In the 1650’s, while back-breakingly toiling to create fields at the end of a rutted
ox wagon trail; connecting with the small coastal outpost of Cape Town, farmers
also had to keep their ears tuned for a tell-tale shot ringing out from the heights
of Kanonkop (‘cannon hill’). Repeated by a string of relay-cannons, the booming
signal would eventually reach the remotest inland settlements; announcing the
arrival in port of a sailing ship requiring fresh provisions! Resupply and repair of
the Dutch East India Company’s Maritime fleet, at the southern outcrop of Africa,
was a compelling motivation in the 17th century for founding Cape of Good Hope
as a refueling station; critically positioned halfway between Atlantic home ports
in the Netherlands, and the Indonesian trade colonies of Batavia that lay across
the Indian Ocean and Java Sea. Included on the checklist of ships’ stores was a
need to replenish bottled spirits. The French Huguenot settlers–who had been
enlisted by the Dutch company recruiters–were quick to transplant grapevines
into this untapped agricultural paradise, then sell onboard the finished wines!
It was never an empty land, though; the fertile plains, valleys and microclimates
of Southern Africa have always been an alluring destination for migrant Peoples.
Up until roughly the 15th century, it was nomadic Swazi, Ndebele, Xhosa, Tswana
Zulu, and Sotho who had gradually moved themselves, their herds and cropping
expertise–from formerly traditional regions in central Africa into less-populated
areas further south. Despite a 350-year historical record of profound disparity
between these diverse African cultures and their German, Dutch, French and
English colonial counterparts, inflamed by dark periods of outright enslavement;
the 21st century is witnessing a profoundly revised and hopeful chapter unfold.
The Western Cape Province, including the colloquially titled Cape Winelands,
was one of the now-disreputable ‘white and coloured preferred’ zones during
the apartheid era. The heartland town and surrounding region of Stellenbosch
was no exception to this ethnic segregation; 25-years-on, it has blossomed into
the dynamic centre of the South African wine industry; hosts a world-renowned
university, and most importantly: is one of the leading examples of reconciliation
and ongoing redistribution of the benefits that this rich land offers. As for the
less-consequential pursuit of winemaking—don’t say that to the rightfully proud
local vintners—the homegrown and export market has never seemed brighter!
For this week’s DéClassé recommended winery DeMorgenzon (‘morning sun’),
the property’s name refers to its position on the crest of the high-altitude Kloof
Valley—so their vineyards are the first to see warming daylight. Enlightenment
abounds here, including the delightfully idiosyncratic practice of piping Baroque
music out over the grapes to stimulate development! Carl Van Der Merwe is
among a younger generation of SA winemakers whose modernized philosophy
also includes fostering vineyard biodiversity. The reintroduction of native flowers
and plants, while leaving select areas to flourish in a natural state, demonstrates
an eco-sensitive balance of land-use and a move away from sterile monoculture.
Though the DMZ sub-brand marks DeMorgenzon’s entry-level wines, the quality
of this Chenin Blanc bottling and its approachable price point is an auspicious
introduction that needs little more qualification than: it’s a freshly understated,
somewhat less-honeyed version; nonetheless flavourful, very well-crafted wine!
DEMORGENZON DMZ CHENIN BLANC 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #429522 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD
Made in Western Cape, South Africa
Release Date: October 31, 2015
This is a reasonably fulsome, bright style of Chenin with pear, apple, and light
citrus fruit aromas carried along into some subtle, honeyed-nut flavour notes.
Try serving with vegetable soufflé, butternut squash soup or Asian cuisine.