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Julia Burke
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Stellenbauchery has a new look and new home on Wordpress! Cheers! Continue reading
Posted Aug 28, 2012 at Stellenbauchery
Jen, thanks for the comment! I had an amazing time in the Cape and will go back the first chance I get. It's not financially feasible for me to go as often as I'd like at this point, but I am hoping to make some of the 2012 vintage!
My last day in SA this year was a carnival of pinotage awesomeness, and I came away with the realization that you can't generalize too much about this crazy grape because there are some producers who are passionate about it and make a very distinct style. Tell me you hate pinotage and I'll immediately ask you which ones you've tried, and you'd better impress me. There's a place for the voluptuous, fruit-driven, chocolately pinotage style for which Diemersfontein has made a name, and it's a vast ocean from the gamey, meaty Kanonkop-esque style. My mother, who fell in love with... Continue reading
Posted May 27, 2011 at Stellenbauchery
Long time, no post! I've been taking a little break from drinking to train for a marathon while my South African wines recover from their international flight, but I haven't stopped spreading the SA love. On this past trip I deliberately made an effort to visit farms that export their wines into the U.S., and specifically farms that we carry at the store. My goal was to write more about wines people back home could actually try---and to expand and improve my Wines of South Africa class! Our store offers these excellent classes on everything from zinfandel to wine and... Continue reading
Posted Apr 27, 2011 at Stellenbauchery
My last day in South Africa was a busy one, and a truly amazing way to close this fast-but-furious trip. I spent the morning with Chris Edge of Cape Legends, a company that represents farms such as Neetlingshof, Cederberg, and Tukulu. Chris was kind enough to take me out for a few tours, which culminated in a serendipitous lunch experience. We began at the beautiful Plaisir du Merle estate in Franschhoek, which features a gorgeous manor house and gardens and a tasty sauvignon blanc and shiraz. From there we made a stop at Le Bonheur in Stellenbosch, also a beautiful... Continue reading
Posted Mar 25, 2011 at Stellenbauchery
Last year I visited Paarl only to see the fascinating Afrikaans Language Monument. The region, which is north and slightly west of Stellenbosch, houses some of South Africa's most internationally recognized farms and produces a huge amount of wine, so when big-name producers Fairview and Glen Carlou invited me out for a visit, I jumped at the chance. When I jumped out of the car after the drive from Stellenbosch, I was amazed at the obvious temperature difference: Paarl is at least 3 degrees Celsius warmer than Stellenbosch most of the time, and on this particular day it felt more... Continue reading
Posted Mar 21, 2011 at Stellenbauchery
At this time you may be wondering how my liver has managed to survive this voyage. The answer is braai. South Africans have come up with an ingenious way to absorb all the magnificent wine they ingest: by piling up vineyard cuttings in a wood-fire grill, letting the coals burn down while they drink copious amounts, and then throwing whatever tasty animals they can find onto the grill with a simple-yet-impossible-to-reproduce "braai seasoning" and let it work its magic. Thanks to my host mother Elmien's phenomenal home cooking, the braai skills every South African man appears to be born with,... Continue reading
Posted Mar 18, 2011 at Stellenbauchery
I can’t come to South Africa and not spend time in Constantia, which is home to some of my favorite wine farms. Luckily Kara was willing to take a break from her hectic weekend to bring me to two of the best, Klein Constantia and Buitenverwachting. Klein Contantia is known first and foremost for Vin de Constance, a sweet Muscat wine with a rich history (it was a favorite of Napoleon, for starters). Winemaker Adam Mason requested that we show up Saturday morning with croissants. We happily obliged, and interrupted his morning pumpovers for a lovely breakfast of espresso, croissants... Continue reading
Posted Mar 17, 2011 at Stellenbauchery
My host family’s son-in-law, Sean, works for Zorgvliet, so he treated me to a red-carpet tasting this weekend on a gorgeous morning in the Banghoek valley. Zorgvliet impressed me last year for its interesting single-cultivar options, which include tannat, petit verdot, and my holy grail, cabernet franc. Sean first brought me to the cellar for a quick tour; the winery expanded in the past few years and is clearly well-equipped for a small winery. But it’s the view outside that is the winery’s biggest aesthetic asset; look at that gorgeous valley! The vineyard below the mountain is the sauvignon blanc... Continue reading
Posted Mar 16, 2011 at Stellenbauchery
Viticulturist Ernest Manuel sent me this lovely picture of a bird's nest in the vineyards with the caption, "now this is what I want to call nature-friendly wine growing!" It's a perfect illustration of De Toren's impressive commitment to sustainable farm practices. I've mentioned Ernest's use of 2% organic compost in the soil as well as cover crop residues, a way of gradually nurturing the soil's microbial life after decades of commercial farming may have upset its natural balance. As Ernest explains it, "the end result is good aerated soil with easy extractable nutrients for the vines to consume." Cover... Continue reading
Posted Mar 14, 2011 at Stellenbauchery
I’ve just experienced three days of crushing it at wine farms thanks to South African wine passionista extraordinaire and all-around awesome chick Kara Miller of Cape Classics. A Hoboken transplant who worked harvest at Kanonkop in 2009 and decided she wanted to live here, Kara is my hero and a perfect tour guide with a backstage pass to South Africa’s top wine farms. She kidnapped me from the sorting table on Thursday to bring me to Kanonkop and Rustenberg in the Simonsberg region. They’re two of the most highly acclaimed producers in Stellenbosch and they both have an excellent U.S.... Continue reading
Posted Mar 13, 2011 at Stellenbauchery
If I could sum up my initial impression of the De Toren philosophy it would be something like, "no detail too small." Meticulous care from the vineyard to the berries to the tanks is what drives quality here, and it's awesome to be a part of it. After three days of merlot harvest I've gotten an amazing glimpse into what goes into world-class wines like Fusion V and Z. When the grapes come in, between 6 and 9 a.m., the totes are tossed one by one onto the first conveyor which brings them to the first vibrating table. This gets... Continue reading
Posted Mar 11, 2011 at Stellenbauchery
Monday, my first day at De Toren, was fantastic with a good introduction to the estate before harvest began. First Albie showed me around the tiny but beautiful tasting room, cellar and barrel room, then assistant winemaker Charles had me help him and his staff take some vineyard samples. They are doing a project with a local college where they have certain blocks regularly irrigated (the rest of the vineyard is irrigated minimally according to an advanced system -- more on that in a bit) and blocks with lateral shoots removed as an experiment. The rest of the day was... Continue reading
Posted Mar 8, 2011 at Stellenbauchery
Only two days in SA and I've already had an amazing wine weekend! I'm staying with a lovely couple who work at De Toren and Zorgvliet and they've been most hospitable. Yesterday they took me to brunch with their family at Le Pommier, which was once part of the Zorgvliet brand. After a nice Banhoek breakfast I tasted through the lineup and was particularly impressed by the 2007 reserve cab at $10 a bottle. After brunch we took a drive to Franschhoek, which is incredibly beautiful even for the western Cape. It’s rather touristy but I didn’t even care because... Continue reading
Posted Mar 6, 2011 at Stellenbauchery
Well, as you know if you've ever travelled in the Marmite nations, the accompanying photo can only mean one thing: I am back in South Africa. After 20 hours in the air (at the end of the last leg, a 12 hour flight from Amsterdam to Cape Town, the entire plane broke out into rowdy applause, cracking up our flight attendant to the point where she could barely finish her announcements) four in-flight movies (Eat Pray Love sucked) and countless digs on the Swiss at the expense of the good-natured Swiss cutie sitting next to me, I made it to... Continue reading
Posted Mar 4, 2011 at Stellenbauchery
With my trip to Stellenbosch only weeks away and my list of wines to try and bring home growing by the day, I've been craving South African juice lately in a big way. I enjoyed two awesome reds this weekend that only fueled my excitement. Only 17 days till I'll be soaking up vineyard magic at De Toren! The first was a bottle I've been saving over a year, since I visited Haskell/Dombeya and had the pleasure of spending time with celebrated winemaker Rianie Strydom and her celebrated winemaker husband Louis Strydom. The sample bottle of 2008 Haskell Pillars Syrah,... Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2011 at Stellenbauchery
I'm proud to say I scored this wine long before Wine Spectator named it #100 in its 2010 Wines of the Year and featured a great picture of punchdowns at Kanonkop in its December issue. I scored it before the retailer where I work sampled it but did not pick it up, on the grounds that $30 was too much to ask for a pinotage. Well, maybe that's true, but I know good pinotage when I taste it (speaking of which, LCBO gods, thanks for throwing a pinotage into the Wine Tasting Challenge in Toronto this week - it accounted... Continue reading
Posted Dec 3, 2010 at Stellenbauchery
Exactly six months ago today I was finding my seat on the KLM flight from Cape Town to Amsterdam, on my way home from the greatest adventure of my life. I settled in, put on my headphones, and decided to take my mind off my sadness by putting on an in-flight movie. "Invictus! I still haven't seen it! Perfect!" I thought. Yup, I chose an uplifting drama about South African politics starring Morgan Freeman. Brilliant, Jules. Before the opening credits were finished I was crying my eyes out. A sweet South African lady sitting next to me gave a sympathetic... Continue reading
Posted Nov 4, 2010 at Stellenbauchery
A few days ago my one of coworkers called me over to the wine desk to announce, "We've got some 'Julia wines' here!" Indeed, there were five new South Africans wines at the desk, none of which I had had before. Three were particularly interesting: Bosman Family Vineyards Adama 2008, and two 2009 wines produced by Bosman but under the Appollis label: a red blend based on cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and a chardonnay-based white blend. All three are Wine of Origin Wellington (a warmer region north of Stellenbosch) and unfamiliar to me, but what really caught my eye was... Continue reading
Posted Sep 20, 2010 at Stellenbauchery
I did not try wines from De Toren while I was in Stellenbosch, but this producer of Bordeaux blends Fusion V and Z, which boast sky-high scores from Platter, Wine Enthusiast, and Decanter, is definitely on my radar now after an impressive showing at Best of the Braai in Toronto: their offerings showed thick, brambly blackberry flavors, dusty cassis and incredible depth. I was thrilled when Cape Classics sent me a bottle of Fusion V 2007 shortly afterward – and I recently found a good chance to open it. The occasion was a blind tasting dinner with some of my... Continue reading
Posted Aug 31, 2010 at Stellenbauchery
"Eat Critters, Drink MAN" says the label - a clever dig on the "critter" labels that are ubiquitous among inexpensive wines from a certain heavily marketed Southern Hemisphere nation. I didn't get around to trying MAN Vintners wines while in SA because I knew they'd be available in the U.S., but as one of the most widely distributed and fairly priced South African labels imported into this country, it's a brand worth knowing. This cabernet shows a robust nose of black cherry, cassis, and a pleasing hint of menthol. Just slightly smoky with balanced alcohol, it's juicy and full -... Continue reading
Posted Aug 16, 2010 at Stellenbauchery
One of the reasons I love my new wine retail gig is our impressive South African wine selection, and since we routinely do free, open-to-the-public wine classes, I decided my first project at the new job would be Wines of South Africa 101. The first thing I learned was that picking out wines is about a lot more than just "what's good?" Of course, I'd love to have featured De Trafford 2004 Blueprint Shiraz - but at the $40 price point and with less than two cases in stock it wasn't logistically possible. So many factors went into play that... Continue reading
Posted Aug 9, 2010 at Stellenbauchery
I had the pleasure of meeting Black Pearl winemaker Mary-Lou Nash, an American expat, at a party while in Stellenbosch, and was able to tell her in person that her cab/shiraz blend was one of my early South African wine discovery moments. One of my favorite Paarl producers, Black Pearl turns out some powerful and stunning reds. I recently made a big leap from one aspect of the wine industry to another: I left my job at the winery for a position as a Wine Associate at Premium Wine and Spirits, a member of the Premier Group. The store has... Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2010 at Stellenbauchery
So my birthday was actually two weeks ago, but it's shaping up to be a bit of a hectic summer and my posting abilities have suffered. Without further ado, I'd like to discuss the South African stunners that graced my table, helping me and my wine geek compadres greet the summer solstice. Naturally we began with some bubbly: a bottle of Groot Constantia Methode Cap Classique made from 100% Chardonnay which I brought back on the plane from SA. It offered lovely rich lees-y notes and hints of fig and pear. Due to a New Year's resolution my sommelier buddy... Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2010 at Stellenbauchery
I was recently sent a gorgeous package of samples from top SA wine importer Cape Classics, and on the opening day of the World Cup last week, the first bottle to be cracked was this chenin blanc. Though this is the first wine I have tried from this Stellenbosch chenin blanc producer, I'll make sure it won't be the last. I've written several times about the lusty, rich character of many SA whites, notably the chenin blancs I tried while in the country; there's a certain combination of balanced oak, creamy lees-y characteristics, and ripe fruit (without sacrificing acidity) that... Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2010 at Stellenbauchery