What’s the secret that makes our Cap Classique so good? Find out at some of the best Cape wine estates
Words Marianne Heron and pictures David Morgan
Champagne (or Cap Classique) adds a sense of celebration to any special occasion. The dizzying effect (those miniscule bubbles help to speed alcohol into the system) and the characteristic ‘toasty’ taste are just the most delicious combination.
There are bubbles and then there are bubbles: the name Champagne is exclusive to the French Champagne region around Reims, and South African wine made in exactly the same classic Méthode Champenoise technique is known as Cap Classique or MCC (Méthode Cap Classique). The wine’s characteristic effervescence is caused by carbon dioxide created under pressure during secondary fermentation in the bottle.
When the Cap Classique Association was formed in 1992 there were 14 founding members, although this has expanded to around 80 as the popularity of MCC has been growing apace, especially in the last 15 years. Following a bubbly trail is a sure-fire way to enjoy yourself as you meet some of the most interesting and dedicated folk in the wine business.
1. Graham Beck Wines
As chairman of the Cap Classique Producers’ Association, and Graham Beck’s joint cellar master in Robertson, Pieter Ferreira has his finger on the pulse of an industry where production is doubling every five years. “It’s a really vibrant market, growing at 20 per cent a year,” says Pieter.
“I respect Champagne, that’s where we draw our inspiration from, but we are still the best alternative to Champagne in the New World.” Pieter is also the man behind the imaginative master classes available by appointment at the estate on Route 62, in addition to traditional tastings. The estate was established by the late Graham Beck in 1983 and produces what was the bubbly of choice for Nelson Mandela‘s inauguration in 1994 and Barak Obama’s presidential acceptance in 2008, as well as being a firm favourite of U2 lead singer Bono.
In the state-of-the-art tasting room, next to a vibrant art collection, and with sweeping views of the Robertson Valley, a rainbow of fruit and other elements is set up, to demonstrate the bouquets and evolution of Cap Classique. This includes exotic aromas such as peach in the primary fermentation, the Pinot Noir spectrum with red berry fruits, citrus and apples from Chardonnay, buttery brioche, honey, Bovril and even mushrooms, from extended time on the lees.
“Rosé is really fashionable at the moment. You can’t taste colour, but people eat and drink with their eyes,” says Pieter. Tasting three of Graham Beck’s bubblies, Brut Rosé Non Vintage (a 50/50 Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend – a refreshing aperitif), Blanc de Blancs Vintage 2009 (Chardonnay – nutty brioche from four years on the lees) and Cuvée Clive 2009 (75 per cent Chardonnay, 25 per cent Pinot Noir – elegant and lemony) in this context is a revelation and the best legal fun available. There is also a private nature reserve on the estate.
021 874 1258, www.grahambeckwines.com
2. De Wetshof Estate
Before you even taste bubbles, De Wetshof offers a delightful bouquet of history and experience. The De Wet family’s involvement in winemaking stretches back to 1694, and their elegant visitor centre on the estate just outside Ashton, where the De Wet family have farmed for three generations, is modelled on their former ancestral home, the 18th-century Koopmans-De Wet House in Cape Town, which was designed by architect Louis Michael Tibault. And how many winemakers can claim, as winemaker Peter de Wet can, to have made their first Cap Classique at age 14? At this tender age he was getting annoyed because going to boarding school interfered with his winemaking, and he was saving his pocket money to buy bottles for his wine.
To that early experience Peter added studies in viticulture and oenology at Geisenheim in Germany, and then in the Champagne region in France. “To make really good bubbly you have to follow a set of rules, and good winemakers don’t necessarily make good bubbly,” says Peter. “Even how you handle the grapes and juice is different to conventional winemaking.”
De Wetshof contains all the charm of a family business, as Peter and brother Johann are following in the footsteps of their father, winemaker Danie, and mother Lesca, who does the marketing. The estate offers two MCC wines for tasting: Pinot Noir Brut 2008 (fruit, flowers and a hint of biscuit, with 42 months on the lees) is a delicious wine that proves Peter’s conviction that age makes all the difference to the fineness of the mousse and the elegance of the wine. He plans to use up to five years on the lees in future. Cuvée Brut (a Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend with yeasty citrus, 12 months on the lees) is an elegant wine that is perfect for festive occasions.
023 615 1853, www.dewetshof.com
3. Bon Courage Estate
There’s a warm Klein Karoo welcome at Bon Courage, a Cape Dutch winery in the Breede River Valley that has numerous wine awards on display in its tasting room. The family’s roots were originally in the Loire Valley, France, hence the estate’s French name, and they have been making wine on the estate for three generations.
Following training in France and at Elsenberg in the Western Cape, Jacques Bruwer joined his father, André, and began blazing a new trail by making Cap Classique. While he started out with an ancient wine press and his initial vintage was just 500 bottles, he has made 100 000 bottles over the last 15 years, and earned a five-star rating in Platter for his 2008 Brut Reserve. “I started with the Brut Reserve and it’s the one I prefer. It’s a full, rich wine,” says Jacques. “People say it’s a likeable style, and it’s more or less the same as the French style.”
The estate produces three Cap Classique wines: Jacques Bruére Cuvée Rosé Brut (80 per cent Pinot Noir, 20 per cent Chardonnay, 48 months on the lees), with a delicate strawberry nose and silky mousse; Jacques Bruére Blanc de Blanc (100 per cent Chardonnay), which is light, crispy and with a lemon biscuity scent; and Jacques Bruére Brut Reserve (40 per cent partly oaked Chardonnay, 60 per cent Pinot Noir), with hints of delicate toasted brioche. Next to the winery, Café Maude serves light meals for breakfast and lunch, making the estate a great place to linger a while.
023 626 4178, www.boncourage.co.za