Estate – an important indicator?

Yesterday, David Clarke tweeted the photo below with the announcement: An important word appearing on @JoostenbergWine labels from the 2015 vintage onwards…

Joostenberg ESTATE

It didn’t take much brain power to work out that ‘Estate’ is the important word in question. But why is it important, in fact is it important?

Clarke explained to me that the Myburgh family had decided ‘to apply for the registration as a unit for the production of estate wine’ (until 2003, estates were the smallest wine of origin, so a place rather than just a wine) because they want to focus on Joostenberg the place and the grapes grown on it with the current focus on vinifying small batches of the different varieties on the farm. In his own words, cellarmaster, Tyrrel Myburgh explains it thus: ‘We believe in the fundamental importance of origin (terroir if you like) and organics, estate vineyards, dry-farming are all part of unlocking this.’ The organic certification, done according to both EU and US standards, is done by Control Union, a European company.

What the Myburghs are not claiming is that the wines are better because ‘Estate’ is now on the label. It won’t be on every label at present, as Joostenberg wines were accorded ‘Estate’ status only from 2015. What it does signify is that the growing, winemaking and bottling processes all take place on their farm. A move they feel more beneficial, as it allows them to concentrate solely on their vines. Something they are doing in as honest and unmanipulative manner possible.

Now, I have huge respect for the Myburghs and their wines; Tyrrel has always shown a sensitive, deft hand and I know when I open a bottle of Joostenberg that it’ll be something to sip and enjoy. Even more so now that Tyrrel has taken his wines a further step up the ladder of distinction. Notes on a few of the Joostenberg wines David Clarke gave me to taste follow on the end of this piece.

I do, however, still view the Estate wine concept with some scepticism; that applies to every producer who may use the term.

Why? When you’ve gone to the trouble of focusing all the winegrowing and making processes on your farm in order to reflect its individuality, it would seem to make sense that the varieties planted there are the ones best suited to your area – soils, altitude, aspect and general microclimate. But the concept doesn’t address that, so is it better to have Estate on the label or to first make sure that the varieties planted have as good a chance as is possible to reflect their origin in the wine?

I know it’s easier for someone starting new vineyards today to match variety to site, but there are many who eschew owning vineyards, preferring to have agreements with growers where they believe site and variety are better matched to deliver wines of distinction.

I plan to explore this discussion further once harvest is over and winemakers have time to chat. But I did ask David Clarke, as an Aussie, who has been living in South Africa for three years now, what Estate means to him. ‘It would be incorrect to market the wines as being better; what it does signify is that the producer is being transparent and has integrity,’

I do wonder what, if anything, Estate means to the general wine-buying public. Perhaps it’s not quite as important as David Clarke’s tweet suggests.

Notes on a few Joostenberg wines. Prices are approximate retail All ferments are spontaneous, no new oak is used, barrels are usually 300 lt and 500 lt

Joostenberg Die Agteros Chenin Blanc 2015 R165 – Estate wine
From the farm’s oldest chenin block, planted 1982; has the concentration notable from old vines, with attractive earthy note from natural ferment. More vinous than fruity; dry with admirable persistence. Promises to evolve with age.

Joostenberg Viognier 2015 The Piano Man R130 – Estate wine
New and named for Micu Narunsky, winemaker who works with Tyrrel and who started life as a jazz pianist. I’ve long been an admirer of Tyrrel’s ability to blend with viognier without it standing out like a sore thumb. Here though, he gives it rein to express itself. Although it’s weighty, with a taffeta-like texture, there’s still refinement in its multi-dimensional fragrance, with the delicacy of apricot and white peach blossom as well as the fruits themselves.

Joostenberg Family red blend 2014 – R85
Terrific value blend of 88% syrah, 11% mourvèdre, 1% viognier. Satisfying yet easy-drinking in Côtes-du-Rhône style with plentiful spicy, meaty, red fruit; a savoury mouthful backed by just enough tannic grip. Don’t miss this one.

Joostenberg Philip Albert Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 – R145
Another new addition to the range, named for Tyrrel’s father and grandfather. A proper cabernet showing unintimidating austerity, pure yet unshowy fruit (again the earthy veil that results from natural ferment), moderate alcohol and good balance. Not a long-term wine but well-read in a difficult cab vintage.

16 thoughts on “Estate – an important indicator?

  1. No single qualification makes a wine good. The term in itself (good) is totally subjective, making it almost meaningless. Sure, wine must be delicious or good (which would be different for each individual) and the same goes for beer, breakfast, lunch and supper. For me origin defines the winemaking craft and is hugely important. For me good wine must be both delicious and authentic.
    Estate certification is part of the journey towards authenticity and it doesn’t mean we have the perfect plantings, yet.

    1. Tyrrel, I agree with your statement that no qualification makes a wine good, which I can’t see is something I’ve written. I also agree that origin is important, but so far our identification of origin is on a large scale – it appears Constantia and Durbanville are well suited to sauvignon, Elgin to chardonnay and Hemel en Aarde to pinot noir (but other varieties all do well in each of these areas). If you feel Estate certification helps you achieve authenticity, not the same as a reflection of origin, then I’m not going to complain, because I know you are a serious and honest producer, but for me and I guess much of the wine buying public, it is what’s in the bottle that matters rather than what’s on the label.

      1. Hi Angela,
        Sorry, I didn’t intend to imply that your article implied that any one qualification makes a wine “good”…..I was rambling on a bit!
        You’re right that most consumers only care about what’s in the bottle, and often they seem to care more about price and branding.
        I do think that a small group of dedicated winos (producers, passionate wine consumers, somms, journalists etc.) care about the link between site and wine, and that this group has an influence on the world of wine. Hopefully estate certification means something to some of these people some of the time. For me it’s more about a personal journey….trying to figure out what’s best for my site. The estate certification is a way of communicating this, gotta tell the story, but I doubt many consumers will notice.

  2. Angela, it is because of the lack of understanding in Estate Wines that the significance isn’t important to you as media and the general consumer. Do you know that through the media and PR releases everyone talks about: “come taste wines from over 50 Estates including Altydgedacht, Diemersdal, Kanonkop, Robertson Winery, Two Oceans…” for instance. So in the consumer mind every producer is an Estate!! On the flip side…many Estates are using their Estate Brands to create a perception of quality with wines they buy in for a cheaper volume range, yet when you read their backlabel they refer to their Estate property. Is this not fraud??

    Anyway i personally am passionate about Terroir/Site Specific Wines which includes Estate Wines and share the sentiments of Tyrrell and David that it is not meaning its the best, but its authentic and true to its place!

    I would gladly sit with you and also discuss this in more details, because i feel there is a big flaw in the system with Estate Wines as well. However, i also think we do have a USP in SA where we have to bottle 100% from the Estate to label it as such, in other countries you can blend from outside up to 30% and still call it Estate.

    1. Colyn, first thanks for your input. I disagree with you about not understanding Estate wine, I understand very well what it’s about but you’re right that many media don’t and even fewer consumers; the terms is used as a catch-all. The concept of the Estate, prior to the change in 2003, was also difficult to grasp because there were so many exceptions and looking at the regulations now, there still are several producers who can append Estate to their label when the fruit comes off a piece of land not contiguous with their others.
      Not sure I get you when you say Estates are using their Estate brands to create a perception of quality with bought in wines – that’s illegal, the Board would reject such labels.
      I believe we need to differentiate between authenticity, which is signalled by Estate and wines reflective of place, which, even with Estate designation, aren’t always.

      1. I know you understand it but the majority don’t! i do not agree with the fact that you can bottle a wine under your Estate name when the wine is not from your estate or even made on your estate. the only difference on the label is that it cannot state ‘Estate Wine’. For the rest the label and brand name is exactly the same. So the consumer thinks i am drinking this wonderful wine from this producer when the producer didn’t even touch a leaf of that vineyard where the grapes are from.

        We should clarify this designation more and it should also be talked about more by every producer. Single Vineyard registration has become more and more popular now and consumers are probably understanding that concept a lot better.

        Importantly from my side is that we are talking about the top/premium spectrum here. Estate Wines should be taken more seriously in creating that! I would like to know what value a Kanonkop, Meerlust, De Wetshof, Overgaauw etc put on bottling Estate Wine??

    2. “, in other countries you can blend from outside up to 30% and still call it Estate.”

      The French (to name just one nation) would disagree. See Burgundy

  3. Estate is important to me.

    RSA has, I think more than any other new world country, a very defined appellation system based on origin of the grapes. ‘Estate’ classification further reduces that region of origin to the limits of the winery boundaries.

    Does it make the wine better, no. But it does bind the origin with the winery. A consumer – e.g. me, can look at a map and say ‘that’s where it was grown and made’. It’s the equivalent of a Bordeaux chateau.

    Its true that not everyone understands what Estate means, but then not everyone understands anything about wine and appellations. (And even geeks struggle with Coastal, wazzat?)

    So, a registered estate may be growing grapes unsuitable to their terroir. I don’t see that negates the idea of Estate. The market will stop buying poor wines nomatter what the WO.

    I think that the word ‘estate’ in RSA should be used more precisely and its use enforced.

    For example, an estate wine should use ‘Estate Wine of Origin xxxxxx’. It is noticeable that the label shown above does not.

    Since the (good) change in wine law that an estate can make both Estate wine and wine from bought in grapes under its own name as long as it doesn’t use the word Estate on the non-estate wine I think it’s important that the WO statement makes it clear which is the Estate WO

    However I understand there are wineries that are not regisered as estates that use Estate in their name — e.g Backsberg Estate Cellars, how can the consumer be other than confused?

    1. Hi Peter, thanks for your input. Like many, I think from what you write, you’re a bit confused exactly what an Estate wine is these days. Below is the notice from the Wine & Spirit Board outlining the new R & Rs. I have to admit, Estate is of little importance to me, the individual producer with his/her philosophy and knowledge/understanding of what makes a quality wine and the ultimate quality that leads me to decide whether or not to buy the wine.
      2 April 2003
      We would like to bring the following resolutions passed by the Board on
      11 March 2003, to your attention. These resolutions follow after submissions
      and representations of the Cape Estate Wine Producers’ Association.
      The concept estate as the smallest demarcated origin area falls away with effect
      30 June 2003 and the emphasis will in future be on “estate wine”. The removal
      of the existing estates as origin areas is the only method whereby estates will be
      allowed to also use their names as trademarks on wine not marketed as estate
      wine. The definition of an existing estate will be repealed, but will
      automatically be registered by the Board as a production unit for “estate
      wine” under the requirements mentioned hereafter.
      In the new dispensation, vineyard production units (i) adjoining each other,
      (ii) farmed as a single unit and (iii) with a cellar in which all processes up to
      final certification are completed (grown, made and bottled) may apply to the
      Board for registration as an unit for the production of “estate wine” under the
      name concerned, subject to the requirements set by the Board. “Estate wine”
      may thus be produced only from grapes harvested on the registered unit.
      The name concerned can also be used as a trademark in respect of non- “estate
      wine”, but the name will not be protected by the Liquor Products Act or the Wine of
      Origin Scheme. The onus will be on the owner concerned to make sure that the name
      is protected in terms of trademark legislation, and the owner will be responsible to
      take the necessary civil steps against any infringements on the trademark.
      Producers of “estate wine” will be responsible for the direct costs incurred by
      any additional control measures, which might be required or have to be applied,
      to verify and certify the claims made in respect of such wine.
      The word “landgoed”/“estate” may therefore only be used in respect of wine
      certified as estate wine. As registered estate names will not be recognised as
      wine of origin areas in terms of the Liquor Products Act, the expression “wine
      of origin” followed by the name of the production area in which the registered
      unit is situated, will have to be indicated on labels of “estate wine”.
      All existing stocks (bulk and bottled), which are on certification records as
      estate wine on 30 June 2003, may still be certified as estate wine originating
      from a demarcated estate.
      These new directions will come into effect on 1 July 2003 and from the 2004
      harvest all “estates” will have to comply with the amended requirements set out
      above. However, if there are existing producers of estate wine who might
      experience practical difficulties to comply with the new directions with regard
      to (a) non-adjoining land or (b) that all processes be completed on the
      registered unit, such producers must furnish the Board with written motivations
      regarding their specific circumstances on or before 31 October 2003 for
      We trust that the above is clear to you, but should you require any further
      information, you are welcome to contact André Matthee (021 – 807 5703) or
      writer hereof.
      Yours truly
      HUGO VAN

  4. I think I’m clear what an estate wine is, as per

    ” vineyard production units (i) adjoining each other,
    (ii) farmed as a single unit and (iii) with a cellar in which all processes up to
    final certification are completed (grown, made and bottled) may apply to the
    Board for registration as an unit for the production of “estate wine” under the
    name concerned, subject to the requirements set by the Board. “Estate wine”
    may thus be produced only from grapes harvested on the registered unit.”

    which is effectively the same as the previous estate. system

    Maybe I’m not clear on identifying one from the label, e.g. this bit of the regulation quoted
    “in terms of the Liquor Products Act, the expression “wine
    of origin” followed by the name of the production area in which the registered
    unit is situated, will have to be indicated on labels of “estate wine”.”

    So if a registred estate doesn’t have to put ‘Estate Wine of Origin xxxx’ but can put just
    ‘Wine of Origin xxxx’ and somewhere not registered for producing estate wines can use the word estate and also put ‘Wine of Origin xxxx’ — errr, my head hurts.

    And isn’t ‘Western Cape’ also the name of a production area?

    1. Hi Peter,
      The new (2003) regulations aren’t quite the same as the old ones, as the wine didn’t have to be raised and bottled on the estate (think the Bergkelder, which oak-aged and bottled wines for the majority of their ‘estates’. And, as always there are some exceptions to the vineyard units adjoining each other, there are a few which don’t, but are still able to append Estate to their label.
      As to the ooint you’re not clear on. Estates, as a place, used to be the smallest Wine of Origin. Estate now refers to a wine rather than the place, so doesn’t fall under the WO system.
      Western Cape is a geographical unit, so doesn’t qualify for WO!
      I really don’t blame anyone for ignoring this whole issue and just buying the wine they like and fits their price bracket.

  5. Hmmm

    “Western Cape is a geographical unit, so doesn’t qualify for WO!”

    Have I been imagining labels printed Wine of Origin Western Cape?

    I don’t want to ignore the Estate issue.

    Since I misunderstood it, while I have been doing my best to understand it, a future post from you could explain exactkky what Estate means, and how a consumer can recognise an estate wine.

    I buy Kanonkop.

    All their wines, apart from the Kadette range, are labelled as Kanonkop Estate, grown produced and bottled on Kanonkop Estate and Estate Wine of Origin Simonsberg-Stellenbosch

    The Kadette range which includes bought in grapes does not have the Estate anywhere on the label and says Produced on Kanonkop and Wine of Origin Stellenbosch.

    That seems very clear to me

    1. Apologies, now I’m confusing myself. Of course there’s WO Western Cape!
      The best way of recognising an Estate wine is, I’d say, via Estate being on the label. That should always be the simplest way, if anything is simple about this designation!

  6. For me the most important aspect of the concept Estate is authenticity, as noted by Tyrrel. Coupled with this is honesty and transparency.

    Tyrrell, I will now increase my buying of your wines.

    1. Thanks for your input, John but may I ask whether you think producers such as Eben Sadie and the Mullineux’s aren’t authentic, honest and transparent. Neither are producers of estate wines – and there are many other top producers who aren’t either.

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