THE invitation to “rediscover” Nerderbug’s Heritage Heroes range gave the venue as JAN Innovation Studio. Oh that’s nice, I thought; I haven’t been there. That it also said “the wines will be presented with a selection of carefully created culinary creations by Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen” didn’t really register. Between his Michelin-star restaurant in Nice and Klein JAN in the Kalahari, one cannot necessarily expect the man himself to be on site.
Except he was.
I’ve not had the best history with Jan. “Have we met before?” he asked with a quizzical expression. No, I replied, deciding not to mention the two consecutive days he stood me up. Besides the point, and it was a long time ago although Scorpios never forget. He is utterly charming as a host, funny and self-deprecating, and brilliant as a chef (but we all know that already). It was without a doubt a (probably) once in a lifetime experience to be not only cook for by Jan, but served by him, and be able to chat to him in such an informal and relaxed atmosphere – but still uber classy, with impeccable attention to detail and perfection.
From the braaibroodjie macaron, biltong lamington and pap arancini with Boerenkaas canapés, to the candlelit “room of a thousand delights”, it was a meal to remember. It ranged from delicate frozen apples with prawn, chorizo and tête de moine cheese melted with warm smoked haddock velouté, to hearty “kook kos” – platters heavy with slide-off-the-bone lamb shanks and roast potatoes to die for; from unique flavours to elements directly from JAN and Klein JAN.
But let us not forget what we were there for: to taste and enjoy the new, leaner Heritage Heroes collection, trimmed from five wines to three. Oh but what wines they are: The Brew Master, a Bordeaux-style red blend; The Motorcycle Marvel, a Rhône-style red blend; and The Anchor Man, an old-vine wood-fermented Chenin Blanc aged in clay, stainless steel, and a variety of barrels. Each is as exceptional as the next.
The collection has become more focused, says Nederburg cellar master, Samuel Viljoen. “In every way, from the liquid to the livery, you’ll find a polished precision. The wines are fresher, livelier, and more poised. They reflect the benefits of precision farming. As we know more, we can measure more, and manage more, with better results. We’ve become more adept at letting the terroir and fruit shine.”
Our dinner party was of a size that Samuel was able to tell us the stories of each wine while Jan and his team worked in the open-plan kitchen alongside (except for the kook kos course, which was prepared behind gauzy drawn curtains which were then flung open with suitable theatricality to reveal the real food after we were teased with a “what the heck?” plate with a slice of mushroom, a pea, and chive). We were even treated to a guest speaker, Emile Joubert, who also told us a cracking yet tragic tale of Arnold Graue, who died in a plane crash.
The Brew Master is named for Johan Graue, a former owner of Nederburg, who bought the farm in 1937. He had previously been a co-owner of a leading brewery in Germany. He revolutionised South African winemaking by introducing clonal selection to identify top-performing vines for reproduction. He also introduced cold fermentation to enhance wine quality and freshness. Arnold was his heir.
While The Brew Master deftly showcases Nederburg’s hero grape, Cabernet Sauvignon, in this very distinguished, classically styled blend, The Motorcycle Marvel, with Shiraz and Carignan in the lead, is less overtly wooded than its predecessors for added freshness, balance and refinement. The barrel-fermented Anchor Man is now made entirely from old Swartland and Paarl vines close to 40 years’ old and reflects a creamy and layered complexity.
The Motorcycle Marvel, which I adore, honours Günter Brözel, a former Nederburg cellar master and pioneer, who was the first winemaker in South Africa to win the International Wine & Spirit Competition Winemaker of the Year Award (1985). He was fanatical about quality and used his 250cc BSA motorcycle to drive through the vineyards and to rush back to the cellar, keeping an eye on everyone and everything. The Anchor Man remembers Nederburg’s founder, Philippus Wolvaart, who bought the farm in 1791. He established the first vineyards on the land, including Chenin Blanc.
So much goes into making wine, from the physical labour, the time in the cellar, the careful blending, to naming, labelling and imbuing it with history and stories that will live forever. These wines in particular pay respect and homage to those who left their mark on the industry.
Viljoen makes the point that the revised Heritage Heroes trio is emblematic of Nederburg’s new momentum. “We’re striving for elegance, restraint and longevity in our wines, driven by the principles of sustainability, excellence, innovation and creativity within the team.”
The red blends will retail for around R225 each, and the Chenin, for R190. The new-style, new-look wines are now available in selected outlets and online here or here. The current vintages on offer are The Anchor Man 2020 and the 2018 vintage of The Motorcycle Marvel and The Brew Master.
- The room of a thousand delights refers to the library of around a 1000 South African cookbooks at JAN Innovation Studio, where we also enjoyed a decadent and lavish spread of local cheeses, fresh figs, preserves, baguettes, and nuts, with The Winemasters Noble Late Harvest. Jan’s goal is to make this library as huge as possible, so if anyone wants to donate books, or have their ouma’s lying around gathering dust (apostrophes are important), let him know. “The books will be shared with students, and taken back to France to show the world what we can do,” he says. Find him here.