Top Tulbagh cellar’s latest reserve wines grab attention following slew of awards in London and South Africa

TULBAGH is one of those places on the way to nowhere really, a destination in itself, tucked away between the Obiqua, Winterhoek and Witzenberg mountains. Named after a former Dutch governor of the Cape, Rijk Tulbagh, the town is accessed via Malmesbury or Piketberg off the N7 and via Wellington or Worcester off the N1. It includes some lovely countryside, is popular for weekend getaways, has national monuments aplenty for those interested in history or simply curious about the earthquake of 1969, and in recent years has tended to make the headlines for one of two reasons  either they’re talking about wine or the legendary British rock drummer Ginger Baker is misbehaving again.


Together with singer/guitarist Eric Clapton and bass player Jack Bruce, Baker was a member of the supergroup Cream back in the 60s and various others since then. Miraculously, after more than four decades of hell-raising, substance-abuse and misfortune, he still occasionally ventures out of retirement on his modest stud farm in Tulbagh to perform somewhere in South Africa or overseas. Last year he was the focus of ‘Beware Mr Baker’  an award-winning documentary which includes a scene where the old man assaults the film-maker with his walking stick!

A generation or so younger is one of the Tulbagh basin’s other great characters, Neville Dorrington, a successful entrepreneur and proprietor of the Rijk’s winery. With winemaker Pierre Wahl on board since 2002, the cellar has been a success story from early on and Dorrington brims with confidence as he contemplates ways and means to boost sales.

This is a district where Twee Jonge Gezellen and the House of Krone used to reign but where several other cellars have risen to the fore. The Manley Wine Lodge and the Tulbagh Winery/Co-op have grabbed attention here and there and much is expected of Fable Wines. Currently, however, the main rivalry for Top Gun status in the area is between Rijk’s and Nick van Huysteen’s Saronsberg winery near the foot of the Saronsberg Mountain in the Obiqua range where Tulbagh’s other leading winemaker Dewaldt Heyns is based.

Saronsberg’s strong suits include Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Cap Classique sparkling, Shiraz and red blends. Whereas Rijk’s main focus is on Chenin Blanc, Shiraz and Pinotage  specialising to the point where there are three different expressions of the Chenin and Pinotage and four of the Shiraz!

Earlier this year Dorrington stepped up to the podium at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show where Rijk’s Chenin Blanc Reserve 2008 was applauded as the Best Chenin and Best White Wine Overall in the competition. However it’s been Pinotage that Rijk’s has excelled with most often over the years and just released onto the market together with the 2009 Shiraz Reserve is the 2009 Pinotage Reserve  2009 regarded by many as a somewhat better vintage than the 2008 which nevertheless won numerous accolades for Rijk’s last year.

Rijk’s is one of three Pinotages in the Top Wine SA Hall of Fame, the other two being from Stellenbosch. Tasting notes for the 2009 Reserve: dense, creamy, good balance; blackcurrant, some cherry, ginger biscuit… Delicious!