Helderberg: the St. Emilion of SA wine

Even with a disastrous 2013 Bordeaux vintage cowering weedily in the barrels, there can be little doubt that St. Emilion is as good as Cabernet and Merlot gets. Every serious wine producer has its own St. Emilion analogue: in Portugal Estremoz would be my call for Alentejo or Santar for Bairrada. The Helderberg is my SA candidate and lunch at Alto yesterday confirmed my opinion. Exhibit A is the Alto Cabernet Sauvignon 2001.

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Alto, part of the LUSAN group, is one of the vinous jewels in the crown of Distell and surely the time has come for the giant to buy the 50% of the business they don’t own from partner Hans-J Schreiber¬†who must be a keen seller judging by the recent gold price. Certainly Cape Legends marketing maven Ross Sleet (below) – well named indeed for yesterday’s weather conditions – admitted that Alto was a brand that had been somewhat neglected in the past and deserved more support.

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Alto celebrates its 90th birthday this year as does Madame May-Eliane de Lencquesaing across the valley on Glen Elley. These grand dames of Bordeaux-style wines are a few years younger than KWV who turns 96. But as the Paarl winery demonstrated at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show yesterday, there is life in these old gels yet, with KWV hailed as winery of the year. Quite a turn-around: from pariah to poster boy in a decade.

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With a beautiful new brand manager Simone (above) and a seasoned old winemaker Schalk van der Westhuizen Рwho was born and raised on Neethlingshof around the corner РAlto is well placed to be in the vanguard of the new quality wine push announced by Distell new CEO Richard Rushton to staff last week.

A producer of the kind of icons proud dads buy to celebrate the 21st birthday of their unborn sons. Something for Juan Louw, winemaker at Lemoenfontein¬†on the Partyberg (Swartland), to consider after wife Wilna’s ultrasound scan yesterday.