Living large at the smallest wine estate in South Africa

Jacaranda Wine Estate in Wellington Photo: Supplied

Jacaranda Wine Estate in Wellington Photo: Supplied

Published Jul 30, 2023


By Sanet van Rensburg

“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” – Galileo Galilei. Reading this quote for the first time in my early twenties, the charming depiction of wine did put a sassy spring in my step. It was however not until years later (and my first mouthful of old vine Chenin Blanc savoured on a terracotta stoep of the smallest registered wine estate in South Africa) that the penny finally dropped and I grokked what Galilei meant when he uttered these wise words. At the Jacaranda Wine and Guest Farm in Wellington, I essentially experienced the brightest of proverbial sunlight, held together by heavenly H2O.

In my opinion, Jacaranda is one of the Western Cape’s best-kept secrets. It’s hidden off the beaten track and somewhat reserved for those in the know. The farm is most likely stumbled upon as you meander through the back roads of rural Wellington, circling the majestic Groenberg Mountain. An unassuming entrance leads to the spot where husband-and-wife team Rene and Birgit Reiser, hand-make between 20 000 to 25 000 bottles of their unconventional wines annually. And where their first batch of virgin Method Cap Classique is waiting to see the light.

But first things first: Let’s be clear that I’m by no means formally trained in wine. However, I’ve always been rather curious about it. So, to form a fairly respectable opinion about the bouche beverage, I for 20-odd years during my travels, dedicated myself to sampling an array of fabulous and foul wines from across the globe – to only come full circle to be wildly surprised by a very different labour of liquid love, right here at home.

In my books, good wine is not so much about a big price tag, gold stickers or the size of the marketing machine behind it. What sets one bottle apart from the next, is its ability to tell compelling stories and indulge one’s own unique palate – whether trained or not. Good wine speaks bout innovation, sustainability and surprise. It’s a personal investment into frivolous pleasure; yet one that should never break the bank.

That is what makes Jacaranda Wines worth the repeat on anybody’s monthly shopping list, as it is not only borne from a long game that was defined by a wine farmer’s patience but a return to nature and tradition, when it comes to the choice of fruit and method of production. A former mechanical engineer turned self-taught wine alchemist, Rene and his witty, food virtuoso wife Birgit is a duo of salt-of-the-earth entrepreneurs, making an affordable yet inspired selection of wines, in a sustainable and interesting way.

Peek into a peculiar process

Over the past few years, wine regulations have slowly been changing. This was in part driven by a brigade of more experimental winemakers, who (like Jacaranda) do things a bit differently. These guys pursue alternative methods to make their magic, including natural fermentation, the use of low sulphites and the harvesting of old vines.

A key change to local wine rules, included the addition of categories to accommodate the classification of new styles, placing Jacaranda in the “Alternative Style” bracket. Wine producers and exporters body “Wines of South Africa” (WoSA), define Alternative Style wines as having completed malolactic fermentation, presenting a residual sugar content not exceeding 4g/l, and containing a total sulphur dioxide content of 40ppm or less.

Your eyes just glaze over? Don’t fret. In layman’s terms, this simply means that if you’re as dedicated to wine-guzzling as I am, you’ll be pleased to hear that the low sulphur and sugar content of such Alternative Style wines, sit in stark contrast to a lot of more conventional wines (which sees a considerable amount of sugar and sulphur added during the winemaking process). And in my experience, most conventional wines wreak havoc on my belly and brain the morning after. It does however seem logical, that the more natural a product, the better it should be for you, which earns Jacaranda its first tick in the lifestyle investment box from me.

Another interesting trademark of Rene and Birgit’s various vinos is their use of natural or wild fermentation. During this process, only the yeast naturally occurring on the skins of harvested grapes, is used to ferment wine. This differs from a more commonly used procedure, during which additional ‘industrial’ yeast is added to wine, to speed up fermentation.

But why is this important? Well, some argue that adding industrial yeast impacts the flavour of wine. What intrigued me, is the fact that a wide range of industrial yeast products has been created – each cultivated to develop either floral, citrusy or deeper notes when added to wine – depending on the result a winemaker is looking to achieve. Now this is also troublesome to the concept of “terroir”; the idea that exceptional wine should taste of the place it’s from.

Given that natural yeast is native to a specific vineyard or area, the theory is that using only this yeast (and refraining from adding industrial strains), provides a truer sense of the geographical origin of the wine, when tasting it. Luckily for us, Jacaranda embraces the natural ferment ethos.

I can harp on the virtues of Alternative Style winemaking and the myriad of cool quirks that made me fall in love with Jacaranda for hours, but before diving into the actual types of tipple, I’ll conclude this part of the story by touching on the vines themselves. Natural vineyard management underpins this farm’s sustainable and non-intrusive approach to making wine. A bit of a tree-hugging bee lover, this helps me sleep at night. With only 3.2-hectar planted with Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Mourvedre, the estate employs seasonal labour to top up fruit volumes for crafting their limited number of annual bottles, come harvest time. Grapes from a few local farms are carefully selected and hand-picked, after which the wine is made and bottled by Rene himself. Lastly, it’s fascinating to mention that some of the flagship wines at Jacaranda are rendered from vines that have been around for as long as 80 years.

* Van Rensburg is a freelance lifestyle investment writer

** See the related and new frequent feature Liquid Assets on Jacaranda’s range of wines