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Elgin winelands might fulfill great expectations after all

THE COGNOSCENTI are curious about Spioenkop Wines for a number of reasons - not the least of which is the free-spirited nature of owner-cellarmaster Koen Roose. To meet this Belgian newcomer to the Elgin wine scene is to engage with somebody who's obviously passionate about making seriously good, characterful wine on his hilltop in the Elgin valley - so passionate that some will regard him as a little crazy, such as when he recounts the battle of 'Spionkop', tells of how his 'koppie' south of Grabouw in the Western Cape resembles that in KwaZulu-Natal where a bloody triumph of the boers over the British took place back in 1900 and speaks of vineyards named after victorious generals...

Roose pushes the envelope both in the field and in the cellar... His rows of vines aren't planted in the normal fashion and his fermentation tanks aren't exactly typical in design. But it's not about re-inventing the wheel so much as taking what he's learnt from some of the masters in France and Stellenbosch and fine-tuning, striving for cutting-edge wine-making while keeping his feet on the ground, rooted in the soil.

It was Paul Cluver who first drew attention to Elgin's potential to become one of South Africa's premium wine areas. Oak Valley and Shannon have been among the front-runners in recent years, and one of the most successful producers of Elgin wines in the past 18 months has been Thelema Mountain Vineyards with their Sutherland label - the Sutherland Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot 2008 having won gold medals at the Classic Awards (SA), the Decanter Awards (UK), Mondial (Luxemborg) and the International Wine & Spirit Competition (UK), with the Sutherland Viognier Roussanne 2009 having won gold medals at Mondial and the Trophy Wine Show (SA) in 2011 and then the trophy for best white blend at the 2012 Trophy Wine Show.

Newcomer Roose plans to take on the likes of Paul Cluver, Shannon and Sutherland with his Spioenkop Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, although many are more curious about what he can do with his Spioenkop Pinotage... Already on the market is a Pinotage under Roose's '1900' label, made from a combination of grapes grown both in and outside Elgin, and the maiden 2010 vintage of the 1900 Pinotage was highly recommended in Platter's SA Wine Guide last year. However it's with the 100% Elgin Elgin wines under the Spioenkop label that he plans to one day rival the very best in the world.



Over 100 years ago, on the evening of Tuesday 23 January 1900, 1 700 British troops deployed to South Africa prepared to attack their enemies on a hill in Natal known as Spionkop – the name ‘Spioenkop’, meaning ‘Spy Hill’ or 'Lookout Hill', was coined by the Dutch settlers for the commanding views it afforded of the slopes and valley below. During the days that followed, a bloody battle ensued... Read more

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