Diverse soils and the unique factors on Waterford Estate’s farm make for the production of some seriously interesting Mediterranean wines and blends – an opportunity Kevin Arnold identified and started to explore 22 years ago. Before planting the Waterford Estate vineyards, the winemaker also wouldn’t have known that these drought-resistant varieties would play an important role in years to come.
The Mediterranean people are not only known for their robust health and vigour, but also for their bold, unapologetic red wines. With a number of Mediterranean grape varieties taking up a fair share of land on Waterford Estate, the link to grapes that originate from countries on the Mediterranean coastline form an important part of our story.
It’s a chapter in the Waterford Estate history book that’s best appreciated while enjoying a glass of The Jem, our flagship wine. To understand the significance of experimenting with alternative Mediterranean grape varietals such as Grenache, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Barbera and Sangiovese on the estate, it’s also worth taking a step back in time.
When the Dutch East Indian Company established a supply station for fresh goods in Cape Town in the mid-17th century, the settlement took its first tentative steps to becoming one of the finest wine regions of the world. Soon after the Dutch settled at the tip of Africa, British and French settlers followed. And, in the late 19th and early 20th century, a significant number of Italians made South Africa their home. Along with these European immigrants came a culture of wine production, and a string of grape varieties.
For a long time, the South African wine industry focused on producing well-known varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. But, in recent years, lesser-known varietals from Europe made their way to our shores. When Waterford Estate managing partner and cellar master Kevin Arnold established the estate 22 years ago, he led the way in terms of introducing lesser-known Mediterranean varietals to the Stellenbosch wine region.
At a time when most other Stellenbosch wineries took a safer path by only planting the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Kevin backed himself by introducing a unique combination of Mediterranean varietals to the Blaauwklippen Valley. With Waterford Estate situated on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, yet high enough on the slopes of the Helderberg to catch the sea breeze from False Bay, experimenting with varietals that traditionally flourish in warm Mediterranean climates made sense.
Kevin and his team carefully selected sections on the property that reflected the soils of Spain, the South of France and Italy. The winemaker knew that the Mediterranean varietals he planted would flourish in what’s become known as the Stone Ridge Block on the estate – a rocky patch of earth that contains heavily weathered sandstone, decomposed granite and clay. And when a severe drought hit the Western Cape in 2017/2018, these varietals really came into their own.
But while the soils and climate of the estate mirror several key elements found in the Mediterranean region, other factors make this piece of land unique. Nowhere else on earth will you find the exact same combination of fauna and flora. Specifically, the fynbos of the area adds wonderful character to the wines, truly setting them apart from the wines produced in Europe.
Today, one only has to taste The Jem once to know that planting red varietals from Italy, the South of France and Spain in Stellenbosch was a smart move. The Platter 5-star wine masterfully expresses the diversity of the land, and encompasses everything visitors experience when spending time on the picturesque estate. The Grenache, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Barbera and Sangiovese all add subtle flavour and spice to the blend.
The Jem also echoes South Africa’s fascinating wine history. Made up of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, it gives a nod to the more traditional wines produced in the country. Yet, with the inclusion of lesser-known grape varietals from the Mediterranean region, and the unique expression of the Waterford Estate terroir, it’s a wine that simply cannot and is not replicated anywhere else.
Visit our online shop to order The Jem or any of our other award-winning wines or gift sets. We deliver free of charge in South Africa.
Please note deliveries are within South Africa only.