THE STORY OF WARWICK WINE ESTATE
When people talk about the ‘history’ of a place, they think of the people who lived there, and the personalities who built it. For Warwick Estate, ‘history’ began when the first title deed was issued for the land in 1771. For almost two hundred years, it was a hugely productive fruit farm that served the Cape’s growing pioneer population.
It was only in 1964 that the Ratcliffe Family arrived on the scene, and it took winemaker Norma Ratcliffe, alongside her husband Stan, twenty years before they released their first wine. Warwick’s La Femme Bleu Cabernet Sauvignon was released in 1984, after which the estate went on to bottle the first ever ‘Cape Blend’ in the world, won multiple international wine awards, appeared on some of the planet’s most prestigious wine lists, and even became a wine of choice for James Bond in one of his many adventures.In many senses, the Warwick Estate brand that you know today was developed the same way one might nurture a grape vine; through decade upon decade of careful planning, pruning, and persistence. In 2018, setting our sights on the future, we acquired the neighbouring estate of Uitkyk. The acquisition of this new land under the leadership of an internationally experienced team is an exciting chapter to have added to Warwick’s history.But the word ‘history’ can sometimes be limiting, too. Because ‘history’ appears to give all the credit to the people and ignores what came earlier. Long before the fruit farm, and long before the Ratcliffe family, this little piece of the planet held greatness in its very soil. And more than just being part of our ‘history’, this land is our heritage.
Situated in the foothills and mid-slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain, with altitudes ranging from 240 to 360 metres above sea level, our estate carries all the elements required to make world-class wine.
With cooling factors from both elevation and ocean breezes, as well as a variety of slopes, aspects and soil types, the Warwick vineyards are a mix of classic Bordeaux cultivars, with a touch of South African stalwarts like Pinotage and old vine Chenin Blanc.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted cultivar, accounting for a quarter of the land under vine. Sauvignon Blanc is a close second, with our prized Cabernet Franc coming third. We have nine cultivars in total, with red cultivars accounting for two thirds of the land under vine.
The Marriage of Planting And Provenance
While we certainly have a rich range of cultivars on the estate, the true breadth of expression is not created through grapes alone. Rather it’s a combination of soil and fruit. The quality of our wines is owed as much to the elements and environment as it is to the vineyard and cellar teams.
In this vein, each cultivar is matched to particular soil types. Vigorous vines like Merlot or Pinotage (that have the potential to produce too much fruit) are often paired with poorer soils, like gravel or loamy clay. These soils allow the vines to struggle a little. The result of this is a smaller berry size with a higher concentration, which makes a better wine!
Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc, in contrast, need to be treated a little more generously. They handle stress worse than a poodle in a python park. So we take care to plant them in slightly richer clay soils.
As for our Cabernet Sauvignon…he’s a slippery customer. He needs plenty of sun to ripen properly, but he can also get bushier than a bramble patch in a Brahmen paddock. We need to give him plenty of sun, but also employ diligent canopy management to keep those leaves in check. A sort of tough love, if you will.
Sustainability In Our Methods
Hopefully it’s clear that we view our wines as the result of interplay between man, vine, and environment. It’s this cognisance of our environment that leads us to talk rather of our heritage, as opposed to simply our ‘history’. Because heritage is not just a snapshot of the past; it’s a responsibility carried into the future. We realise that what stands here today is something inherited, and therefore something to be nurtured and protected for the generations of friends and family that come after us.
And when one thinks about this long enough, it becomes impossible for it not to affect everything that we do here on the estate. We strive to work the land in a way that maintains a balance between the biodiversity that nature has gifted us, and the vines that produce grapes for our wines. This not only extends to our practises of sowing cover crops such as lupins and radishes to naturally uplift soil compaction, and promote microbial activity, but we also seek to use water as sparingly as possible. We refrain from using harmful insecticides, and employ natural predators instead. In short, we seek to achieve long-term harmony, rather than short-term gains.
It may be admirable to produce a wine like our Trilogy, that can outlast a generation. But it’s essential to preserve our environment to outlast us all.