Not smiling, but happy


Poppy in vineyard 01 07

Remember when no one ever smiled for the camera? In 2008, deadpan is still the style for Poppie (left), Krisjan van Rooyen (rear) and Basjan Manus.

When Basjan first came to work at Stormhoek 40 years ago (he’ll be 63 this year), there were two vineyard horses, Violet and Debbie.

His job was to feed and water them and get them ready for vineyard work. They were eventually replaced by Polka and Jan, and finally in 1993, a two year old Percheron filly called Poppie arrived at the vineyard.

Poppie still has about 2 weeks’ work every year, removing weeds in between the rows of very old vines, planted just a metre apart.

During her vacation, she gets fatter and ever more spirited. "We need to find some more work for her", says Basjan. "She’s a handful every morning".

Basjan and his wife Anna have raised seven children at Stormhoek. Most of them now live and work in Cape Town.

Krisjan has seen a few changes at Stormhoek since he arrived 18 years ago. "We used to work every day of the week. On Saturday and Sunday, we worked in the mornings. Now we have weekends.  There’s electricity in the houses and a school where we’ve learnt to read and write". 

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From Mario’s nose, nothing good can hide

Mario Schuermann in Frostline

Mario Scheuermann, he of the gifted nose and dogged determination, found his way to one of the great vineyards of South Africa, the Frostline Riesling, in the heart of the Great Karoo. He is pictured preparing his notebook, ready to taste a vertical lineup of South Africa’s rarest and most special dry white.

From the Rheingau and the Mosel, where exquisite Rieslings find their traditional ways into bottle just as a matter of course, Mario and his loyal and obedient wife Reka journeyed half way across the world to the rough bush country of the elevated plateau known as the Groot  Karoo, home to Dorper sheep and little isolated communities of people, where Germany means a shiny automobile with city plates streaking through town.

Reka had to drive, for Mario could not afford to arrive in a stressed condition. They knew that the Frostline Riesling Vineyard was at the end of a long dirt road, winding high into the southern-most snow country in Africa. But two hours after leaving the last group of buildings that constituted a town, Reka stopped the car on the edge of the earth road in the darkening twilight and asked Mario if they should turn back.   

"We are not in Germany now", he said. "Nor are we in Hungary. We are in Afrika. If we have to sleep here on the road with the African animals, because we tried and failed, will will have to. But for now, we carry on."

Just before dark, the Scheuermanns drove slowly into the driveway between rows of vines, past the baby ostriches and up to the home of Nelmarie and Guillaume, their hosts. The tasting was then scheduled for the early morning, when Mario would have properly rested.

The results of Mario’s careful evaluation are not available for publication here, as Mario has his own blog, the most popular in Germany.

You can find Mario’s views on many things, including Jack&Knox Frostline Riesling through or on Germany’s no 1 wine blog The direct access to the Frostline story is at

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The world of wine lists

Nicky from Balducci with Chris 2 06

Nikki Dumas writes winelists. She takes all year to find the wines she wants. She secures the bottles she needs. They are paid for and locked up in a secure place.  She can’t have someone else buy them while she’s finishing the list. Her task is a work of passion that becomes a work of art.

Some people like Nikki’s wine lists a lot. Enough to try to borrow them for the long term.  The one she and Chris are looking at in the picture has a bar coded security tag attached. If you shoplift the winelist, you have to deal with security at the door, just as if you had stuffed a dress in your handbag in the clothes shop. Believe me, people do.

The judges at Wine Spectator are among the people who like Nick’s winelists. They decided that Nikki’s Balducci winelist is is one of the 50 best luxury, grand and deluxe winelists in the world this year. Balducci is the place to be seen eating, drinking or just sitting in Cape Town’s V&A Waterfont.

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Man enough for a man’s job


Lizel in morning 11 07


Sounds scary? I am pretty scared. Four weeks ago I was a pre-school teacher. I spent most of my time being a mother and a housewife. Now I am a man in charge of 7 men and half a dozen women, running the Stormhoek vineyards.

My name is Lizel Brown. I am 30 years old and keen to show that I can do this job. My husband was the vineyard manager. A few months ago he began to get sick. His lungs were weak. He just got weaker and weaker and the doctors couldn’t help.  He began to talk of dying and then he died.

I have been put in charge. I thought I knew a lot about how things are done here. 10 years of living with Melvin was good training. But now I see that what I don’t know is more than what I know.

I have a lot of support. There are a lot of experts here to guide and train me. Even the people I supervise show me what to watch out for. Because I have been living here, I know everybody well, and I have walked all over this beautiful vineyard and farm dozens of times.

I’m sure I will be able to do it. But it is still scary. There are men in my team  old enough to be my father and they have never taken orders from a woman before. I will work alongside them and I will take courses. And I will listen closely. And I will try not to get too upset if things don’t go the way I hope.

This morning the team needed one more person to go to do a special job. I said "I’ll go". One of the men said "No, we need a man." I said "I’m a man" and I went.

I would like to tell my story from time to time. My ups and downs.  If there is anyone out there who has had this kind of problem, I would love to know.    

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Spring is time for a trim

suckering  11 07

There are 3 embryonic bunches of Cabernet Sauvignon in the picture. Two are top right and one is on the smaller stem, lower left.

The lower left stem has been removed. Its has one bunch with pin-head sized grapes, only a tenth the size of the grapes on the right.

Even this stem is too short, with too few leaves. Even if this stem were longer and leafier, these grapes would ripen 2 weeks after the other bunches.


We have been busy with a summer form of pruning for most of November (the normal annual pruning cycle happens in winter, which is July around here).  We are removing any growth that will not contribute toward the best wine that can be made from these vines.

All of the grapes we harvest from each vineyard have to have grapes with the same level of ripeness. If there’s one green bunch in the middle of 10 ripe bunches, all of the juice (and also the wine) will have a bitter, green flavour in it. So while we can spot the difference (when all of the berries are smallish), we take away the bunches that are sure to give green flavours, when we pick the grapes. 

We also cut off some of the bunches on slimmer or weaker vines, once more to enable all of the ripeness to hit the same peak, at the same time.

In addition, we strip away branches that don’t have any bunches of grapes on them. It is important that all of the nutrition coming from the ground and up the trunk of the vine goes to the well-being and flavour content of the grapes.

We do these with every vine, one by one, on the property.

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Stony patch

Blog pic Cab Franc 10 07

There’s a weak spot in our Cabernet Franc vineyard. These vines were planted in the year 2000 and so every one is 7 years old. Fifty seven of these vines have not grown to the same height, dimension or strength as the others.

This doesn’t suit us as we need every vine to produce grapes that ripen at once, just the way female impala buck have their calves on the same day as each other.

Vines that have different growth patterns ripen their grapes at varying rates. Grapes on strong vines may be ripe today, but the weak one, next in the row, will only reach the same state in a week’s time. To make wonderful wine, you can’t pick both vines on the same day and make all of the juice into wine. One vine with grapes that have green, unripe flavours will reduce the pleasure of the total.

Before we harvest this block, the grapes from the weaker vines will be cut off and dropped on the ground, and will play no part in the winemaking.

Fortunately, the weak ones are all together in a small group. We have isolated them.

Why are they different? We don’t know. The soil preparation and vineyard care were the same for all.

The vines of course are all virtually identical cuttings. It’s possible that there is more broken shale stone in the soil under this patch than elsewhere in the vineyard.

If that is so, then the roots will grow down into lower-lying soil and these vines will strengthen and one day catch up the rest.

We’ll have to wait and see.

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Damn. There goes the dam

 Nelson's dam 11 07

The hazards of farming can be severe. It’s summer here, or at least supposed to be. We’re in a winter rainfall area and it doesn’t normally rain much in summer.

One of our Wellington neighbours was worried about the requirements of his new olive grove in a very dry summer and decided to build a substantial dam to hold reserve water. The dam was just about complete, night before last, when the heavens opened. When sunrise brought light, the breach in the dam was dramatic.

The dam wall will have to be removed and rebuilt, this time a bit stronger.  

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Marketing judges make about-turn


When the smallest company in the marketing competition wins a prize, most people are pleased.

If this same company has the tiniest budget in the competition, it raises eyebrows.

When the marketing show’s main sponsor is a giant newspaper and this little trader has spent nothing on print (or broadcast, or display) it is a revolutionary surprise.

Especially when the prize is the Grand Prix of Marketing in South Africa sponsored by SABC, and the overall sponsor is The Sunday Times.

Stormhoek, the winner, is a tiny business, based on a beautiful farm in Wellington, with half a dozen employees and no conventional advertising budget.

Stormhoek is a ground breaker in new media. is far and away the best known wine brand in the world of wine sales and consumption. In the high budget world of international wine club e-commerce and national and corporate wine marketing, Stormhoek rides at the top. According to Google, after Stormhoek, the second most talked-about wine brand is in a second division, with far less activity.

What did Stormhoek do to impress the judges?

The 4 year old company has taken a major share of the medium priced market for SA wines in the UK and the USA, has made a significant impact in SA’s share in the Scandinavian market and is rising fast in South Africa, while brand exposure is exclusively through

Second, third and fourth prizes in the Marketing Excellence Awards went to brands with mega-budgets, the kind that the sponsors just love to read.

Will this kind of irreverence be allowed next year?

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When famous people come to town

A couple of weeks ago, Cape Town was stirred by the presence of Laurence Lessig and Jimmy Wales.
They were having dinner at A Touch of Madness and I was invited to come and meet them.
Well, wouldn’t you like to meet the people behind Creative Commons and Wikipedia?
They were deep in conversation with a dozen people at a very crowded table in a packed dining room. All kinds of other celebrities had come to have dinner with Laurence and Jimbo, but who also could not find space at this table. We talked to each other and drank wine.
“Never mind, there’s a cocktail party with a few of the press after this. You can talk to them there.”
The cocktail party was upstairs in a private room at the Armchair Theatre, venue for a big music gig and speeches later.
To get upstairs, you had to pass a security man. I brought a few bottles of wine with me and was allowed in.
Every room upstairs was full of people, face to face, shoulder to shoulder. No sign of Lawrence or Jimbo. I found myself listening to an American accent. Bettina Lessig is a lawyer like her husband. We discussed babies. (She is a new mother and I am a grandfather of a 2 year old, so we are both experts).
I shook hands with Laurence but missed his speech.
I listened to Jimmy talk and was surprised that he sounded just like one of us. This guy has had at least 3 astonishing careers and is just getting started.
I hope that they come back someday. It would be nice to talk to them.

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Do you know his name?

This little feller (he/she?) spends each winter night alone on the exterior end of this rafter, which helps support the roof of our home.
Every morning, it’s as if he (let’s assume that we’re talking about a male) was never there. After dark, he is back in the same place. It’s clearly home. No nest, no comforts, no companion, no babies. Just shelter from the rain, if and when it comes.
We don’t know where he goes in the daytime. Or indeed, in summer. When he’s gone, the rafter is bare, just like the other rafters.
The rest of us in the house have never seen our fellow resident arrive or leave.
We have only seen him during the last two winters. That doesn’t mean that he wasn’t here before that. We probably just never looked up (his rafter is about 4m above the ground), while walking to the car in the dark.
He was found by Kealan (our grandson) last year, looking for geckos with a torch.
I’m sorry about the quality of the picture. Not easy to aim a camera in the dark. And our shy friend doesn’t seem to like torches or camera flashes. They interupt his sleep. He pulls back and tries to make himself smaller. And I don’t want to make him feel like he is unwanted and have to find another home.
Perhaps he sleeps at your place in summer.
Maybe he hunts for his lunch in your garden.
If you can help, Kealan and I would like to know more about Birdie X (or Y).

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