Elim… hardly top of mind as regards most things hedonistic but right up there for top South African cool-climate wines

IT CAN BE VERY WET  around Elim in the Cape Agulhas district of the SA winelands. In winter, the rainfall is such that some of the roads may be closed, access is limited and the landscape is characterised by wetlands and wind… It blows in the summer too and, with much of the wind coming in from across the ocean, the temperature seldom rises above the mid 20s (ºC) even at the hottest time of the year. Off the beaten track, there are wide open spaces within half an hour’s drive from the sea. There are nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries – a diversity of fynbos and birdlife, buck aplenty, caracul and, would you believe, some hippo! The vineyards have been part of the area’s agricultural make-up for less than 20 years, but in that time they’ve become renowned for producing cool-climate wines of note.

There are only a few wineries in the vicinity of Elim and at the time of writing only those of Strandveld Vineyards and Black Oystercatcher were operational – The Berrio wines now made at the Nieuwoudts’ cellar in the Cederberg, and winemaking at Zoetendal having ground to a halt. However the reputation of the winelands here is such that there are vintners outside the area lining up to secure patches of vineyard or to buy grapes from established farms in this ward – Bruce Jack (Flagstone), Charles Back (Fairview, Land’s End) and the Rupert family (La Motte) among them.

A few years back Quoin Rock on the Simonsberg in Stellenbosch was one of the leading cellars when it came to Wine of Origin Cape Agulhas – they still have vineyards outside Elim but they’re now closed to the public. These days the area’s prominent ambassadors include the David Nieuwoudt Ghost Corner wines, vinified in the Cederberg for the time being, and Lomond  wines, which entail the grapes being trucked from the Gansbaai side of the district to The Bergkelder in Stellenbosch for pressing, fermenting, et al. However Strandveld Vineyards stand out as the main flag-bearers close to the southern-most tip of Africa – dirt roads and humble facilities, but an award-winning winemaker in Conrad Vlok, two ranges of award-winning wines (SV and second-tier First Sighting) plus, should you have time on your hands, self-catering cottages and vineyard walking/mountain-bike trails along which you could enjoy a picnic or go swimming at the dam – might even come across an eland if you’re lucky!

Strandveld’s Neighbours, Black Oystercatcher, have newer accommodation, the only restaurant for miles around and a rewarding Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blend on their winelist. They planted mostly Cabernet when it came to black grapes, whereas around the corner Vlok’s red-wine focus is mainly on Shiraz, Rhône-style blends and, more recently, Pinot Noir.

Sauvignon Blanc is what Elim/Cape Agulhas vintners have been most successful with to date. Under the Strandveld label: a tropical nose, creamy palate and mineral aftertaste. Flagstone Free Run: herbaceous, green pepper, fig leaf, passion fruit, limey. Ghost Corner Wild Ferment: aromas of white pear and quince, a creamy palate after nine months in barrel. And Lomond Pincushion’s green fig, gooseberry and tropical characteristics contrasting with Lomond Sugarbush’s green pepper, herbaceous, dusty notes.

Best Elim reds of late: the Syrahs and Shiraz-led blends of Lomond and Strandveld – white pepper among the signature characteristics. And it’ll be interesting to see how things unfold on the Pinot front – a case of ‘watch this space’ following the launch of maiden vintages from Lomond this year, David Nieuwoudt (Ghost Corner) last year and Strandveld not long before that.
Click here to see what’s rated tops in the past year or two and for all the prices of these wines as charged at the cellar door.