a first impression of green citrus and green apple, a beguiling creaminess evolves on the palate, giving a sense of the statuesque combined with unbridled luxury.
Delaire Graff Sunrise Brut MCC
From Delaire Graff’s rarefied setting atop the Banhoek Pass in Stellenbosch one might expect a Cap Classique dreaming to be as close to a fine Champagne as possible, but no. Sunrise Brut is rooted in the Cape signature white variety Chenin Blanc, which makes up over 60% of this wine. Some 30% is Chardonnay, with a slight ripple of Cabernet Franc to make things more exciting and off-kilter. Chenin Blanc does not have the exuberance of Chardonnay or the fruit-core of Pinot Noir, but does bring an engaging steely edge that is pretty fine when set in
the effervescent environment that is a bottle-fermented sparkle. This cool mineral slice is coaxed with sunny citrus, courtesy of the Chardonnay component, but the overall impression remains singular in its distinctiveness as a very unusual but brilliant part of the overall Cap Classique offering.