Named after owner Jeremy Ord, The Jem is Waterford Estate’s flagship wine. As the new vintage is released into the market, there’s cause for celebration.
The Waterford Way is to be prosperous, to flow with nature’s cycles, and to achieve longevity by perpetuating what has worked before. If there’s one wine that captures this philosophy, it’s The Jem.
Almost every activity at Waterford Estate is centred around creating this Platter 5-star-rated wine. A week or two before the new vintage is distributed to restaurants and shops across the globe, there’s a sense of excitement at the estate. “This year, it feels like we’re breaking barriers again,” says winemaker Mark le Roux. “The energy we felt when we first released The Jem in 2007 is back.”
This new vintage boldly talks to past experiences, smart decisions, experimentation, and steadfast consistency. Importantly, it talks to an estate that has matured over the course of two decades and which now comfortably sits among the best in the world.
Eleven years after The Jem was first released, the blend of estate-grown red varietals remains one of the best wines produced in South Africa. But with each passing year, the wine also tells a story of vineyards that are maturing, talented people who are honing their craft, and a winery that’s prospering despite tough environmental conditions.
When managing partner and cellar master Kevin Arnold planted the varietals that go into The Jem twenty years ago, he couldn’t have known that a severe drought would hit the Western Cape in 2017/2018. Still, Kevin and his team had the foresight to plant drought-resistant varietals, and now they’re enjoying the fruit of their labour. In a year in which the drought has dealt a heavy blow to the South African wine industry, Waterford Estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon harvest is up by a remarkable 23%.
Another sign that the estate is really coming into its own is the fact that, in September 2017, winemaker Mark le Roux was named South African Young Winemaker of the Year by the Tim Atkin Report on South African Wines. The success of The Jem contributed to this accolade, as did a one-of-a-kind relationship between the winemaker and viticulturist David van Schalkwyk.
Picking the wines that go into The Jem is a team effort. Once a year, Kevin, Mark, David and the rest of the crew gather around a table in the cellar to carefully choose which batch of each varietal is good enough to go into the blend. “We steer clear of the very bold, arrogant wines,” Mark says. Instead, each wine is selected to enhance and support the other wines. The aim is to create an elegant, perfectly balanced blend.
“We get to cherry pick which wines will make it into one of the greatest wines in the world,” adds Kevin. The exact percentages differ slightly from year to year, but The Jem always contains Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Mourvedre, Petit Verdot, Barbera and Sangiovese. Many of these are unusual grape varietals for the Stellenbosch wine region – part of what makes The Jem so unique.
Despite the fact that, by South African standards, The Jem is a fairly expensive wine, the greatest volume is still sold in this country – an achievement the team is incredibly proud of. Great care goes into producing each bottle, and it’s wonderful to see how this truly South African wine is appreciated by the local market.
In Mark’s words, The Jem is “the one wine that represents all” and which epitomises the authenticity, quality and craftsmanship for which Waterford Estate has become known.
Give it a try if you haven’t yet had the privilege – you won’t be disappointed.