South Africa: Day 4 in Stellenbosch

By John ~ March 10th, 2009.

Jose Conde of Stark-CondeStellenbosch is by far the most prominent wine region in South Africa, so I wanted to go back and visit several of the wineries on my list that I had to skip when I was ill on our first visit to Stellenbosch several weeks ago.

Our first stop was at de Trafford Winery. It was so far back in the boondocks that we weren’t sure that we were even on the right road. There had been a huge brush fire in that area in the last two to three weeks that came up right to the edge of their vineyards. In fact, a few vines were scorched, and they picked those grapes and destroyed them not wanting them to be used in the wines. Once we got to the tasting room, Tremaine, our tasting room host, was very friendly and knowledgeable. De Trafford was established in 1992 and produces about 2,500 cases a year. While none of the wines that we tasted were great, our favorite was the 2006 Blueprint Shiraz. And I can’t help but wonder if we would’ve rated it higher if we had tasted from a fresh bottle.

Our next stop was at Stark-Conde Wines, which turned out to be our best visit of the day. Our host was co-owner/winemaker Jose Conde who ironically is from Independence, Missouri, USA. Jose was kind enough to spend quite a while with us explaining his winemaking philosophy, showing us their facilities and barrel room, and telling us about their vineyards and future plans. Stark-Conde was established in the late 1990’s and produces a little over 3,000 cases a year—all red wine. We rated three of the four wines we tasted at Stark-Conde as excellent, as you will see in the listing below.  Jose is also a partner in MAN Vintners, a value label widely distributed in the United States at around $8-$10 a bottle.

Stark-Conde tasting room signOur next stop was at Kanu Vineyards, an impressive facility just west of Stellenbosch. While their signs and all written advertisements for the wine farm stated that they would be open on the day that we visited until 1pm, we arrived a little before 12:30pm and they would not serve us a tasting. The tasting room supervisor was actually fairly rude and abrupt and basically had the door closed behind us as we left. We travelled a long way from the United States to visit Kanu, and their wines are widely distributed in the United States, but I guess we’ll never know whether they are any good or not after the way we were treated. It’s a shame that such a nice looking venue on the outside doesn’t live up to that image when you get there.

Our final stop of the day was at Spier, a wine farm established in the late 1600’s which has become quite an entertainment venue in addition to a wine tasting center. While the hostesses in the tasting room were nice and knowledgeable, we didn’t find the overall quality of the wines to be all that good. The two best wines we found at Spier were their 2006 Shiraz/Mourvedre/Viognier and their 2005 Private Collection Merlot.

Please remember from my previous posts on South African wines that because we are buying wines here at South African prices based on the rand (R), we decided that it would be misleading and of little value to our core constituency of readers in the U.S. to calculate a QPR rating unless it is a wine we can buy in the U.S. and is of good enough quality to want to buy. Therefore, for the purposes of the wine reviews on this trip, I will only calculate a QPR rating on a wine which I have given a Quality rating of 4 stars (out of 5) or higher and if I can find a U.S. vendor and price on which to base the QPR calculation. Wines that meet these criteria will be set apart from the others by bold type. Otherwise I’ll denote the QPR as Not Calculated (NC) if the Quality rating is 3 stars or higher or Not Recommended (NR) if the Quality rating is less than 3 stars.

Here’s a complete listing of the wines we tasted on Day 4 in Stellenbosch:

Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
2006 Stark-Conde Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon, R95, QPR: 5 [Great Corks (Connecticut), $24.99 for 2005 vintage]
2006 Stark-Conde Three Pines Syrah, R185, QPR: 3 [ (California), $39.00]
2006 Stark-Conde Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon, R185, QPR: NC

Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
2006 Spier Shiraz/Mourvedre/Viognier, R75, QPR: NC
2006 Stark-Conde Stellenbosch Syrah, R95, QPR: NC
2005 Spier Private Collection Merlot, R148, QPR: NC
2006 de Trafford Merlot, R150, QPR: NC
2006 de Trafford Blueprint Shiraz, R150, QPR: NC

Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
2005 Spier Malbec/Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot, R75, QPR: NC
2008 Spier Private Collection Sauvignon Blanc, R75, QPR: NC
2006 Spier Private Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, R148, QPR: NC
2005 Spier Private Collection Shiraz, R148, QPR: NC

Quality: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
2008 de Trafford Chenin Blanc, R120, QPR: NR
2005 Spier Private Collection Pinotage, R148, QPR: NR

Quality: 2 stars (out of 5)
2006 Spier Private Collection Chenin Blanc, R96, QPR: NR

Filed under: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Lesser Known Varietals, Merlot, Red Wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz/Syrah, South African Wine, White Wine, Wine Travel, Wines NOT To Buy (1 & 2 Star), Wines Over $25, Wines Under $10, Wines Under $15, Wines Under $20, Wines Under $25

Reader's Comments

  1. Molly Choi | March 23rd, 2009 at 10:11 am

    Hello John,
    As the importers for Kanu Wines, we read your blog about your visit there in horror, and wanted to apologize for any inconvenience (or major annoyance!) caused. The matter has been brought to their attention, and they also wanted to offer their humble apologies as well.
    We would be happy to arrange for you to taste some samples (within legal compliance), please email me at the address above and we can sort out the specifics.
    Kind regards,
    Molly Choi
    Cape Classics

  2. John | March 24th, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Molly, Thanks for your apology. It was an embarassing situation, and I’m glad that Kanu is concerned as well. I will email you further comments.

  3. Joseph Comfort | October 8th, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Wow, John – Sorry to hear that you didn’t find David Trafford’s wines as good as they truly are. I’ve been a fan of David’s since 2000 and have found his wines to be among some of the better if not best coming from SAfr – if you can get them. David’s 1998 Syrah was stellar, if not only for its small production. His Chenin Blanc exhibits great varietal characteristics and delivers at a teriffic price point. De Trafford Merlot, of which I have tasted 9 different vintages up-ends the notion that Merlot is insipid, fruit forward grape juice and allows the SAfrican “red dirt” to show through in greast minerality with spice and fruit in the core. For some great experience, try the late harvest Chenin Blanc – vin de paille — unctuous, great fruit development and honeyed apricot character with bitter almond in the finish. I can’t say much more good about David’s efforts – he makes great wines from the same soil in which many founder and fall far short. Please give them a re-visit. You won’t regret the effort.

  4. John | October 9th, 2009 at 6:24 am

    Thanks, Joseph for your comments. We’ll try to revisit De Trafford on our next pass through South African wines.