Background


From high on a black rocky hill a small boy looked down onto the vast sunburned planes of the Great Karoo. In the solitude, he did not feel alone. Instead, the emptiness inspired a dream. One day, the boy thought, I will work with nature to create something from nothing. Something that will last. The boy became a man, the man, became a lawyer and the dream remained just that. Until 1994.

Some 70 km from Cape Town and 9 km from the Atlantic Ocean in the district named Darling, a farm was for sale. Johan van der Berg decided the time had come and set to work.

First, the farm’s name, Hillside, which was not available for use as a wine label, had to be changed. Van der berg took his que from history and renamed the land Groene Cloof (meaning Green Gorge), at the early Dutch Settlers had. Next, the old Colombar and Bukettraube vines were ripped out and replaced with new plantings of Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc. Later, the white plantings of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were to follow.

In 1997, came the wine cellar with the capacity to process 1.500 tons of grapes. Finally, everything was ready for the first individually, privately owned wine cellar of the West Coast and Swartland Regions. And in 1998, the maiden vintage was bottled. There was so much cause for celebration. And within six months, discerning restaurants in world cities from New York to London were serving Cloof Pinotage and Cloof Cabernet Sauvignon.

At last, the dream was becoming a reality.

HISTORY

When the first Dutch Settlers sailed into Table Bay in 1652, the area along the Atlantic Coast from Blaauwberg and Koeberg towards Saldanha and bounded in the East from the Swartland by the Paarlberg and the range of hills stretching from the Dassenberg, across Baviaansberg and Langeberg to Klipberg, was home to the Cahoqua.

Their vast herds of livestock grazed the area until 1683, when officers of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) moved in and claimed it for themselves, the company’s directors, the Here XV11, then sent instructions to the Cape and on 27 June 1699 Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel issued the order: resumed trade with the Free Burgers in the area. And, so the area was formally settled and developed.

When in 1803, Commissioner JA De Mist visited “De Post De Groene Cloof”, he described what he saw in words still applicable today: “Een allerliefst situasie” (A very lovely situation).

From the Crest of the Dassenberg, the highest point on the farm Groene Cloof, are sweeping views of Table Bay, Table Mountain, Cape Town, Robben Island, Dassen Island and across the Simonsberg and Klein Drakenstein Mountain Range. The 1390ha farm stretches from the viewpoint, along the slopes – where 210 ha of vines are currently planted – down into the valley.

Groene Cloof is not only a wine farm. The fertile land also supports extensive wheat crops as well as herds of cattle and sheep. Each August, breeders gather for the annual Groene Cloof Dohne Merino Stud sale. And in 1996, 1000 Mission olive trees and 1000 Bianina orange trees were planted.

It is the terroir, or environment in which the vineyards are situated, that determine the quality of the grapes, independently of the vicissitude of the viniculture practices.

The success of the wine is, in the end, determined by the people toiling in the vineyards and in the cellar. The chemical composition of the soil, the vine density, yield and the timing of the harvest al play a part. Then, the wine maker steps in and orchestrates the pressing of the grapes and the complex art of fermentation, racking, filtration and maturing.

The Groene Cloof vineyard is divided into 25 different blocks, each separately numbered and comprising mainly Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. All the plants are bush vines and, beside pruning and pest control, there is no further interference with the growth of the plants, such as trellises or irrigation. It is mother nature who, ultimately, nurtures the crop.

Groene Cloof wines reflect the fine balance between man and nature. The result of man’s eternal gamble with nature. Each score, however, is only temporary. If you win, it is always with the distinct appreciation that sometime or another you will again return to the table to gamble again.

The irony remains that when you achieve everything you set out to achieve, you seldom know the reason why. And when you do not achieve you set out to do, you do not understand why not.

As true as it is that the errors may turn out to be some wines most exquisite ingredients, there still is too much indifferent wine produces from unique land. Tradition is not an acceptable excuse for incompetence. While it is relatively easy to produce respectable wines given fine land and a growing season, it is the skill in dealing with the lessor vintages which eventually sorts out the great from the good.

As the grapes pour into the cellar, the following year’s crop is already in the vine and so the winemaker’s mind already turns towards the next harvest. It is, then, an eternal journey to reach that ultimate goal – the excellent wines produced at Groene Cloof.

Cloof Estate
+27 22 492-2839