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PIWOSA producer profile: Journey’s End Vineyards

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This internationally-renowned winemaker places a strong emphasis on social uplift in its community, going so far as to organise an annual 'Trebuchet Day', on which it flings wine barrels with a 12.8m siege engine, to raise money for local causes.

Most wine businesses are happy to turn a profit and, ideally, leave a bit more for the next generation than they started with themselves. But Journey’s End Vineyards has loftier ideals.

With MD Rollo Gabb at the helm, it has ploughed enormous amounts of time and, yes, money into its vineyards, winery and local community. In the process, it has become one of the most eco-friendly and socially active businesses in the wine world. They don’t just want their business to be better in 20 years’ time, they want their community and environment to be stronger, too.

Journey’s End Vineyards is a sizable estate – around 140 hectares – but only 40ha are put aside for vines.  ‘Even though it’s prime viticultural land, I’m very keen on keeping big areas purely for wildlife,’ says Gabb. ‘We want animals and birdlife on the farm.’ Caracal, Blue Cranes and Cape mongoose are all regular visitors.

Officially, Journey’s End Vineyards is a Stellenbosch WO (Wine of Origin), but this is somewhat misleading: it’s in Somerset West, some distance south-east of the heart of Stellenbosch, right up against the Hottentots Holland mountain range that separates Stellenbosch from Elgin. It’s also just seven kilometres from the sea, right in the path of the Cape Doctor, the cooling and cleansing onshore wind that blows in every afternoon.

Winemaker Mike Dawson

This, coupled with cooler south-facing slopes and proximity to the mountains, has a big impact. While there is plenty of sun, temperatures fall significantly at night – from the mid-30s to 16 degrees by the evening. Despite enviable views over the vines out to False Bay, this is not a place for sundowners on the terrace – at least, not without a jacket.

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You can see it in the style of the wines. There’s a brighter, more determined acidity in the whites, while the reds flirt with more savoury, even herbal characters. They’re understandably popular with sommeliers. ‘I’m very proud [of] what we are doing with Bordeaux varieties, in particular,’ says Gabb. ‘We’re not trying to do everything.’

In their wines, this may be true. But when it comes to social uplift, it’s emphatically not the case. Journey’s End Vineyards have been highly engaged with the local township in Sir Lowry’s Pass for many years, but really ramped up their help during the pandemic.

They created the Journey’s End Foundation, which has, among other things, helped fund a large assembly hall for the local school, created a support programme for women who have suffered gender-based violence, and provided over 4 million meals meals (and counting) at their network of soup kitchens.

On every level, it’s a magnificent legacy.

Journey’s End Vineyards – Four wines to try:

Cape Doctor, ‘The Red’, Stellenbosch, 2018

It’s fitting that this respected Bordeaux blend should be named after the wind that batters through the vineyard every afternoon, because it gives it a noticeable cooler-climate feel. Beneath the comforting cassis and plum pudding fruit it tightens into an almost European dark chocolate minerality. Structured and elegant, it’s one for the long haul.
95 points
Drink 2025-2035 | Alcohol 14.5%

Destination Chardonnay, Stellenbosch, 2020

Winemaker Mike Dawson describes this as his ‘easiest wine to make – it’s pretty hands-off’. This is from the ‘Covid vintage’; we’re lucky that they just finished harvesting before lockdown, because this is a lovely Cape Chardonnay. Succulent peach and apricot flavours with a comforting layer of almond butter are wrapped around bright, tight, high-wire acidity.
93 points
Drink 2023-2030 | Alcohol 13.5%

Griffin, Stellenbosch, 2018

A spell in Spain turned wine operations director Leon Esterhuizen onto the potential of carbonic maceration, and what works in Beaujolais is now also working brilliantly here. Gone are the unwanted bacon notes, and in their place are red and black summer fruits, lavender and charcuterie shop spices. Drinking beautifully now, but will age.
93 points
Drink 2023-2028 | Alcohol 14.5%

V5 Cabernet Franc, Stellenbosch, 2021

Cabernet Franc used to be solely a blending component, but the team at Journey’s End felt it had enough character to stand on its own – and they’re right. From this cool, windy estate, this still has benchmark Cab Franc herbal notes of oregano and black olive. Not a showy wine, but a nailed-on match for lamb with rosemary.
91 points
2023-2026 |
Alcohol 14%

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