A VISIT TO ZEVENWACHT, THE HOME OF JAN WINE
I put a lot of stock in a good story. And I don’t mean the kind where you veil the truth for your own gain, I mean the good, honest stories that actually relate to your life, and that others can relate to. My relationship with Zevenwacht goes back to my days as a fledgling chef. At the time, Zevenwacht had a wonderful culinary school, which is where I got my foundation as a chef. Because of this chapter in my life, I’m thrilled to have returned to Zevenwacht to collaborate with them on my new range of JAN Wines.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
Fresh out of high school, I decided to cement my culinary education in the Cape Winelands, where Zevenwacht was running their amazing culinary school. On my days off, I would also waiter at their restaurant in the evenings. I still remember the first time Iaid eyes on their crisp white tablecloths and wooden floor, thinking to myself that it was unlike anything I’d seen until then. Being part of creating such an immaculate dining experience was a dream come true for me; I was always so eager for my shift to start, I would don my uniform straight after class!
But Zevenwacht also introduced me to the world of wine, which has since become a lifelong love affair. It was the perfect place to immerse myself in the winemaking process with some of the best winemakers in Stellenbosch.
Denise and Harold Johnson, the owners, became like family to me during the five years I spent there. Looking back, they were without a doubt my formative years; not only as a chef and restaurateur, they were also the years in which I shaped and defined my values as a human being.
TWO VINEYARDS AND SEVEN EXPECTATIONS
Facing south, Zevenwacht Estate has overlooked Table Mountain, Table Bay and False Bay from the Stellenbosch Polkadraai Hills for more than 300 years. Today, Zevenwacht, which means “Seven Expectations” in Dutch, is a family-owned and managed estate. Under the leadership of Harold and Denise Johnson, who purchased the farm in 1992, the farm has developed into an estate with a strong commitment to historic and environmental conservation.
Led by their philosophy that “quality begins in the vineyard”, Zevenwacht’s wines tell an intriguing tale of two distinct terroirs. Whereas Zevenwacht is situated on the Polkadraai Hills in close proximity to both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, its sister farm, Zevenrivieren (Seven Rivers) is perched high on the slopes of the Hellshoogte (Heights of Hell) Pass overlooking the Banhoek Valley in Stellenbosch. Zevenwacht was the location of the tin mine in the years leading up to World War I and, to this day, the shafts and machinery remain, marking the site where Zevenwacht’s two Tin Mine blends (red and white) are grown.
MEET THE WINEMAKER
You could say Hagen Viljoen, Cellarmaster at Zevenwacht, was born into wine. He grew up in Ceres, where wine was just a part of his family’s everyday life. In his late teens, with a natural aptitude for science, he was introduced to winemaking by one of his brother’s friends, who was studying winemaking at the time and who ignited Hagen’s passion for the craft. “I just always thought, ‘Who wouldn’t want to make wine?’” he recalls. “There was never a question in my mind that I wanted to become a winemaker.”
Following his studies, Hagen travelled abroad with his wife for a couple of years, where the pair did eight-month internships at wineries in New Zealand, Australia and France. Each world region introduced Hagen to new climates and soil conditions, which gave him a fresh appreciation for South Africa’s ancient and highly diverse microclimates and soil formations. “In South Africa, we tend to grow a large variety of grape cultivars on one wine farm, which is partly in response to commercial pressures, but it also allows for better biodiversity that wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for our diverse soils,” he says.
In talking about Zevenwacht’s terroir, Hagen says, “I’ve always believed in Zevenwacht as a site. When you look over the Cape Flats and see Table Mountain peeking at you in the distance and feel the False Bay breezes brushing against your skin, you know there has to be something to it. The Polkadraai area is on the cooler side of Stellenbosch – about 2 °C cooler than central Stellenbosch – which makes it especially suited to varietals like Syrah and Chenin Blanc. I also really respond to the soil here, which is decomposed granite.
THE JAN WINE STORY
“Working with a chef on a wine is enormously exciting, because you don’t only consider the nuances of the wine itself, but especially how it will pair with food,” Hagen says. “It was important to Jan and me that the JAN Wine be approachable, but with a lot of elegance and complexity. I could see during the tastings, that Jan really responded to the bolder, ripe fruit expression in the White and the pronounced tannins in the Red. Both wines stand up to bolder flavours in a dish, and are incredibly versatile when pairing them with food.”
“Initially, we drew inspiration from Zevenwacht’s Tin Mine blends, but with the new 2021 vintage of the JAN White, the blend is entirely unique,” says Hagen, “with greater brightness and fruit expression, and good acidity, which pairs so well with a range of dishes.”
Although it will only be released later this year, Hagen offered a preview of things to come with the new JAN Wine Red 2019 vintage. “I’m very excited about the Red, which is composed of Syrah and Grenache for those fruit forward notes, while the Mourvèdre is broodier, making it the perfect companion to savoury dishes.”