Business is Change

Life is about change… Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s necessary, and sometimes it ends up being the best thing that’s ever happened to you.

Stormhoek, the business, was bought a few weeks ago by our long time bottler, Origin Wines. And, despite all our very best efforts, we seem to be unable to come to terms with our partner Graham, at the vineyard.

When we started Stormhoek back in 2003, we sat in our office in London and thought, “Why can’t we make great 5 pound South African Sauvignon Blanc? Why not beat the New Zealanders at their own game? Better, Cheaper and Faster!”

Our Managing Director at the time, Nick, was a great expert on South Africa, and he went there to research the project. Ultimately we went ahead, brought some tech, contracted out our production, designed a label, marketed and launched Stormhoek. People loved the wine!

But, as the brand grew, we realized that something was missing. There are some very successful brands in ZA that some nothing more than a label, with everything else being outsourced, but we felt that we needed a place to call home. So, we bought an interest in a little vineyard called Siyabonga, near Wellington. After years of effort, Siyabonga had not been able to sell its wine very successfully, and with Stormhoek’s growing business, it was a perfect place to buy what we could call a home. So it was a good fit for both parties.

And now Stormhoek is moving on because it has to, because the brand is growing internationally, and because change is needed. Its new owner doesn’t want to fix what ain’t broken– but he does want to provide a better home – kind of in the same way parents comes home one day and say “Kids, I bought a bigger and better house us to live in!” So, right now, we are continuing to bottle and blend our wines at Origin and we’re looking for a new home. We’re thinking something closer to Cape Town and maybe with some tasting facilities.

Graham and the good folks at the old vineyard will have to go back to selling Siyabonga, or maybe they can create a new brand to call their own, who knows. We wish them luck and hope that all goes well for them.

As our resident cartoonist, Hugh MacLeod likes to say, we live in interesting times.

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Cork vs Screw cap debate



stormhoekwine cork

One of the questions I seem to be asked all the time is “Why use screw caps instead of cork”. Most people seem to associate cork with expensive wine and screw caps with cheap wine, this may have been true 20 or so years ago in the States, but now a days some of the best vineyards in the world are bottling their wines with screw caps. Why?

Well over the last couple of centuries the wine industry has been using more and more cork, however as cork is harvested from trees that are approximately 6 to 9 years old the supply has not managed to keep up with the demand, this has led to a much higher use of pesticides and wood preservatives to get the cork ready sooner. These treatments on the trees are what most people are pointing at to account for the large increase in corked wine.

Corked wine is basically wine that smells and tastes undesirable and the main cause is bad corks. The way this happens is that chemicals (mainly TCA) that can be found in the cork react negatively with the wine and cause the wine to smell and taste bad. If you look at the percentage of wine that is corked you will see the figures sometimes go up to 15%, can you imagine any other industry where this amount of fail rate would be accepted, I doubt it.

Screw caps on the other hand have an almost 0 fail rate (we have been using them since 2004 on our wines and have had no negative feedback), they can also be recycled easily, and have been used to age wine now for many years, even producers in Champagne have aged their wines with screw caps with no told negative impact (most wine is consumed within 24 hours of being bought off the shelf anyway)

For this reason you will find the vast majority of our wine is bottled with screw caps, but if your still keen to use a cork screw, for the meantime you will be pleased to find we still use cork on our reserve range of wines.

(If anyone is wondering about plastic corks they aren’t  great as they are not a memory material so you cant age wine with plastic well, and it can still react negatively with the wine due to the chemicals in the plastic. Also they are very un-eco-friendly)

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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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Gapingvoid art makes a hit in Cape Town

long street

My name is Chris and although I’m originally from the UK,for the last year and a half my job has basically been to help get new clients and then make sure they are well looked after over here in South Africa. Yes I love my job and all my friends are jealous (doing lots of wine tasting’s can be hard don’t you know) and although I do get called a soutie every now and then, generally life is fun in the sun.

This week during one of my rounds to make sure that all the Stormhoek clients in the Cape are pampered and happy, I saw the above sketch in a popular bar called Long Street Cafe, which is surprisingly located in Long street (the main party street) in the city center.

I had sent the owner of the bar some of Hugh Macleod’s  great cartoons in an email a month or so ago as he wanted to use one as a screen saver. After a little catch up chat with him I found out he liked the above cartoon so much he had paid a local artist to copy it onto a 9ft wide and 6 ft high chalk board and hang it above his bar !

If anyone is taking a holiday in Cape Town and wants to go have a look the details are here, not sure how long it will be there for, but if anyone else knows of another ridiculously large version of one of Hugh’s cartoons please let us know.

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Sometimes the world works in odd ways. In three short years, Stormhoek has grown from zero to about 200,000 cases in the UK market. But this alone, was not sufficient to keep our UK importer and ‘partner’ financially healthy. And just before Christmas, they went into administration.


While the issues are being sorted in the UK, back at the vineyard, we are busy thinking about harvest and the more mundane things we need to do to get wines made and in the hands  of customers around the world.


From down in South Africa, we view this as an opportunity for reinvention: Stormhoek 2.0. Stormhoek has been blessed with probably the most passionate group of supporters in the world of wine. We thank every one of you and hope that we will still have your support in the future.


For those members of the wine trade fraternity who may suffer in Orbital’s reorganization, we are sorry and we are working with them to minimize any problems. We hope that we can make it up to you in the future with mutually beneficial business.





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Stormhoek welcomes Jaffe Juice for a home Visit

Recently we had the pleasure of hooking up in Cape Town with famed new media Marketing Guru Joseph Jaffe.

Jo originally hails from South Africa but found his calling in the USA working as a director at TBWA before becoming President of his own successful new media marketing consulting practice called Crayon  ( ), as well as writing a number of popular new media marketing books.

joe stormhoekWhile he was visiting Cape Town we helped organise (with the help of local new marketing legend Dave Duarte) a little exclusive geek dinner with the Mother cities Social Media elite. 

The Stormhoek was on tap and Jo very kindly dedicated a copy (his only copy he had bought over for his Mum!!) of his new book “Join the Conversation” to the Cape Town blogging and podcasting community to be passed around. Inside the book he inscribed the kind words – “To the wonderful Cape Town community, I’m proud to represent you in the big US of A and I hope this book inspires, motivates and reflects the power of us“.

Have a look at the video above for a little speech he did if you like or check out his blog at

From all at Stormhoek we wish you a fabulous 2008,


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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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Stormhoek sponsoring the British Comedy Awards

[One of the thirty cartoons chosen to go on the bottles etc.]

Though Stormhoek generally doesn’t like to sponsor large events, an interesting opportunity came up.

On December 5th we’ll be serving Magnums of Stormhoek on the tables of the British Comedy Awards, which in British Media terms, is a pretty big deal. Lots of celebrities, TV cameras and paparazzi etc.

But rather than just plonk the bottles down on the tables and let the celebs get on with it [i.e. Drink our wine, yet ignore the brand completely- which is what normally happens with these kind of events], we decided to behave a little differently than your average gala sponsor.

We created a range of large bottles [Magnums], each with a different cartoon on it. Thirty cartoons in all.

Because of the event, we decided we didn’t have to worry about playing it safe [unlike say, with your average supermarket client]. So out of my collection of 6,000-odd cartoons, we picked 30 cartoon that were relatively edgy. The one above is a good example. Also, some of the cartoons from this page and this page made it into the mix. Generally, we picked cartoons we thought anybody who had spent a lot of time in the Soho/London/media/entertainment/cokewhore/glamorpussy world would click with. You get the idea.

As everybody will have a different cartoon on each table, we’re hoping people will check out the different bottles on the other tables. Yeah, you got it. Conversation starters. Exactly. “Social Objects”, Baby.

I hope the photographers get some decent pictures…

( Originally posted by Hugh at )

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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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