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The epic stories and wines of Rustenberg
Some inside info on the history and wines of Rustenberg in the Stellenbosch winelands
The tree lined path has been welcoming guests to Rustenberg for over 300 years. It continues on and on, past the workers’ rose-lined cottages, a herd of Angus cows and the vineyards that has been grown on Rustenberg wine farm since 1682.
Yet the story of Rustenberg goes back even further than that – to the Simonsberg that took shape around 600 million years ago. Molten granite covered the sandstone to form a rich soil that has proved invaluable for the growing of vines in the Stellenbosch area of the Western Cape.
At the end of the seventeenth century Roelof Pasman came from the Rhine Valley in Germany and chose his farm here, where the red granite soil and the cool coastal climate would provide an excellent terroir. His widow Sophia, produced some very special grandchildren: Hendrik Cloete, who became Groot Constantia’s famous winemaker, as well as Pieter Laubscher to whom Sophia left Rustenberg in her will. Pieter inherited Rustenberg at the age of 19 and proceeded to double the wine production.
The farm changed hands a couple of times over the centuries, surviving excessive riches and a recession. John X Merriman, who later became Prime Minister of the Cape, bought a divide of Rustenberg named Schoongezicht in 1892. Two years later his sister’s husband, Sir Jacob Barry, bought Rustenberg and the farm was reunited through family once again. Together they were the force behind the renewal of the farms.
From cow shed to wine cellar
Peter and Pamela Barlow bought Rustenberg in 1941 and later also acquired Schoongezicht, The two properties became one farm once again. Their son Simon took over in 1987 and has been running the farm ever since. Rustenberg has been in the Barlow family for over 60 years: this is the longest any one family has ever owned the farm.
Outside in the garden the late 1700 Cape Dutch buildings stand proud and are still put to good use today. The cellar is situated in the old cow shed as the setting and layout allows for gravitational wine making. Next door the tasting room is now inside the old horse stables. The inside of the building has been modernized, creating and intimate and stylish atmosphere. For instance, while the wine tasting bar is made of old wine barrels it looks quite slick against the old world backdrop of the building. Rustenberg prides themselves on personalization and rarely allows large tour groups into the tasting room.
A unique Rustenberg wine is the Rousanne, a cultivar from the Rhone area in France. It’s a flinty white summer wine with a savoury touch to it, almost like you can taste the sea. Should be good with seafood, especially shellfish. All Rustenberg’s white wines will have screw tops by 2011. They believe that this helps to protect the flavour of the wine and helps is last longer in the bottle. The Rustenberg Wooded Chardonnay stands out with its honey and butter on toast flavours. A great food wine.
Not a sharing wine
Some of the red blends are named after people who had a significant influence on the wine farm over the years. The RM Nicholson is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. It is named after Rustenberg’s first winemaker and has a serious structure with lots of pepper and spice. In contrast, the John X Merrimen is a typical Bordeaux blend with an elegant mouthfeel.
Rustenberg’s flagship wine is named after Peter Barlows and only grapes from a special section of their vineyards where the soil is compact and full of minerals are used to make the wine. Now, here’s some inside info. It’s important to be stingy with this wine. You and one other person. Or just you. Otherwise you will kick yourself.
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