– Interview with Niel Groenewald – Interview with Niel Groenewald.


14 February 2011 – Murphy’s Law # 2 Nothing is as easy as it looks.

Morning everyone and happy Valentines day to all of you!

Hope you all get what your heart desire, lots of chocolates, flowers, soft toys etc, our economy needs to strive on some happpy feelings.

 I am in the fortunate position to have a partner that shows me I am special every day of the week, so no special treatment required. We celebrate Valentines day 365 days a year. What a bargain!!

Marti and I decided to celebrate our Valentines day on Saturday night already because of the crazy schedule that would follow for the next two weeks. We went for supper at the Woodlands Eatery in Vredehoek and once again an amazing experience!! I can recommend the Lamb pizza.

I have spent most of this weekend planning for the next two weeks of harvest and had to finalize my Executive MBA thesis. More about that later.

This is turning out to be a crazy harvest with all the grapes being ready at the same time. For that reason I will be going off line for the next two weeks but assure you that I will get the blog up and running and fill you in on all the activities as soon as it gets a bit calmer in the cellar.

I can only do that much and my main focus should now be to make the best possible wine for your enjoyment and every hour in the day counts towards achieving that goal. I get one chance at this a year, and that time is now.

Please forgive me for not continuing the blog for the next two weeks but hope that you will understand. Murhy’s law says “Nothing is as easy as it looks” and time is not on my side at this stage to challenge Murphy and prove him worng.

We started our Bernard Pinotage and Shiraz today and posted a picture of grape sorting. These wines are made in a small cellar within the larger cellar where we can sort the bunches and beries by hand to ensure the best berries go into the final product. The berries will then be fermented in open Frensch Oak barrels for maximum flavour and colour extraction.

The process is very labour intensive but worth the effort for our premium range. This range is like my children, the 4 legged ones Icon and Frodo (two English bulldogs) and deserves a lot of attention and tender loving care. See picture.

Icon and Frodo

 Will chat to you again after the 28th of February and bring you up to speed on all the fun we have been having..

Please feel free to send questions to my e-mail address or leave them on the site. I will attend to them as soon as possible.

All the best

The Bellingham Team

11 February 2011 – Pot Belly pie and Organic Shiraz grapes

I got up early, picked up a take away coffee on the West Coast road and head out to Darling. Left our home in such a hurry that I “forgot” my lunch bag, maybe my body wants to tell me something…forget the diet…Pepper steak pie from Pot Belly here I come!!

Met up with Stephan in the vineyard and the next weeks weather forecast. The weather predicted for Monday is hot, hotter and just plain bad for good winemaking.

A few quick decisions had to be made. We want to harvest our Bernard quality Pinotage, Chenin blanc, Shiraz and Viognier. All the grapes are close to optimum ripeness. This means it will take very careful planning to decide how we want to approach next week’s picking. Some blocks will be able to handle the 40 degrees being predicted but others will have to be harvested over the weekend before the big heat.

The Shiraz that we want to harvest will also be from an organic project that we started 4 years ago. It took the vineyard 4 years to be transformed from conventional farming to organic farming. This will be the first vintage of us handling this block as organic and will have to study the do’s and don’t of organic winemaking this weekend. 2011 will be the first vintage that we can print on the label “organic” or “made from organically grown grapes”. Very exciting!

My philosophy with organic or biodynamic has always been one of let the wine proof itself first and then we will tell the customer it is organic. The wine needs to be able to compete with the best of the best and should not get preferential treatment because of its organic status. I have tasted too many terrible organically grown wines and then people try to convince me of the quality BECAUSE it is organic. The wine comes first, then the way it was grown and I will never compromise on the quality of the final product.

After our visit to Darling I drove to the Bottelary hills outside Stellenbosch to evaluate our Pinotage high up on the hills. This can be a very good year for Pinotage. The bush vines are 30 years old and in balance, with a very low yield that will give good concentration and flavour. None of that horrible old style Pinotage flavours that I call hardware store flavours. Flavours that remind me of rusty nails, paint thinners does not belong in a wine and we focus on pure fruit, black berry, red cherries and some Christmas cake flavours. This we get right from sourcing the right grapes from the correct areas as previously mentioned in my diary.

This vineyard is about 300m above sea level and exposed to both the winds from Table bay and False bay. That means a long even, cool ripening process to maximize flavour and concentration of the fruit that we will be working with.

After 300km on the road I conveniently past Pot Belly Pantry on the R44 and stopped for that well deserved Pepper steak pie and water. Next week will become one of the most critical weeks in the harvest and I need all the strength this pie can give me right now. Have a good weekend.

10 February 2011- “Potjie kos” and Rousanne

I got a phone call last night from my Sister in Law, Anri. She is a second year at the University of Stellenbosch studying BSc. Agric Oenology, in short she wants to become a winemaker.

They had a Potjie and Punch evening at Heemstede, her dormitory, last night. I supplied her with the recipes for one of my favourites: a Oxtail and Banana curry pot and a litchi punch. Their section, Eternity won both categories. I will apparently now become a honoury member of the Eternity section in Heemstede for my small contribution. As reward I receive  my own apron branded with the slogan “ start a party anywhere”. Cannot wait to add it to my extensive collection of aprons from all over the world where I have been involved in cooking and having fun in kitchens.

From us at Bellingham we want to say:  Congratulations to Anri and her team, you made us proud!!

Anri is a familiar face at the Bellingham cellar, her cellar cloths and shoes already stained with the 2010 vintage red wines. My team is looking forward  seeing her get dirty again over the next couple of weekends gaining some harvest experience.

According to Wikipedia: “In South Africa, “Potjiekos” literally translated “small pot food”, is a stew prepared outdoors in a traditional round, cast iron, three-legged pot (the potjie) which is found in the homes and villages of people throughout southern Africa. The pot is heated efficiently using small amounts of wood, charcoal or if fuel is scarce, twisted grass or even dried animal dung.

  “Potjiekos”originated with the Voortrekkers, evolving as a stew made of venison and vegetables (if available), cooked in the potjie. As trekkers (pioneers) shot wild game, it was added to the pot. The large bones were included to thicken the stew. Each day when the wagons stopped, the pot was placed over a fire to simmer. New bones replaced old and fresh meat replaced meat eaten. Game included venison, poultry such as guinea fowl, wart hog, bushpig, rabbit and hare. Here is a link to the site where you can find the Oxtail and Banana Potjie recipe and many more.

Following the weather closely, me and Stephan decided to harvest the Rousanne yesterday afternoon. Rain was predicted for today and would dilute the flavours unnecessarily.

Rousanne is a new variety to South Africa and we have one of only two 100% Rousannes in the country. Our wine is called the Bernard Series Whole bunch Rousanne and a tribute to Bernard Podlashuk, original winemaker of Bellingham who bottled the first Shiraz (1957) and Rose from South Africa.

The Platter 2011 rated it with 4 red stars and I am very excited about the future of this variety. It is a brilliant food wine that gives you subtle flavours of Citrus, Litchi, Mango, Kiwi, spices and “fynbos”. The wine has an amazing mouth feel and rich texture balancing the flavour profile.

This 2009 Bernard Series Whole bunch Rousanne  has received very good publicity local and internationally. I have inserted a few snippets:

UK wine Journalist Olly Smith

“Peach-tastic! A complex and thrilling wine with honeyed depth, citrus edges and vivid purity. Within this bottle lies a fleshy and sexy white wine infused with an aromatic elegance. “

Caroline’s Fine Wine Cellar – South Africa

“A deeply individualistic wine with graceful wild Cape flowers, indigenous fynbos and herbal tea aromas supported by soft kiwi, tropical pineapple and peach kernel vivacity well-integrated with a subtly spiced finish laced with hints of honey richness. A unique white wine that delivers vibrant fruit and bracing freshness in youth, although still generous in structure to develop intriguing depth and dimension for up to five years in the cellar.”

Miss Bouquet – UK

“Dressed in a beautifully chic French boudoir style label it will look good in your basket and on your wine rack. The wine itself is full of kiwi fruit and gooseberry aromas with hints of herbal tea and peppery spices on the palate, lovely, crisp and dry on the finish. It’s a perfect example of creativity gone right

The next vintage will be ready around mid July 2011. Hopefully Marti and I have found the house we are looking for and can look forward sharing the experience with friends around an “Oxtail and banana pot”, chilled Rousanne  and lots of laughter.

Dare to be different, become a Maverick and try some Rousanne!!

9 February 2011- Murphy’s Law and Omelettes

I have a big poster in my office called Murphy’s Law. Looking at it always puts a smile on my face. Each day a different law catches my attention and keeps me solid on the ground. I have inserted a link to the origin of Murphy’s Law, it makes for some interesting reading

Today’s law: If everything seems to be going alright you have probably overlooked something.

Everything is going alright for now, so what have I overlooked?  I have checked all my e-mails, nothing outstanding, tasted through all my tanks fermenting, impressive to say the least. This can turn out to be an excellent vintage.

I have already bought a Valentines present on the weekend for Marti seeing that the only shop I will find open leaving the cellar will be the 24hour Engen One stop. So I cannot think of something right now that can go wrong, but at the end Murphy’s Law always wins…  Let’s focus on Lesson 3 of white winemaking for now while we wait for something to go wrong.

Winemaking 101: Lesson 3 – Settling of juice

Picture 1: Free run and press juice pumped to a stainless steel tank.

Picture 2: Juice is cloudy and best to visualize is imagining freshly squeezed apple juice.

Picture 3: The tanks are fitted with cooling bands that allows us to circulate ice water around the tank to drop the temperature to 10 degrees Celsius.This temperature allows sedimentation of juice to take place via gravity.

Picture 4 and 5: After two days of cold settling the juice will be pumped from the second valve of the tank to prevent pumping the sediment (lees) that forms in the bottom of the tank. The juice will be as clear as the apple juice you buy in the shop, very important that the cloudy and clear juice must have a greenish colour

Picture 6: The lees will be filtered and can add complexity and richness to the final wine but I will ferment it separately and blend back if needed.

I operate my cellar like one big kitchen. Imagine preparing a massive egg omelette. You break all the eggs separately, evaluate if they are healthy and only after evaluation add them to the mixing bowl. The same happens in my cellar.  Different juice qualities are kept separate, fermented to wine and blended after the quality of the resulting wine has been evaluated.

Need to go and taste some wine. Chat again tomorrow.

8 February 2011- Cybercellar and The Bernard series

I came home to a lovely chicken salad and a glass of Coke zero last night, completely forgot that we started our diet, no wonder I was starving during the afternoon. No steak, chips or large quantities of good wine until the weekend.

Life is good but we need to find the balance between the wicked, rude, obnoxious and expensive bathroom scale, our cloths in the cupboard and the food in the fridge.   I have tried for a long time to get the balance right but think with a woman’s touch the balance might be corrected sooner than later. Warning.. to not try to attempt this alone, a caring supporting partner will make the suffering so much easier.

We watched a bit of the varsity cup (recorded of course) and the Maties had a brilliant game and a good way to lift the spirit after a long day in the cellar.

I went to Cybercellar last week for a tasting. Our field marketer Miranda wanted me to present our Bernard range wines to this dynamic online wine company. It was so much fun! Young likeminded people talking about the power of online shopping, how they get involved with creating promotion and even use twitter and Facebook to connect with the customers.

They are even taking orders via Facebook and will be branching out to the USA. In my experience one of the most difficult markets to get a decent footprint for South African wine.  Well done Cybercellar!!. Attached is a picture of the staff in their Franschoek office. Check out Cybercellar’s website for more info and buying South African wine on line.

The Bernard series is our top range wine at Bellingham and named after the original maverick winemaker Bernard Podlashuk . You can read a bit more about the Bernard series at the following links.

The wines I presented were as follow:

The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin blanc

The Bernard Series Whole bunch Rousanne

The Bernard Series Handpicked Viognier

The Bernard Series Basket press Syrah

The Bernard Series Small barrel SMV.

I will try and post the tasting notes of these wines on the site. The short version is that this is the best of the best Bellingham has to offer. I have poetic and winemaker freedom to create weird wacky wonderful (how is that for a winemakers attempt at alliteration) wines. This range inspires a lot of experimentation that takes place in the Bellingham cellar and everything learned can be used in some of my other wine ranges.

We are harvesting some Chenin blanc today and promise to continue the winemaking lesson tomorrow. So much is happening that I will be able to type all day but for now I need to get into the cellar. Chat again tomorrow.

7 February 2011 – What does a Cat a cork and the Blue train have in common?…Bellingham

What a weekend? Relaxing indeed and the last one before the mad rush starts…and the Stormers won!!

The weekend just flew by but for a change there was no wind in Cape Town. What is better than a warm, wind still summer evening, sitting on the “stoep”, looking up at “our” Table Mountain, chatting till the early hours of the morning and sipping on a glass of ice cold Bellingham Chardonnay. The only noise in the background is that of our cat Isabel chasing after the latest cork we have popped from the bottle. Life is good!!!

Isabel has all the toys a three year old cat could dream off. Anything from electric mice, scratch poles, endless amounts of soft toys and even a tunnel to play hide and seek in. Her favourite past time…playing with a cork. Priceless….I must admit she is a cat with exceptional taste especially if she has a few corks to choose from and comes to rest and falls asleep with a Bellingham branded cork. Maybe she knows who buys her catfood…..

Bellingham was the first company in South Africa to brand corks. This already happened in the early 1950’s when the Maverick winemaker Bernard Podlashuck sold Bellingham Rose on the Blue Train (luxury train that runs between Cape Town and Johannesburg) and as incentive paid the stewards for every bottle they sold and cork they could produce as proof of sale. Soon he figure out that he was receiving more corks than stock sold on the train and started branding the cork. Only Bellingham corks after that was incentivised by him. Very clever!!

We are bringing in most of our outstanding Sauvignon blanc today. In total we will harvest 90 tonnes of grapes today. Imagine 180 000 blocks of lightly salted butter stacked in front of your door. That is the amount of grapes we will process today and is stacked in front of my door right now. This will become a very long day…..

I believe in site specific winemaking, choosing grapes from specific areas for their unique qualities. The Sauvignon blanc comes from two areas as previously discussed, Darling and Durbanville. These areas will give me the correct combination of tropical flavours and lovely mouth feel because of the cool Atlantic sea breezes lengthening the ripening process allowing more ripe flavours to accumulate without unnecessary high alcohols. We do not own any of our grapes. That makes Bellingham special and flexible enough to change with and ever changing market. Our growers and trusted partners will with good communication and relationships deliver the best quality grapes from different sites in the Western cape.

Another simple anology to explain why we moved away from being and Estate winery (all grapes grown on the same farm). Bellingham is one of the most successful international wine brands from South Africa. We want to be able to deliver the best example of the different varieties to you, our customers. Different countries look for different characteristics in our wines. For me to get that right I need the best possible grapes grown in the best areas. If you imagine your own garden as part of this explanation….All the flowers in your garden will not flower at the same time that means the quality of all the flowers cannot be at its best at the same time. It works the same with grapes. If you want to have the best Sauvignon blanc, best Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon and you have a window of 6 weeks to harvest it all, you have to grow them in different parts of the country. That is the reason why we have long term contracts with our growers in different parts of the country. They supply us with grapes that are fully ripe and express the best quality for a specific variety per vintage.

Harvest season is about staying calm if you get overwhelmed by 180 000 blocks of butter, good communication, and excellent dedicated team in the cellar and a PVR at home that can record the opening match of the Varsity cup tonight. Varsity Cup was some of the best Rugby I watched last year and my varsity team (Stellenbosch), winners of last year tournament will be playing the opening game tonight. Hold thumbs!!