Producing vine wine in Berg’s shadow

A toast to Winterton farm

By Garth Johnstone

A wine farm near Winterton, under the gaze of the giants of the Central Berg and looking out over crop, cattle and game country. You’ve got to be kidding, I thought?

But no, the intel I had was correct, a group of brave pioneers have, over the past decade, been following their dream of producing quality wines on the plains near the Berg.

Cathedral Peak Wine Estate, about 10km out of Winterton, is driven by land-owner Mauritz Koster and his business partner, Justin Vermaak.

Mauritz is a soya and maize farmer who has owned the land for years and also harvests crops for other land owners, while Justin is an entrepreneur with interests in the petroleum industry, among other things. He lives in Mauritius most of the year.

Diversify

Mauritz and Justin wanted to diversify from maize and soya, and were looking for a unique challenge. So they ventured into wine about 11 years ago.

Red wine in the cellar, bottled and ready for labelling and storage. Picture: Garth Johnstone

When The Meander Chronicle visited the estate, we spoke to Caren Smith, the venue’s weddings and functions co-ordinator, and wife of resident cellarmaster Flip Smith. The owners were at a wine expo in China.

When asked about the conditions for growing wine, Caren said the farm was in somewhat of a protected area.

Hail nets

“You get the cold, but not too much frost here. The dam (nearby Glen Grey dam), which is shared by a few farmers in the area, is key to growing vines, as it provides water for irrigation in winter.”

Due to the threat of hail and the experience of losing crops, hail nets were installed. The estate’s website says the climate in the area has unique characteristics. “The air is clean, crisp and fresh to breathe. The sheerness of the mountain allows heat to rise up against the warm cliffs during the day and cooler air to feed down at night.” Winter snows feed water down to the dam for irrigation.

It also notes that the soil is deep and fertile, the land gently undulating.

The owners started planting vineyards in 2007, on a very small scale of about 2 hectares. The first harvest was in 2012.

Major harvest

In 2015 they had their first major harvest.

Flip Smith and his son Carel taste the fruit of their labour. Picture: Supplied

Flip and Caren have been at Cathedral Peak Wine Estate for the past four years.

These days most of the high-quality wine produced, including the Pinotage, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc is made entirely from grapes grown on the estate.

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They also have a secondary range of wines, the Zulu wines, which are produced in partnership with three community-development projects in the Berg area. The estate, with the help of local government, is helping these communities to establish their own vineyards and acquire the skills essential for successful wine farming. It is hoped that, within a few years, these communities will be able to take complete ownership of their vineyards and bring their wine to the cellar for production.

The wedding and lunch/tasting venue at Cathedral Peak Wine Estate has been up and running for three years. It was initially just a shed, which the owners had wanted for a cellar space.

But Caren was having none of it: “You can’t waste this venue, with its beautiful outlook,” she said.

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It was converted into a beautiful space with a lovely view overlooking the vineyards, the dam, fields and the veld in the distance. A chapel was built for weddings.

These days, the venue hosts about 20 weddings in its peak season, from the middle of October to the end of March.

For now, the estate is steadily growing its footprint and picked up serious kudos in winning multiple awards at the 2016, 2017 and 2018 Michelangelo International Wine Awards, including for “Most Innovative Wine” for its Pinotage 2015.

Flip, who has more than two decades’ worth of wine making experience, says the amount of wine they can produce in a season varies and is influenced by many factors, such as how cold the weather is, how extreme the hot season has been and whether they have managed to dodge the hail.

Eleven hectares out of 30 are currently under production, and it normally takes four to five years before the plants become productive. Each hectare yields about eight tons of grapes, which translates to around 8 000 bottles per hectare.

Dessert wines

Flip learnt to make wine in the Cape, under the eye of his father, “Dassie” Smith. He has also completed a number of wine courses. Of the wines he produces at Cathedral Peak, he lists the Pinotage and Dessert wines – Merlot Jerepigo and Pinotage Jerepigo – as his favourites.

Clearly passionate about his “babies”, Flip enthusiastically leads us on a tasting.

“Flip, you make good wines!” I say.

“I am only known here as Flip,” he grins. “Back in the Cape everyone still calls me ‘Dassie’.”

Info: http://cathpeakwines.com/