What's in a name?

Did you mean “Zonnebloem Michael Buccholz”? Asks Google of the wine hack researching a story on the new Limited Release wines from Zonnebloem. Google’s confusion is to be expected as the Distell website lists it both ways. But then Google itself is a misspelling of googol, that famous large number starring one hundred zeros (or 333 bits if you’re feeling binary). As Shakespeare might have noted, a Bucholz by any other name would smell as sweet and these Limited Releases do just that. My thoughts in this week’s edition of the Financial Mail.

 What's in a name?

The Zonnebloem Fine Art brand was launched in 1996 and was easily the best thing to come out of the worst vintage of the decade. Each year, fine artists would compete to design labels and the winning ones would badge top-of-the-line Zonnebloem bottles. The idea was not new – Château Mouton in Bordeaux has been doing it since the mid-forties, around the time the Zonnebloem brand was founded and served to the Windsors on the Royal Train as it processed around SA after WWII.

Artists and consumers loved the Fine Art brand but restaurateurs hated it – each vintage appeared with a different label which confused the waiters. So the idea was quietly dropped.

Top-end Zonnebloem production is now branded “limited release” and a trio of them was recently showcased to the press over lunch at the Palmiet Valley Estate, one of those undiscovered gems of the Cape Winelands hacks hesitate to praise in the selfish desire to keep the secret for themselves and their friends.

Palmiet Valley lies in the shadow of the Du Toitskloof mountains. Literally so, as you take the last exit from the N1 before the Huguenot Tunnel and head for the hills. The estate is a tale of 13s and 17s. The original herenhuis was built in 1717 and rebuilt in 1753 after it burnt down.

The current owner, a German-born financier, is the 17th seigneur and the first non-French one. There are 13 suites and 13 ancient guava trees line the driveway. The rooms have no TVs so unless you play golf or are on honeymoon, there is absolutely nothing to do except contemplate the mountains and gobble gourmet grub. The German-born chef was previously sous-chef to Pierre Hendricks of Le Bon Vivant fame, the insider’s tip as best restaurant in Franschhoekfranschhoekcellarwines What's in a name?
by franschhoekwines
. Dinner is served under spreading oaks that double as homes to families of woodpeckers.

Limited Release is probably the best value for money wine brand in SA. The 2008 unwooded Semillon costs all of R58 and has serious palate weight. Why no wood? Zonnebloem cellarmaster Michael Bucholz replies gnomically “wood is the dance floor, not the curtain.” This one certainly shows a nimble pair of heels on the palate and is made from low yield bush vine fruit grown on the Paardeberg.

As Bucholz notes “we have 28 growers and 25 of them are third generation – their fathers and grandfathers supplied grapes to us.” It is this continuity that ensures quality.

Deon Boshoff is the white winemaker and was responsible for both the Semillon and a luscious Sauvignon Blanc 2008, one of the best from a difficult vintage. The grapes all hail from Darling, an appellation imparting a distinct khakibos flavour. The R55-R60 price point is competitive.

Bucholz calls 2007 “the vintage of the decade” and on the evidence of the Limited Release 2007 Shiraz, it is hard to disagree. A true cellar wine, it is wonderfully light (13.5% alcohol) and elegantly fruited and the R80 asking price comes at a serious discount to quality.

Leaving all that remains for the Zonnebloem team, a sharp label redesign as if waiters struggled with fine art labels, “limited release” printed on the bottleneck will surely cause confusion in the kitchen. But then, with only 1500 litres made of each wine, perhaps savvy consumers will be restaurateurs to the draw.