Background


THE ENIGMATIC FACE OF DE TOREN PRIVATE CELLAR

Almost five centuries have elapsed since Leonardo da Vinci blessed the world with his most esteemed and mesmerising portrait of a woman renowned for her secret wistfulness. The Mona Lisa has the innocent disadvantage of being too famous. It can only be seen behind thick glass in a heavy crowd of awe-struck sightseers in the most famous of all art galleries, the Louvre in Paris. Although many have tried to mirror her inward amusement, the Mona Lisa remains intact in its magic, forever defying the human insistence on comprehending. Its a work that we can only gaze at in silence.

With an artistic flair seldom associated with his trade, up and coming South African winemaker Albie Koch refers to the vineyards of De Toren Private Cellar as a painters palette. Situated in the world-renowned Stellenbosch wine lands, the farms highly acclaimed grapes represent the paint while its unique cellar serves as the canvas on which Koch intends to paint the Mona Lisa of the red wine industry.

Named after the unique five varietal blend, Fusion V is truly a labour of love where the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot are gently married to form a truly unique South African blend. Fusion V also marks a welcome return to the tried and tested traditional wine-making methods of the French masters. With old worldly passion and a new worldly commitment to quality, De Toren Private Cellar is, if youll pardon the pun, perfectly positioned to ensure consumer after-glow.

CLEVER CUSTODIANS

Newcomers to the wine industry, Emil and Sonette den Dulk left the bustling metropolis of Johannesburg in 1991 to seek solace in the serene surroundings of Stellenbosch -- described by many world travellers as the most beautiful and scenic wine-producing region in the world. Says the proud owner of De Toren Private Cellar, "The Polkadraai Hills, where our farm is situated, is the undiscovered jewel of the South African wine industry. Were simply delighted to have stumbled upon this little piece of heaven."

A savvy businessman, Emil first of all, with the help of specialists from the University of Stellenbosch, developed a 25 year development plan for the farm, then scrutinised the wine industry in search of a niche market. A chance meeting in 1997 with one of South Africa’s and the worlds leading winemakers, was indeed an unexpected collision with destiny.

The concept of a gravity fed winery, basket pressing and hand harvesting of the five Bordeaux grape varieties could only be a winning formula. The system of a 4000 litre pressure tank in a lift shaft as a pump, hand sorting conveyors and a basket press has since been implemented to perfection on our farm and produces excellent, complex and well balanced wines.

The entire production cycle at De Toren Private Cellar will result in Fusion V becoming one of the first South African wines to qualify for IP (Integrated Production) certification. It will be awarded by the Wine and Spirit Board and will serve as an environmentally friendly stamp of approval. Producing South Africas first five varietal blend will be a milestone in itself. The maiden batch of Fusion V, is likely to hit the international market towards the end of the year 2000.

Says Emil, "Our commitment to a quality product and first class service and distribution is absolute. Profit margin is not my main concern; satisfied consumers are! Fusion V is crated in attractive wooden boxes (each containing 12 bottles), complete with an informative brochure and re-ordering form."

TERRIFIC TERRIOR

"A vineyard with a view of the ocean is a good vineyard." Thats the word from David Saayman, soil scientist at the Distillers Corporation in Stellenbosch. His expert opinion was called upon when De Toren Private Cellar first set out to plant the four remaining cultivars to be used in their five varietal blend. In the past only Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc were produced on the farm. A thorough analysis of the 25-hectare property in 1996 revealed seven different soil types, each of which required a different cultivar clone to maximise the wine complexity.

The cultivar and rootstock selections were done to complement the soil types. Specifically the prolific growers like Malbec was planted on the poorer soils like Sterkspruit/Katspruit and Kroonstad/Estcourt, where Merlot was planted on Oakleaf/Tukulu and Tukulu/Pinedene. Planting width of the vines was also altered depending on the soil, cultivar and rootstock. Reflecting on the farms setting, David praised the farms southerly view of False Bay. "Situated on the southern slopes of the Polkadraai Hills, the farms soil is relatively cool and the water drainage is good. Add to that a constant breeze from the ocean and the farm is air-conditioned to perfection in a predominantly warm wine region. The altitude, ranging from 170 to 200 metres, is ideal while the soil is also not too fertile -- which is exactly whats required," says David

Although certain wine labels still persist with absurd references to fertile valleys, David Saayman is quick to invalidate the myth. "You just dont grow quality grapes in fertile valleys. The well-informed plant their vineyards higher up, on the less fertile slopes where moderate growth will ensure optimal crop load.

"In the so-called fertile valley, a vineyards growth may become so excessive and vulgar that its grapes are neglected -- almost like an good-looking bodybuilder who is impotent."

RISING TO THE CHALLENGE

At 24 Albie Koch, our wine maker may be young, but already he boasts an impressive curriculum vitae which includes practical experience at cellars like Perdeberg Co-op in Paarl, South Africa; Quail Ridge Wine Cellar in California, USA; Bellingham in Franschhoek, South Africa; and 2 years with Chateau Capion in Montpellier, France.

In the small boutique red wine cellar at De Toren Private Cellar, Albie Koch pours out his heart and soul. He is passionate about his work. Producing a red wine of exceptional quality -- a Bordeaux-styled blend to be precise! -- is what Kochs after. And if his energetic enthusiasm is anything to go by, Fusion V will take the world by storm.

"A close working relationship between winemaker and vineyard manager is of paramount importance," says Albie. "Whatever goes wrong in the vineyard cannot be corrected in the cellar. To make good wine, a winemaker needs good grapes. Long gone are the days when winemakers stayed in the cellar and hardly ever set foot in the vineyards. Whatever happens out there constitutes 85 percent of the winemakers success."

For this reason together with viticulture consultant Johan Pienaar, Albie manages and keeps a close watch on the vineyard. Soil and grape samples are regularly tested in laboratories to ensure that everything that is humanly possible is done to produce good quality grapes.

It was at Quail Ridge, a small but respected cellar in the Napa Valley, where Albie got an insiders view of the benefits derived from a close working relationship between winemaker and vineyard manager.

Says Albie, "At Quail Ridge my passion for red wine was fanned into flame. I loved that cellar. Being so small (they process between 400 and 500 tons of grapes each season), I felt that I could genuinely connect, as it were. There my passion for the trade was ignited."

It was, however, at Bellingham where the young winemaker admits to have gained the most valuable experience under the expert leadership of Charles Hopkins, maker of the world’s best Pinotage.

At Chateau Capion in France, Albie worked for two years, shoulder to shoulder with another top South African winemaker, the highly esteemed Nico van der Merwe of Saxenburg -- yet another experience that proved invaluable. During a visit to Chateau Ausone, Albie got a most compelling glimpse of the kind of cellar that he was going to run at De Toren Private Cellar.

PROGRESSIVE LABOUR PRACTICES

In keeping with De Toren Private Cellars new worldly commitment to excellence, the farms progressive labour philosophy comes as no surprise. In South Africa -- Emil den Dulk is setting a praiseworthy and commendable example.

"When we employ a worker, we look at him or her as a long-term investment ~ one who deserves to be treated with the utmost respect and human dignity. They are paid well, they live in beautiful, fully equipped middle-class homes, and they enjoy the benefits of pension schemes."

De Torens workers regularly attend courses at the Cape Training and Development College, an organisation committed to the empowerment of farm labourers.

"Well-informed and trained-up employees can be trusted with additional responsibilities," says Emil, "which in turn instill a sense of partnership and belonging."

De Toren Private Cellar
+27.218813119