The Bot River Mile

It was a chilly winter’s day in Bot River when four of the wine route’s prized winemakers – Peter-Allen Finlayson (Crystallum and Gabrielskloof), Marelise Niemann (Momento), Donovan Ackermann (winemaker at Gabriëlskloof) and John Seccombe (Thorne & Daughters) gathered to discuss, share and celebrate their new vintages. The short yet successful harvest, and increasingly dryer season, worked to create a new range of wines that each could be proud of, despite any of nature’s setbacks.

The venue was Gabriëlskloof, chic and intentionally arid so as not to detract from its natural surroundings. Wine writers joined wine traders to welcome in the year’s new bottles – wines that reflect the complexity, richness, and diversity of the region’s unique terroir. The four winemakers, each as different as the next, have one thing in common: a philosophy to create wines that are crafted with as little intervention as possible, providing the most authentic portrayal of the vineyards. The result is a range of premier wines with very particular character and interest. Furthermore, there is joined effort among the winemakers to do this in the most environmentally friendly way, showing respect for the region’s biodiversity.

Under cellar master Peter-Allen Finlayson and head winemaker Donovan Ackermann, Gabriëlskloof has unveiled three red wines to form part of its Landscape Series, a collection of superlative wines that are the very essence of their vineyards and winemaking philosophy. Peter-Allen also released a preview of new bottles under his own label, Crystallum – a small, family-run and privately owned winery based in the Walker Bay region. ‘We seek to produce classic wines in a contemporary context that reflect a traditional, age-old way of working, coupled with the new world vineyards from which we source our fruit,’ says Peter-Allan along with brother and co-founder Andrew Finlayson.

Peter-Allan Finlayson

Momento’s Marelise Niemann recited memories of harvest this year mere days away from her due date – carrying and loading crates and grapes while being heavily pregnant. This is perhaps Marelise’s most endearing quality – a go-get-it attitude and palpable passion for wine, unusual varietals, and winemaking. ‘Wines that reflect all the elements involved: the sun, soil, water, and earth – along with people, personalities, ideas, and experiences,’ she says of her inspiration. Having previously worked at Beaumont Wines, also in Bot River, Marelise broke away to create some seriously smart wines under her own label, Momento. ‘I work with vines from all corners of the Western Cape, searching for grape parcels that truly express the region and soil it stands in, mostly from older and sometimes dryland bush vines.’ Marelise’s Grenache and Tinta Barocca (noting her interest in unusual varietals not generally grown in the Cape) are exceptional.

‘My winemaking approach is gentle and “hands-off”, respecting the grape and its place, and allowing the wine to express its own character and origin.’ – Marelise Niemann

Founded in 2012 by John and Tasha Seccombe, Thorne & Daughters features five stand-out, broad and rich wine ranges (including Rocking Horse, a unique Cape White blend; and Tin Soldier, a Semillon Gris). Head winemaker, John’s vision is to draw on the great history of wine growing in the Cape, putting together old vineyard parcels with new grape varieties, and making wines with old school simplicity but a modern ‘edge’.

Sharing the cellar space at Gabriëlskloof, the four winemakers have the ultimate redeeming ideology in common: let the grapes, vineyards and terroir speak for themselves. Bot River, often overlooked as a wine region in favour of Stellenbosch or Franschhoek, is, along with the Swartland, the most exciting small yet growing wine route in the Cape. Enjoy a tasting of Gabriëlskloof’s wines on the property, while a tasting of the other three offerings can be made by appointment.

With the canola fields in full bloom, now is the best time of year to venture into Bot River – with world-class wine, a genuine passion for traditional winemaking and a mutual camaraderie and respect among winemakers just waiting for you.

Get in touch to arrange a private tour at +27 28 284 9865 or email info@gabrielskloof.co.za. For Restaurant bookings and venue enquiries, contact restaurant@gabrielskloof.co.za.

Walking the vineyards during harvest at Gabriëlskloof

John Seccombe

Marelise Niemann (left) as part of Zoo Biscuits, Cape Wine

Photography Tasha Seccombe