Bruwer Raats is a man who makes an impression. ‘It doesn’t matter who’s in a room,’ said one winemaker, ‘when he walks in, everyone notices. It’s hard to put your finger on. He just has… presence.’
The same could be said for his wines, which have gained an impressive reputation since Raats started making them under his own name in 2000. They’re not big or showy; they’re just stand-out good, regularly picking up five-star ratings in South Africa’s influential ‘wine bible’, the Platter Guide.
Raats began without either vines or a winery of his own. Instead, he bought fruit from local farmers he liked and trusted and (like many young start-up winemaker operations) rented space in an existing winery.
Although he has had his own farm since 2003, it’s purely for blending the top red wines. He still rents or shares cellar space in a local winery and has long-term agreements with three local farmers to lease their vineyards and grow the grapes together.
The vineyards are almost all in the Polkadraai Hills – the smallest sub-region in Stellenbosch at just 1000 hectares. Grapes from these slopes have become among the most sought-after in the region, with the decomposed white dolomite (granitic) soils infusing the wines with a distinctive minerality and chalkiness – particularly Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc.
These are the two varieties which Bruwer decided to focus on when he started out, reasoning that it was better to specialise than generalise. But people were still taken aback at what was then a left-field choice.
‘Starting on those two varieties in 2000 was crazy,’ admits Sam Raats, Bruwer’s son, who is following in his father’s sizable footsteps. ‘Chenin Blanc was for brandy or bulk wine and everyone told my dad that Cabernet Franc was a blending variety.’
To say he’s proved the doubters wrong since would be something of an understatement. Sam is spending the 2023 vintage in the Loire so will doubtless come back enthused with more ideas for both varieties.
If you want to see what Bruwer Raats is capable of with other varieties, it’s worth checking out his MR de Compostella. Made in conjunction with his great friend, Mzokhona Mvemve, the first black graduate from the university of Stellenbosch’s Viticulture and Oenology course, it’s a Bordeaux blend of five varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec – whose proportions change from year to year.
Raats Family Wines – Four wines to try:
Family Cabernet Franc, Stellenbosch, 2020
While the Raats Dolomite Cab Franc is brightly sappy and Loire-like in style, here Bruwer Raats is looking for a more Bordelais style. From the best Cabernet Franc vineyards it has a darker, black-cherry fruit character with herbal cedar and oregano top notes and a beautiful cool river-pebble stoniness at its heart.
Drink 2023-2032 | Alcohol 13.5%
MR de Compostella, Stellenbosch, 2020
Bruwer Raats’ collaboration with his great friend Mzo Mvemve, this is a powerhouse of a Bordeaux blend made from the best parcels of fruit in the best vineyards. The blend changes every year, but this is Cab Franc dominant, which brings a gentle wisp of coriander leaf to the cassis and cherry-lip fruit flavours. Serious weight, but it’s also refined and pure with the dolomite soils providing energy and drive through the palate.
Drink 2023-2040 | Alcohol 14.5%
Old Vine Chenin Blanc, Polkadraai Hills, 2022
If the Raats Original is Chenin at its most relaxed, this is what the variety tastes like when it makes a bit of an effort. A bit of concrete egg-fermentation and some time in old oak add extra layers of weight and texture beneath the custard apple, melon and white peach flavours. Superbly well made, it’s beautifully balanced and effortlessly structured.
Drink 2023-2028 | Alcohol 13%
Original Chenin Blanc, Polkadraai Hills, 2022
When the Wine and Spirit Education Trust wants to show students an example of Cape Chenin, this is the bottle they turn to – and it’s easy to see why. With its green fig, pineapple and mouth-watering citrus flavours it’s an absolutely textbook example of unoaked Stellenbosch Chenin. Brilliant Tuesday night glugger.
Drink 2023-2025 | Alcohol 13%