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Janette Bruwer

"You brought bad weather with you!" Jeanette Bruwer feigns a bad mood for a moment, but immediately beams again all over her face. In fact, it is drizzling in Robertson, the temperature is a modest 19 degrees Celsius. Not exactly typical for a spring day in this warm region of South Africa - after all, the average daytime temperature here in summer is almost 29 degrees and even in winter it is still a proud 21. But October and November 2007 turned out to be comparatively cool. "It rained a lot," sighs Jeanette Bruwer, who runs Springfield Estate with her brother Abrie. She is responsible for marketing, while Abrie takes care of the vinification. However, they both have to explain the very special style of their wines again and again, because Springfield is considered one of the most experimental wineries in the country.

A new departure in the northeast

But that was not always the case. Until a few years ago, Robertson, about two hours' drive from Cape Town, was considered a mere supplier of grapes to the wineries in the south. But that ended in 1994 at the latest, when Nelson Mandela was elected president. The international boycott was over and a democratic future seemed possible. Springfield decided to bottle the wines in the future themselves and to conquer markets at home and abroad. Jeanette Bruwer remembers: "The next time the buyer came and gave the grape prices, we told him straight away that he could close his laptop again." The decision was both easy and difficult. On the one hand, the Bruwers finally wanted to produce wine as they imagined it - on the other hand, they now had to invest a lot of money in tanks, barriques and bottling equipment.

Fantastic landscape in Robertson

Springfield is not the only producer in the 13,600-hectare Robertson district to have turned to self-marketing after the fall of communism. In the meantime, at least two dozen farms have the ambition to produce high-quality wines. The fact that several wineries are run by Bruwers must pass as a coincidence - the name is widely used here. While Alwyn and Francois Bruwer have built a reputation for Cabernet Sauvignon at Vruchtbaar, Martin and Fanus Bruwer concentrate on Sauvignon blanc at Quando. Not an easy task in warm Robertson: "Many people ask in amazement why we can produce light sauvignons with fresh acidity here at all," Jeanette Bruwer laughs. The winemakers from Robertson have to pull out all the stops to keep up with their colleagues from Stellenbosch or the cool regions of Constantia and Walker Bay. At Quando, the Sauvignon Blanc vines were planted along the Breede River, and at Springfield, too, they looked for sites that benefit from the cooling south-west wind and the proximity to water. The harvest takes place almost everywhere in the early morning hours, and the grapes are cooled down before pressing. Perfect harvest management and sophisticated foliage work are indispensable: Some of the Sauvignon Blanc grapes are harvested before reaching full ripeness.

Spontaneous instead of simple

Ripe Sauvignons from Springfield

At Springfield, however, they wanted to go one better right from the start, consistently dispensing with the addition of cultured yeast strains. "Spontaneous fermentation also helps to keep the alcohol content of the wines low," explains Jeanette Bruwer. The Bruwers accept the fact that fermentation stops unintentionally now and then and one or the other container has to be written off. "This method also benefits the ageing ability of the wines," the boss emphasises and pulls a bottle of 1999 Sauvignon blanc "Life from Stone" out of a stack. It is amazingly fresh, elegant and slightly gooseberry in the glass; it is more reminiscent of an aged Riesling than of an overseas Sauvignon. The Chardonnay "Méthode Ancienne" is even more consistent. Spontaneous fermentation, two years of ageing in new barriques, batonnage and unfiltered bottling are standard. The top wines - an exception in South Africa - are only sold after a further one to three years of bottle ageing. In the case of Pinot noir, they take even more time. The 2003 has been bottled but not released yet - and may never leave the farm. "When we go to market with Pinot, it has to be really good," smiles Jeanette Bruwer. "And until then, we'll just drink it ourselves."

P.S. In unassuming Robertson, things are also looking up in terms of tourism. A few bed & breakfasts have already opened, and the Bon Courage winery is catering to the growing number of visitors in its own restaurant. The owner herself likes to serve the Gewürztraminer Special Late Harvest for dessert; the young winemaker and restaurateur's first name is Maude and her surname is, as it should be in Robertson: Bruwer, of course.

Click here for the second part: "In the land of apples".

Click here for the third part: "The Far East".

Information about the estates

Springfield Estate, Robertson, tel. 0027/23-6263661,

Quando, Bonnievale, tel.0027/23-6162752,

Vruchtbaar Winery, Robertson, tel. 0027/23-6262334,

Bon Courage Estate, Robertson, tel. 0027/23-6264178,

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