A family affair

Back in the day (that’d be the 1970s/80s), visitors to the few independent wineries around would have found a wide range of wines to choose from. In their efforts to attract wine lovers away from the then all-dominant big guys like Stellenbosch Farmers Winery and Distillers, these smaller operations had to make sure they had a wine to suit every customer. Some also saw it as an opportunity to experiment with new varieties and see which worked best, both in the vineyard and the marketplace.

For anyone who never experienced this era, it took the independents a great deal of courage to bottle and sell their own wine; the producing wholesalers, on whom most relied to buy the bulk of their grapes or wine, could easily refuse to do so if they thought the independent producer was offering too much competition. In other words, going it alone could be commercial suicide.

This was particularly true of an area like Robertson where the co-operatives dominated and independent wineries were minnows by comparison. Checking through the first 1980 edition of Platter, just four non-co-operative Robertson wineries are mentioned (there may have been others not included): De Wetshof Estate, Mont Blois Estate, Rietvallei Estate and Excelsior. Only Excelsior was open to the public, the others were all marketed by the Bergkelder (part of Distillers), so carefully controlled ‘competition’.

Van Loveren might not have featured in the first guide but plans must’ve been far advanced to launch the first wine, as on 23rd October 1980 Van Loveren Premier Grand Cru, a chenin blanc, was released. Robertson then was better known for jerepigo and brandy, the latter made from chenin blanc and colombar but a dry white wine was considered a curiosity. Chardonnay, pinot noir and other red varieties were still light years away.

Van Loveren Premier Grand Cru, the Retiefs first bottled wine.

Wynand Retief, who made that first Van Loveren Premier Grand Cru, told guests at the 30th anniversary of the launch, it took a year to sell the 500 cases. Undaunted, by the time the farm first appeared in the 1983 Platter, a fernão pires and a hárslevelü, both 1982 had joined the range – remarkably both were firsts in the Cape. There’s confidence for you! The Retiefs were also quick to pick up on fashion. Muscat Blanc de Noir arrived in 1983, following the success of Boschendal’s maiden 1981. Wynand recalled his father’s wise advice, ‘You have to be able to give every consumer who visits what they want,’ so the range continued to grow.

 

 

 

After completing their studies, Wynand and Nico’s four sons joined the farm and in 2000, the Four Cousins range was introduced; the rest is history of this biggest-selling bottled wine brand.

Neither time nor the Retiefs stand still; there are always new consumers and a new generation of wine lovers to satisfy. Enter the Christina van Loveren premium range around the time of the 30th anniversary. No surprise again, then, when earlier this year, the ‘Almost Zero’ range was introduced. As Van Loveren CEO, Phillip Retief reasons: ‘Almost Zero taps into consumer lifestyle changes and especially the growing trend of fitness-focused healthy living that is driving innovation of low-alcohol and alcohol-free products. It caters to the very specific need to have a non-alcoholic drink that still has a distinctive wine character.’

Perhaps the ‘distinctive’ is optimistic but the three – um, de-alcoholised drinks (with just 0.4% alcohol, they cannot legally be called wine) – Wonderful White, Ravishing Rosé and Radiant Red do have a surprising amount of flavour. Briefly, these start as wine before being spun on a cone, where the alcohol evaporates. There’s obviously skill in retaining flavour; these contrast with many, far more insipid low alcohol wines, though the white and rosé are more successful to my taste than the red. Expect to pay around R70 for each.

Heritage and family are very important to the Retiefs. When Wynand and Nico’s parents, Hennie and Jean bought the farm in 1937, they named it after Jean’s ancestor, Christina van Loveren, who, with her husband, sailed from Holland to the Cape in 1699. With her, Christina brought her bridal trousseau chest. Passed down the generations, today it is admired in the Van Loveren tasting room.

They have also inspired the latest release from Van Loveren (although the farm’s name is only mentioned on the back label and in reference to Christina’s arrival in South Africa). Christina Trousseau Pinotage 2017 celebrates the heritage of family and South Africa’s own variety in grand style; in case anyone isn’t immediately aware on sight of its standing, just lift the bottle – sadly, its weight will still impress some wine lovers. Surely the sustainability wineries claim to be practising should extend to packaging? But to the wine, which, when I first read the press release, puzzled me, as I had no idea trousseau, a red variety from the Jura, was available in South Africa, let alone a permitted variety for making wine! Reading further, the true meaning was revealed. So, it’s pure pinotage in modern garb, with plush, ripe mulberries embellished with very good new oak. Rich in texture with the sort of seamless structure that the impatient can enjoy now, that structure is also sound, as it proved after the wine was open for three or four days. The wine should age well and gain in interest as it does so. In terms of prestige pricing, R250 ex-tasting room is hardly excessive.

I was going to end by pondering what the four cousins would be leaving for their children to introduce to Van Loveren but then I received the news that they’ve acquired the Zandvliet wine brand from the current owners of the farm, ANB Investments. According to Phillip Retief, ‘Acquiring the Zandvliet brand is part of Van Loveren’s long-term growth strategy and is an exciting addition to our core portfolio.’ Thinking ahead, thinking smart. I think even my colleague, Tim James, who recently wrote a little cynically about ‘Family Vineyards’, would agree Van Loveren Family Vineyards is indisputably a family affair.

8 thoughts on “A family affair

  1. Hi, Angela

    I’m still confused as to why the wine has “Trousseau” in the label. So the cultivar is absent from the blend and from your description of the wine, it is way too plush and rich to be realistically compared with typical Jura wines. Can you elucidate?

    1. Sorry for the confusion but I thought I’d made it clear earlier in the article that trousseau is the marriage chest Christina van Loveren brought with her to South Africa. There is absolutely no relation to the Jura variety; the wine is 100% pinotage. Perhaps I shouldn’t have even reflected on my initial puzzlement at the name when reading the press release. Hope this clears up your confusion.

      1. Haha, no worries – my bad. It’s partly a language thing (I’m Afrikaans), partly a frame of reference thing (marriage/hope chests are are outside of mine) and partly a purist thing (I love Jura wines and it seems sacrilege to lend such a prominent Jura term to a rich, plush wine – a bit like “Toasty Chablis” or “Pinot Tar”).

      2. I could’ve made it clearer in the penultimate paragraph but at least you know I’m not referring to the trousseau grape as making rich, plush wine! I too love Jura wines, speaking of them as rich & plus is unthinkable.

  2. It’s not a language thing, Kwispedoor. Trousseau is the name of a grape variety and I thought too when reading the press release is that the wine is a blend on Trousseau and Pinotage. (I’ve recently had a Barbera Pinotage blend)

    I’m suprised the W&SB allowed the confusing name.

    BTW, weren’t Van Loveren way way ahead of fashion? It’s only now that Hárslevelü is beeing touted as ‘the next big thing’!

    1. Heh-heh, what I meant by language and frame of reference was in connection with specifically the non-vinous uses of the word Trousseau. But yes, still strange.

      I remember Van Loveren’s Hárslevelü and Fernão Pires. In fact, I remember taking a Van Loveren’s Fernão Pires 1991 along on a boozy student’s weekend. It didn’t provide very impressive drinking, but it worked a charm cleaning up a bushdiving wound on my arm.

      Van Loveren is now mostly a commercial concern that follows current trends, but it could have been interesting indeed if they let those (presumably not very old at the time) vineyards mature. There’s enough evidence in a bottle of Blankbottle Kortpad Kaaptoe to suggest that Fernão Pires has promising prospects in the Cape – provided it’s handled in the right way, of course. The same can be said of what Lammershoek has been doing with Hárslevelü.

      1. That’s a little dismissive of what you have to admit is a hugely successful commercial concern, Kwisp! Did you ever have Janey Muller’s Lemberg Hárslevelü from the early 1980s? That was a wonderfully distinctive wine and really showed what the grape could do here with the right tlc.

      2. I suppose you have it fairly spot-on, Angela. I’m only a little dismissive, but with no vitriol. And of course they are a huge commercial success. Hugely successful (in terms of volumes sold) movies, wine, music, etc. are normally just for a different market than myself, is all.

        The Fernão Pires story is a real one (we didn’t plan for medical emergencies and were in a remote area) and I thought quite a funny one, especially because the wine did and excellent job. Looking at the price and style of the wine, I don’t think Van Loveren themselves had many loftier ideals with it than to provide something quaffable and new. And they certainly provided in this student’s quest at the time to try any new kind of wine I could lay my hands on.

        I read about Janey’s wines from the eighties, but unfortunately never had the privilege of tasting them.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s