In his introduction to his old-vine competition entry, Ian Haggie explains: 'I am a mid-thirties wine professional based in Cape Town. I've worked in the wine industry (directly and indirectly) since 2012. I've worked a few harvests, done some sales and marketing, created wine travel experiences for people and most recently, started to write. I hope to get some of my work published before the end of the year. I also hope to make my own wine in 2022.' See our WWC21 guide for more old-vine competition entries.
The Story of Vineyard Nuwedam & It’s Friends
Driving with Butch (that’s Chris Alheit for the uninitiated), one of South Africas rockstar winemakers, is like driving with a wine encyclopedia. Vineyard sites, vine characteristics, soil types, weather patterns, favourite farms and their ‘interesting’ custodians...Butch is clearly devoted to his craft.
The vineyards he describes with passion and zeal and sometimes with tangible pangs of longing and obvious desire to get his hands on some of the fruit from these old bush vines. The vines he describes with deep technical jargon before launching into speeches about the benefits of bush versus trellis, dry farming versus irrigation, decomposed granite versus schist or shale. He’s not short on opinions either. It’s harvest 2015, one of the best vintages in South Africa's living memory, and we’re on our way to one of the first picks of the harvest in the Swartland, a region overwhelmingly planted with arguably South Africa's most exciting varietal, Chenin blanc, and home to some of it’s oldest vineyards. I’m one of Butch’s first harvest interns (or ‘cellar rats’ as they are sometimes fondly referred to). It’s a title I wear with pride this year owing to Chris’s current status as one of South Africa's most exciting producers of Chenin blanc. No mean feat considering the volume of Chenin planted in SA and number of winemakers turning their hand to the varietal.
As we barrel down the N7 highway towards the Paardeberg, all the way from the Hemel en Aarde Valley (a journey of just under three hours), Butch fills us in about Christa, the current owner of the farm. She has toiled away the last few years to bring the vines back from the brink of collapse and Butch is excited to see what this years harvest will yield. She also makes her own sparkling wines from fruit picked from this vineyard (amongst others). Second generation owner of the Nuwedam Farm and of German descent, Christa sounds like a character. We’re not disappointed when on arrival we’re greeted by a pack of happy dogs, wagging tails, flasks of coffee, bacon and egg sandwiches and her mum, who can speak very little english, mostly German. Christa is tiny, reaching to just under my shoulder, with a short bob and a wide smile, she makes us feel immediately welcome and gives us the rundown of the region. She points out The Observatory cellar in the distance, where Craig Hawkins and his wife Carla are busy making their natural wines, still considered outlandish by many for their weird and mystical ways. Christa points out her neighbour, Eben Sadie, perhaps one of the most celebrated wine makers in South Africa at the time. She takes a certain kind of pride knowing that she can pop over next door for advice or a glass of wine whenever she feels like it. The Nuwedam vineyard could be considered to be at the epicentre of the Swartland region (which is saying something owing to the vastness of the place).
We’re picking old vine chenin at a vineyard that takes its name from the farm it’s planted in. Nuwedam, a vineyard that Butch waxes lyrical about...old, gnarly, bent, and beautiful bush vines. Widely interspersed and evenly spaced, the vines disappear around the corner of the hill into the morning sun rising over the Paardeberg. Carsten Migliarina arrives, a sommelier turned winemaker, and another fan singing the praises of Christa and her efforts to resurrect the vineyards to their former glory. He’s here for his share of the crop, whatever he can get, to go into his own label. Christa’s Chenin is clearly in demand.
The pick happens quickly. The pickers from the surrounding towns and farms leave almost as quickly as they arrive. Butch is happy with the crop and we load the crates by hand into the back of the bakkie and the trailer we have hitched for the job. Christa is dismayed that we haven’t finished the sandwiches and won’t let us leave before we do. We say our farewells and bundle into the front cab to make our way back to the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley where Butches cellar is located. Not before stopping off to see Craig and Carla though. We dip our heads in and Craig takes us through his cellar. Their ways are indeed mystical but fascinating to the untainted, malleable mind of a young cellar rat.
As we trundle home along the highways and byways, I think about my first in-depth experience of South Africa’s celebrated varietal and the vineyards it comes from. Planted in pure, decomposed granite in 1974, over 40 years ago, this 1.2 hectares of dryland farmed bush vines on the slopes of the Paardeberd in the hot and dry Swartland produces fruit that goes into some of the most celebrated South African wines in the world. What an honour it is to work with fruit from such a vineyard.
That was 2015. Fast forward to today and things have changed somewhat. In a bold move, Chris and his wife, Suzaane, bought the Nuwedam Farm from Christa a few years ago. Christa continues to make her own wine...now a range of superb still wines. Carsten continues to make world class Chenin but sources fruit from different vineyards. Craig and Carla built their own cellar and are now based in the Piekenierskloof (still making gloriously mind bending wines). Eben, from ‘around the corner’, still sells out of stock year after year.
The Nuwedam vineyard is now called Broom Ridge (roughly translated from the Afrikaans word Besemgoeskop), so called after a natural feature on the rocky granite outcrop that it’s planted on. Chris and Suzaan continue to play the role of custodian to this magnificent example of South African wine heritage. It’s been a spectacular journey for old vines in South Africa and it seems the journey is only just beginning. Long may these vineyards last!
The photo is provided by Ian Haggie.