Uitkyk Estate is a 600 hectare winery, nestled up against the mountains in South Africa’s Stellenbosch region. It took its name from Uitkyk (pronounced “8 cake”) or “lookout” in Afrikaans, because of the magnificent views of Cape Town 40 miles to the west. Winemaker Estelle Laurens spoke at a dinner this September at the Toronto Hunt Club, sponsored by Peter Mielzynski Agencies. The wine tasting was staged on the lawn, overlooking the Scarborough bluffs. Marcel Bregstein, Assistant General Manager and Sommelier at the Hunt, organized a backdrop of zebras, lemurs and South African dancers, to provide an authentic local flavor to the evening.
Established in 1712, Uitkyk operates out of an 18th century flat roofed manor – one of only three in the Cape Town region. Originally a grazing farm, its first vineyards were planted by Hans von Carlowitz, a Prussian immigrant who bought the property in 1929. They specialized in Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault varietals. He and his sons became known for their Carlonet blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault grapes. Uitkyk went into financial decline after WWII and was bought in 1983 by the Distillers Corporation (now known as Distell). In 1999, Uitkyk became part of Lusan Holdings (Pty) Ltd., a joint venture created between Distell and Hans Schreiber. Distill contributed the Uitkyk property and two other farms, while Schreiber rolled in four farms that he had purchased in the 1980s. The joint venture oversees the farming and winemaking, with all products sold through Distell’s extensive distribution channels.
Laurens joined Uitkyk as winemaker in October 2000. She switched from studying biophysics to oenology and viticulture early on in her career. Her winemaking experience began at Simi Cellars in California’s Sonoma wine region and in 1997 she returned to South Africa to work at Neethlingshof Estate under Schalk van der Westhuizen. What attracted her to Uitkyk was their philosophy of producing hand crafted wines that express the terroir.
To complement their traditional Uitkyk wines, they launched a more approachable line under the Flat Roof Manor label in 2004, named after their historic winery. Some 80% of the Flat Roof Manor production is sold to Canada, with the rest consumed domestically. Total production is 100,000 litres of Uitkyk wines (50:50 red and white varietals) and 300,000 litres at Flat Roof (55:45 white and red grapes). Pinot Grigio accounts for some of their oldest vines and they have a block of 33 year old Chenin Blanc. Their goal is to expand the total vineyards from 160 to 180 hectares.
Flat Roof Manor Pinot Grigio 2011 ($11.25; 12.5%) had no skin contact and is therefore pale yellow in colour. Aging on the lees for three to four months added complexity and length to this fragrant, fruity wine. White grapefruit, citrus and minerality notes are complemented by a core of lively acidity. They opted to call it Pinot Grigio instead of Pinot Gris as they have the Italian varietal, Sangiovese, on their property.
Uitkyk Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($14.95; 14.1%) expresses both grassy and tropical notes by design. Because Stellenbosch is a warmer region, planting the Sauvignon Blanc in higher elevation vineyards produces those tropical notes. Laurens feels this wine can age for 10-12 months of aging without losing its freshness, which is not typical of warmer climate Sauvignon Blancs.
Uitkyk Chardonnay 2010 ($21.95; 13.7%) is made with a varietal that has undergone the most change under Laurens. She has tempered the wood influence by reducing the amount of new wood from 100% in 2001 to 25-30% and by switching from a combination of American and Hungarian to French wood in the past five years. She has also eliminated the use of malolactic fermentation by switching to yeast that produces glycerol to deliver an unctuous mouthfeel to the wine, while preserving its acidity. Citrus and tropical flavours combine with butterscotch and caramel characters in this wine, which is best paired with richer food dishes.
Flat Roof Manor Merlot 2008 ($11.25; 14.4%) is a 100% varietal aged for 9-12 months in 4-5 year old barrels. Dried fruit, plums, cedar and spice are balanced by gentle tannins, imparting a softness to the finish.
Uitkyk Carlonet 2008 ($21.95; 15.0%) is their flagship wine at 45% of their production, which has a huge following in South Africa. Laurens has phased out the use of Cinsault and made this a predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon based wine. She added 2% Shiraz to this blend and combined bush vines with Estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon to bring out fruitiness in this wine. Aging in Hungarian wood (18%), in addition to French (64%) and American (18%), gives a peaty, woody aroma to this dark ruby wine. It follows through with a complex palate of forest berries, morello cherries and cranberries, with spice and chocolate.
Uitkyk Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2007 ($19.95; 15.2%) is an equal blend of these varietals aged in French, American and Hungarian wood. Cherry rimmed, this inky wine has forest berries, prunes, dried fruit, vanilla and cedar flavours, with black pepper notes. The wood influence will become more subtle with 3-8 years of cellaring.
All ratings are out of five apples.
Barbara D. Ritchie is a wine writer, lecturer and internationally accredited wine judge, who has travelled extensively throughout the main wine growing regions of the world. Her working knowledge of French, Italian, Spanish and German facilitates her in-depth winery profiles. A distinctive aspect to writing is her suggestions for food and wine pairings.