Inside Rose and Michael Jordaan’s private cellar
07 April 2016
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Jenny Crwys–Williams : This is Old Mutual Live Wine Edition and thanks for joining me. I’m Jenny Crwys–Williams and here in the Cape Winelands just off Helshoogte Pass I’m standing in Rose and Michael Jordaan’s private cellar on their estate Bartinney.
Now ask anyone in the wine business to describe the wines that come out of this estate and they all say one word, ‘elegant’. But here we are looking at their private cellar and not their commercial one, so both of you, thank you very much indeed for joining me. I’m really, really excited to be in your cellar. It’s not quite what I expected, Rose.
Rose Jordaan: It is a little eclectic, I must say. It’s very, very old and we’ve got wines from generations past and some newer friend’s wines as well. So very different to what you expected I’m sure.
JCW: What I think I like about it is that it’s not a mess, but it’s not fancy. It hasn’t been bought for you, it hasn’t been a collection where you’ve picked up the phone to someone and said “Listen, I want this and I want that and I want that”. It’s a collection that has been amassed, and a lot of it has come from your father.
Some classic old bottles of KWV
RJ: Yes, my dad was always interested in the wine industry and all those years ago of course, KWV was really the only wine available to buy in South Africa if you had a vineyard which my dad did have. So a lot of the old wines are collected from the KWV from 1970 on. Some of them have held up remarkably well, which is really quite exciting.
JCW: Show me one of those bottles. You were holding one a short while ago and they’ve obviously not been touched because I mean they’re dusty and whatever. So this is Paarl, this is a Cabernet Sauvignon, 1973 and I presume it hasn’t leaked anywhere or because you’ve looked after it or your dad has.
RJ: Well it’s still in really good condition, the wine. We have tried a couple of these bottles and it does say Paarl but it has got the KWV buildings and the picture that everyone knows. But you know, 1973 I was three years old.
JCW: Thanks for pointing that out.
RJ: I think it’s held up an awful lot better than me. So there are a number of wines and Michael’s really quite good at opening them and giving them a try. I keep on saying “Ooh no shouldn’t we keep it for a special occasion?” and he’s quite right, wine needs to be drunk often. Take a chance, risk it, open it, have fun with it. You don’t always need a special occasion to drink something special.
JCW: I was really, really interested in the comments you were making about the Pinotage. Just saying that in the old days and we’re talking about the 1970’s here, you could add anything you liked to it. It could still go out as Pinotage. So it doesn’t taste even remotely the same, I daresay as current Pinotage is.
RJ: Well, exactly and the winemaking methods have changed radically. So I think we’ve got much stricter controls whereby we know exactly where the wine comes from. We know how many additional other varietals we’re putting with that wine.
But in those days you know, there was very little opportunity to try other methods. They had to do what was going to work for them. For instance, Cinsaut really lasts a long time. So in a lot of the Cabernet you’re not sure how much Cinsaut is actually in that Cabernet even though it says it’s 100% Cab.
JCW: So the wine you’re holding, you’ve got absolutely no idea.
RJ: No idea.
JCW: It could be 50%.
RJ: Yes, could be, it could be all.
JCW: You just have no idea at all.
RJ: Yes, so you know obviously from the newer winemaking perspective and I think South African has an amazing, probably the most advanced system in the world that controls the way we make our wine. Whether it be from a sustainability’s perspective which is our environmental controls or our cellar controls. Right down to whatever you put in there or something like the actual vineyard that it comes from. Everything has to be controlled and in the old days it really wasn’t, so it was a red wine you were drinking.
The good old student wines
JCW: Well, listen I was just trying to think as I was driving out here to see you. That if somebody had to say what was the best seller wine in South Africa of all time it’s probably something like Chateau Libertas or something like that. Because all the students bought it, probably in Stellenbosch.
RJ: I can actually remember, now I’m dating myself again, that a bottle of Tassies, Tassenberger cost R2.50 in my first year at university. Well, we made good use of that, R2.50 a bottle of wine. But that also shows you how when there were not wine estates, when all the wines were controlled, how when there was a surplus. Tassies was very good in those days because there was a surplus of great wine and it was bottled under these labels.
JCW: Let’s talk about the room we’re in before we go onto some of the other wines. Michael, I know that you and Rose bought back your old family home only nine years ago and this was always the cellar and you’ve done absolutely bugger all to it.
Michael Jordaan: That’s exactly right. It’s probably difficult to picture if you just listen to us but it’s a small little room maybe 2,5 by 2,5 square metres. It really is a cellar. You have to walk down here to get here. But the interesting thing is this is where my grandfather also used to store his quota of KWV wines and it’s how I was actually introduced to wine. We would have it on a Sunday afternoon and I was allowed, even as a child to taste wine.
So I never saw it as a sin, it was just something that you could enjoy with food. But then later on in life when I was a student and I couldn’t afford the Tassies that Rose bought at R2.50. There were times that I snuck in here because I knew the combination to the lock. I would slip out a bottle or two of my grandfather’s KWV wines to enjoy. So there really are a lot of emotional attachments with this cellar and I think that’s why we’ve elected to keep it like it is, you know.
There is a good story behind everything
It isn’t a fancy one, it doesn’t have proper air conditioning but we’ve got a really, really interesting collection. From these really old wines which every now and then just deliver a gem. To lots and lots of new wines. Then typically they are the wines where we either know the people, they’re either friends or good acquaintances and there’s a story behind the wine.
JCW: So those are the wines that are in that row along there. Why don’t you take us through a couple of them?
MJ: We’ve just got a corner here, so let’s make it interesting, you choose one and I’ll start talking. Okay so the bottle here is a Reineke, the Cornerstone. Now, the interesting thing about Johan Reineke is he is probably the foremost organic and sustainable winemaker in South Africa.
I knew him from varsity where he had very, very long hair and his nickname was Rasta and he studied philosophy. As you know when you study philosophy the only real useful thing you can do with philosophy is to teach other people philosophy again. It’s like dragon killers of old.
Well, he took all his philosophy and he took into sustainable winemaking and I think it’s an excellent wine. Somehow when you drink it you feel more healthy, because you have less chemicals and sulphates and so on to drink in it. So it’s one of my favourite reds, so no, if I recommend Rasta’s wines or Reineke. Choose another one.
JCW: Okay, so let’s take the gold one.
MJ: Right so this is the Saskia wine. It’s made by a really good friends ours. I think Rose met him first, but they live very close to us, about a kilometre down the road. He’s the winemaker of Takara, but he also makes his own wine.
The name of this one, Saskia is his oldest daughter, who happens to be very good friends with our oldest daughter. In fact, they met each other many, many years ago, struck it off really, really well. So even though it feels a little bit strange, drinking your daughter’s best friend and that’s what we do with Saskia. Fortunately it’s a really, really nice wine as well and it’s not just a story.
The beauty of our terroir
JCW: Well, one of the things I wanted to ask you is there’s like a quartet up here. So you’ve got Delaire Graff, you’ve got Takara, you’ve got Philema with Giles, bless him. Then there’s you and there are others. But I’m just highlighting the ones that I tend to know quite well. What is the synergy here because you’re all presumably with the same soils, the same everything?
RJ: You know I think the amazing thing about this valley is one would imagine that you’d have the same type of soils being in the same area. But not at all and that is the beauty of terroir. That really in essence is what terroir is about.
From the different aspects to the different heights, I think we have about eight different soil types in this valley. On Bartinney we have three different soil types and we farm from 300 to 550 metres above sea level. So that’s what terroir’s about. That’s why you can actually express wines completely different to each other right next door.
JCW: Well you were showing me a bottle of Mullineux a moment ago I think. Where is it? They’ll be pleased actually because it’s covered in dust and it’s obviously resting. It’s doing wonderful things inside the bottle but they have almost split up their vineyard. So you’ll have granite here and schist there and something else. It’s obviously getting more and more, I suppose, personal when you make a wine.
MJ: Well, the interesting thing about Mullineux of course, it comes from a very interesting region, the Swartland, which is doing very, very well particularly in marketing. It’s interesting when you live in Stellenbosch.
A lot of people in Stellenbosch kind of pull their noses up. But I think it’s wonderful that you have a wine region in South Africa that’s becoming funky. That has been talked about abroad and on top of that this is really, really an excellent wine.
I think last year, particularly in the Platter’s it also won the Best Winery Award. But also run by interesting people, also an interesting international connection with an Indian investment there. That’s another interesting thing about wine, is how global it actually is. I mean on the one hand it’s a craft product but you can connect with people from all over the world because of this interest that we share.
The most beautiful wine country
JCW: Yes, and I think also increasingly you have to go online. You’ve got to have an online presence and the more unique it is which is what they’ve done in the Swartland actually.
MJ: They’ve done that very well. You know not everybody is in the position to visit the beautiful areas where wines are made. In South Africa we, I really believe we have some of the most beautiful wine country in the world. Rose and I have been privileged to travel to lots of other places with really good wine but whenever we come back and we say “Gee, it is so wonderful”.
So it is definitely something that we have to do, is get more foreigners to come and experience it here. Once you’ve done it you’ll be convert, you know you’ll always order it. Whether you’re an American or a German or Chinese. But you have to really experience it.
But for those people who can’t the online presence can help a lot. You know you can get a sense of the place, you can get a sense of the climate etcetera. So it is important and increasingly you’re also mobile. You’ll find that the experts who always rate wines are probably quite threatened by the fact that now everybody can become an expert.
You can crowd source the ratings of wine because everybody’s got a mobile phone and they drink a wine and they like it. They can take a picture of it, they can find out what the experts say and what other people say and they can add their own voice to it. So it’s very interesting how the world of wine is being democratised by new technology.
JCW: Yes, in fact as I was coming up Helshoogte I was thinking if I had somebody next to me I would have Periscoped it. Because I quite like Periscope and I think it’s… talking about democratising things. Because this whole interview could be Periscoped. I find that also very interesting that people can see it as well as hear it as well as read the written word and make up their own minds. Which actually in itself is quite a lot of pressure, but let’s talk about Tuscany.
Getting to experience Tuscany
RJ: Well, we had a most incredible trip. It was a lot that we bid on with a couple of friends on the Cape Wine Auction, which is a charitable trust that supports education in the Cape Winelands. We bid on this lot to go to Tuscany.
MJ: We were like the dog that caught the bus and eventually got it and now we have to go.
RJ: Even though we do know a little bit about Italy, it was a real eye-opener to see just really on the ground, you know, how the rest of the world does their wine marketing, their winegrowing. Tt will also, I think it really resonated with us how the quality of South Africa is so high. We just need to get ourselves out there in the world, that people realise what South Africa is producing. Tuscany was beautiful and it has an incredible history.
JCW: Why did you want this wine in particular? Did you come across it in a particular village?
RJ: We did, it was actually an amazing afternoon. The wife of the owner of the winery is passionate about wolves. She has rescued real wolves, so they have a pen on the top of their little…sort of on the mountain in their villa with wolves in this pen that she’s rescued. It was quite something and we were kind of blown away.
Also we do love the idea of a family winery that also has gone through the generations of changes that kind of contribute to what makes a family wine and the excellence of the wine. It was beautiful and we also bought a couple of bottles that we would like to one day open when our children turn 21, so their birth year.
JCW: Is that, that great big Magnum that we’re looking at, this gigantic magnum?
RJ: That gigantic –
JCW: It’s more than a Magnum though isn’t it?
RJ: That is yes. You get through the different names. This is Methuselah and I’m not sure what the name of the even larger one, Jeroboam I think, five litres, yes. I could be wrong, I probably am wrong.
The most prised possession
JCW: Let me ask both of you looking at this room and I know your father’s influence here is really, really strong. But if there was one bottle that you could take away with you and lose all the others, what would it be? Rose, I’m going to ask you first.
RJ: You’ve put me under terrible pressure. I don’t know. That is a very difficult one. You know I did hide a very special bottle, very, very low right at the bottom. So that when Michael comes and has a little sneak peek inside her that he is not going to find. So now I’m not going to show you where it is.
JCW: He’s digging.
RJ: I can see he’s digging already, but a very good friend of ours owns a beautiful winery in Bordeaux. It’s called Pétrus and many years ago, about five or six years ago Christiaan Moueix actually came to visit us, and brought a bottle of this beautiful wine that I’ve been hiding from Michael ever since.
JCW: Presumably that continues because he hasn’t been able to find it.
MJ: Well Rose hid it incredibly well. I’ve been looking while she’s answering the question and I can’t find it. But I’m going to take her at the word that it’s in there somewhere. So clearly that would be a very interesting wine.
I have to say more interesting is the fact that we haven’t drunk it yet and that’s maybe a sin. You know, sometimes you keep these great bottles forever and you don’t say that this is a good occasion to open it. So Rose we should drink that Pétrus.
I’m going to kind of do what we in banking call the arbitrage, which is if I can only take one bottle I’m going to take that five litre over there. Because you were thinking 750 millilitre bottles, so if I take a five litre and that’s the only one I can take. I think I’m getting away with a bit more quantity here because I know it happens to be good quality as well.
Do you dare mess with tradition?
JCW: Well, I think that that is a serious bottle and it’s going to look amazing on a 21st birthday party table apart from anything else, I mean just absolutely spectacular. Just as we end off, are you ever going to put any shelves in here or are you just going to kind of leave it as it is because it’s got a… something you know?
MJ: Well, anyone who knows us will know that, you know I love ideas and coming up with new initiatives and so on. But I’m not as good at executing them and I know it irritates Rose sometimes. But she happens to be very good at implementing some of them. So I need to ask Rose, are we ever going to get shelves in here?
RJ: Yes, maybe when these wines are as old as dad’s are.
JCW: So it’s never really.
MJ: Well, we’ll see. There are a couple of other important things that have to happen first.
RJ: You know I think what you get with a cellar and you must see many of them and as you do these interviews. Ours is just a very basic, very eclectic little bit of a hazardous one but it really is who we are. We kind of collect not in a very determined way, we like to collect experiences, we do it with friends.
There’s a bit of old, there’s a bit of new. But the nice thing for us, every wine has a story really, and I think wines are like that. It’s not just about what an expert rated in a point system. It’s really knowing where it came from, knowing what the provenance is, the story, the people behind it.
It’s also important, the meal you have it with, who you have it with. Is it with friends, where you have it, is it in a beautiful place and that’s really how our cellar is. It’s a little bit less about having an air-conditioned beauty with glass walls etcetera. But it’s a combination of experiences and we hope to keep on adding to it and subtracting because that’s where the fun is.
JCW: Of course, not a single bottle that I can see of Bartinney in here. I’m sure there are. I mean I know your ports are over there. I can’t see too much. There’s your champagne but Bartinney, you just say well, you know you can just step around the corner and grab the wine practically off the grapes.
MJ: I’ll tell you… well maybe it’s secret but most winemakers will tell you that the wine they drink too much of is their own wine. Actually you get into a position where you really just want to drink something else. Part of the reason for that is that we obviously offer wine-tasting’s on the farm.
At the end of the day often there are bottles that are opened but they’re only half full and they need to be drunk because otherwise they go to waste. So you end up drinking a lot of your own wine. Actually one of the worst things that can happen, let’s say you go to a dinner party and you take one of your wines as a gift. Is that somebody says, “Oh that’s so wonderful, let’s open it”. Because what you want them to do is put our wine in their cellar and take one of their wines out of their cellar so that you can drink something new.
It’s not because the wine is bad, it’s just that wine drinkers are inherently promiscuous. We want to keep on trying new things even though sometimes we’ve found the best thing possible you want to keep on experimenting.
RJ: You sound a bit like the student you were. But I think that’s essentially what wine really is about. It is about sharing, drink more of it. It makes the experience much more fun and the stories are abound.
JCW: Rose and Michael, thank you very much indeed.