An occasion of "firsts" at Rust en Vrede

Cathy Marston experiences the first food and wine pairing at Rust en Vrede.

28 Feb 2011

“Anywhere in the world, (winery) owners come and go and so do winemakers. But there’s one thing that remains: origin. That means Stellenbosch, and Rust en Vrede.”

This is actually a quote from Jannie Engelbrecht who bought the farm in 1977, but his son Jean, who now runs Rust en Vrede, has clearly had this philosophy drilled into him from birth. The last decade has seen many intrigues and changes in the life of this ex-pilot, as he himself acknowledges (“I’ve had a colourful relationship with the press!”), but after a fascinating tasting and lunch last week, I think both he and his father will be fairly content that it is this phrase and his passionate belief in it, which has remained in my mind.
This was an occasion of ‘firsts’ for R&V – their first food and wine pairing ever, the first bloggers (an alien enemy according to chef David Higgs – who rattled his cage I wonder?!) to be invited to the estate and the first time lifestyle journalists have been included in these tasting events and not just your usual bearded wine fundis. Throughout the tasting, which included 32 year old wines, Jean was keen to emphasise his mantra of DNA, style and origin, even going one step further and narrowing the region down to the Helderberg. His attitude is that “You’d have to be a really bad winemaker to screw things up here in the Helderberg” but luckily for him, over the last 30 or so years, they’ve only had four winemakers, none of which comes within a whiff of being termed ‘bad’ - the current winemaker, Coenie Snyman, has just joined the Cape Winemakers’ Guild and was voted Diners Club Winemaker of the Year in 2009.
Even though change has been happening slowly in terms of those in charge of the wine-making, it cannot be said to be the case with any other aspect of the farm.  As Jean says, owning R&V is a challenge “not just to maintain it – that is your responsibility - but to build on it” so he clearly isn’t planning on standing still for any length of time. Over the last few years he has converted the old cellar into the top restaurant in South Africa, started to renovate the manor house and is about to embark on the upgrading of the tasting facilities.
Luckily for him, he is a position to take a long-term view on wine and the wine industry – which is just as well, as he believes that the wine industry is in a heck of a hole at the moment and only savvy marketing will help people dig themselves out “You need to be realistic about what you produce and how you’re going to market it.” Tasting through his range and listening to his opinion of prices paid by co-ops for grapes, his new wine bar in Namibia and what they are drinking and his ideas about reviving the SA Estate Producers Association,  I got the distinct impression of someone who is talking the talk along with everybody else, but knows exactly how and where he is going to walk anyway. It might not be precisely the same path as other people, but I would bet a bottle or two of the most expensive wine in SA (if I had any – see below)  that he gets there quicker and in better shape than most.
Tasting notes:
We tasted through 4 decades of wines which, since they are not available to buy, I won’t torment you with writing about them! These are the vintages currently available and were the wines I particularly enjoyed:

2007 Rust en Vrede Estate R380 – stinky-sweet nose with plenty of black cherries and cassis hints. Fleshy wine with vanilla oak showing now, rich, unctuous mid-palate, grippy, gritty tannins and weighty alcohol all indicating a wine with plenty of time to come.

2008 Rust en Vrede Syrah Single Vineyard R850 – intensely ripe and fruity but with immediate fruit restrained by elegant silky tannins and spice. Amazingly, it makes the normal Shiraz seem almost tawdry – which it certainly isn’t – as it simply overwhelms with classy ripe black fruit and a baked buttery pastry finish.

2007 Rust en Vrede 1694
Classification R1,200 – sweet licorice entry with ripe black fruit, gritty mouthfeel and rich intensity of flavour. Opulent and expansive with endless length. Worth it? Probably.

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