Wine, by its very nature, is an industry where change happens slowly. Vines take time to grow and mature, changes in vineyard or winery management are often gradual and new thinking can take years to be assimilated and perfected.
But over time those changes can amount to significant shifts – and Paul Clüver Family Wines are a good example.
Hop over the Hottentots Holland mountain range at the eastern edge of Stellenbosch, and you’re into Elgin, home to the Clüver estate – a whopping 2,000 hectares, including a school for the local children. The latter was laudably founded by Paul Clüver Jr’s grandmother in 1957 during the dark days of apartheid, and the family are still involved in it today.
An elevated plateau of gently rolling hills (it starts about 250 metres above sea level), Elgin is ringed on all four sides by mountain ranges, and cooled by the dominant south-easterly wind. In summer, cloud often sits in the basket created by the mountains, so while vineyards 50 kilometres away in Stellenbosch can be basking in temperatures in the mid-30s, in Elgin, it is significantly cooler.
‘We measure temperatures over 30 degrees in hours, not days,’ says Andries Burger, Clüver’s cellarmaster.
You can tell you are in a cool area when you see apple trees – and Elgin has been the centre of South Africa’s apple production for decades. In fact, grapes only started to be planted here seriously in the late 1980s, with the Clüver family right at the forefront.
In the early days, like most wine estates, they planted a huge range of grape varieties. But 30 years of experience have seen them remove (among others) Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Gewurztraminer.
‘In the early days, like everyone, we wanted to create an estate blend and we called in [Chateau Margaux’s] Paul Pontallier to advise us,’ says current company CEO, Paul Clüver Jr. ‘He tasted our Pinot Noir and said “why do you want to make Bordeaux-style reds, if the best red wine in your cellar is Pinot Noir??” The next year we took out all the Cabernet.’
The family’s focus for the last 15 years has been firmly on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in particular, backed up by Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Their excellent results in competitions and blind tastings speak for themselves.
There’s a very definite feeling of an estate that has openly embraced change for decades and is really starting to get a handle on its terroir. Its Seven Flags Pinot and Chardonnay are among the country’s best.
Paul Clüver Family Wines – Four wines to try:
Seven Flags Chardonnay, Elgin, 2022
The team at Paul Clüver reckon this comes from some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in the Cape, and it shows. There is plenty of fruit power here – pears and peaches – but it doesn’t shout too loudly, allowing white flower notes and seams of citrus to unfurl throughout the long, silky palate. Pure and mouth-filling yet still refreshing. Exceptional.
Drink 2023-2040 | Alcohol 12.5%
Estate Chardonnay, Elgin, 2021
A brilliant example of Cape Chardonnay, with plenty of ripe fruit – think melons, white peaches and mouth-watering fresh-cut citrus – underpinned by a beautifully judged nine months in oak to add a little flaked-almond toastiness. Wonderful length, with those cool east and south-east Elgin vineyards adding a whistle-clean finish.
Drink 2023-2027 | Alcohol 12.5%
Noble Late Harvest, Elgin, 2021
The Clüver family have a good reputation with Riesling. Their 11.5% spätlese style (15g/l residual sugar) is balanced, fine and bright – great for Thai food. But this noble late harvest has many more layers: honey, pears, lime, acacia, apricot confiture and candied lime are beautifully balanced by a thrilling laser-like acidity. Wheel out the époisse.
Drink 2023-2040 | Alcohol 10%
Estate Pinot Noir, Elgin, 2022
Ask Andries Burger how he makes this Pinot and his answer is ‘carefully’, cold-soaking for five days then using large wooden open-top fermenters. It’s given a wine with black strawberry and raspberry zing and quite structured, savoury black-tea tannins nervily held in place by the fruit.
Drink 2023-2030 | Alcohol 13%