Though the picturesque area of Stellenbausch may be one of the most well know grape growing and wine making regions in the vast country of South Africa, there is a special gem not far outside of Cape Town against the Tygerberg Hills, making expressive, elegant wines from local vines.
Durbanville Hillsis about a 20 minute drive from the heart of Cape Town where acres and acres of luscious Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are grown. The region has been growing grapes for decades and selling off the juice to other wineries in Stellenbausch (about a 20 minute drive from Durbanville Hills) to be used for blending, though the juice had great character on its own and was destined to be more than a wine used for blending.
In 1998 Durbanville Hills winery was established to showcase the juice from this area from both their vineyards, as well as the vineyards of 8 other producers in the region. And they are making a lot of wine, roughly 1.7 million bottles a year.
Though primarily owned by Distell, best known for their Amarula Cream Liqueur, the vineyards they work with are also share holders in the Durbanville HIlls winery, sharing in the partnership to produce the best wine possible. Vineyard workers are also brought into this partnership with a trust established in 2000 giving them a 5% equity stake in the company. The winery follows some of the overall environmental focuses Distell maintains, mainly with following IPW, Integrated Production of Wine, practices keeping the environment as the focus when harvesting and transporting grapes, and wine production. Olive orchards have been planted in front of the cellar doors and in back to capture carbon dioxide produced during fermentation. The olive trees help turn this harmful gas into oxygen, reducing their overall carbon footprint.
The region is known for its Sauvignon Blanc, and Durbanville Hills produces three different variations. Their introductory label, Durbanville Hills Sauvignon Blanc made from grapes in from 5-15 different vineyard blocks, is light and refreshing. Something I enjoyed about many of the Sauv Blancs from South Africa is that they are filled with good grassy, green, herbal aromas followed by tropical fruit and winter melon flavors. They are not the grapefruit and lemon bombs of New Zealand, or completely the mineral rich French Sauv Blancs; these have good balance with bright flavors and appropriate acidity. The step up from the Durbanville Hills is the Rhinofields, made from 2-3 vineyard blocks filled with asparagus and green pepper with layers of papaya, gooseberry and herbal flavors. This was a favorite I tried with a few different meals from spinach quiche to Greek salads to corn cakes. The single vineyard range is the premium labels for Durbanville Hills. The 2009 Blesjes Craal Sauvignon Blanc was clean, balanced and elegant with grassy, vegetal aromas and rich tropical fruit flavors. All of the Sauvignon Blancs go straight from stainless steel fermentation into the bottle, surprising for this wine as a hint of creamy vanilla lingered in the after taste.
Another standout for Durbanville Hills is their Pinotage, the signature red grape for South Africa. They make one in both the introductory Durbanville Hills line, but the real standout was the 2009 Rhinofields Pinotage. A blend of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut this is a luscious wine with lots of cherry, berry, cloves and pepper. Though it is very fruit forward, not my usual choice in wine, the wine fits the area, as a heavy wine in the South African heat isn’t appealing, and this one comes with good balance and character. Durbanville Hills, like many of the wines of South Africa, are great bargains. With the exception of their two single vineyard reds, which retail around $35, all the wines in their portfolio average in price less than $20 a bottle, with most being around $15.