Theuniskraal, one of the town of Tulbagh’s best-known wine farms and South Africa’s very first white-wine estate, has a history as interesting, and as old, as the village itself. Situated some 120 km from Cape Town, Tulbagh is the centre of one of South Africa’s oldest agricultural regions.
A haven with a temperate climate, the valley is girded by the lofty peaks of the Obiqua, Winterhoek and Witzenberg mountains, offering perfect slopes, protection and superb conditions for the vines of a wide variety of cultivars. According to history, three families settled in the picturesque Tulbagh valley in 1699. One of the families had a son named Theunis, who was granted land to the north of the village. His property was originally named Theuniskuyl, but by 1785, when vines were already being cultivated there, the name had changed to Theuniskraal.
In 1927 the widow Jordaan from De Doorns bought the farm for her two sons. The elder, Andries, farmed on Theuniskraal, while the younger, Harry, did so on Agenda, a portion of the original farm.
The private wine industry at that time was almost non-existent, but Andries was determined to make high quality wine. By the 1940s he was shipping respectable quantities of wine in bulk to London. Great wooden vats were sent out by sea from Europe to the Cape and then on to Tulbagh by rail where they were filled with wine and sent back the same way.
In addition to its popular Cape Riesling, the acclaimed Theuniskraal range further includes the Theuniskraal Sémillon/Chardonnay, an unwooded blend of Sémillon and Chardonnay; the Theuniskraal Bouquet Blanc, a sweet white blend of Gewürztraminer and Muscat de Frontignan; the Theuniskraal Rosé, a semi-sweet rosé made of Shiraz, Muscat Ottonel and Colombar, and the Theuniskraal Prestige, a dry red blend of Ruby Cabernet, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Nowadays the whole family works on Theuniskraal. Andries, the eldest son of Rennie Jordaan, is the principal winemaker, while Rennie, now semi-retired, still provides very valuable input. The passing away in 2010 of Andries’ younger brother, Kobus, was a great shock for the family and a big loss for Theuniskraal. The family tradition continues, with Andries’ cousin Flippie as Theuniskraal’s viticulturist, and his brother Wagner assisting with both winemaking and viticulture.
Theuniskraal is situated about 7km to the north of the village of Tulbagh, tucked into the Winterhoek Valley which is formed by the Witzenberg Mountains to the east, the Obiqua range to the west and the Winterhoek Mountains to the north.
These mountains form important watersheds and are the main sources of the three most significant rivers in the Western Cape, the Berg, the Breede and Olifants. The second highest peaks in the Western Cape are also found in these mountains. Situated more than 2 000m above sea level, they are regularly snow-clad in winter, giving the vines the opportunity to go into proper dormancy, essential for late-budding varietals such as Cape Riesling, Shiraz and Chardonnay. Intense cold leads to more even budding in spring, which has a beneficial impact on the quality of the grapes.
Establishing vineyards in this area involves removing or crushing thousands of tons of boulders. Never daunted, the Jordaans still take on the gigantic task of producing the farm’s characteristic cool, stony, sandy-loam soils with excellent drainage and aeration. These soils provide excellent growing conditions, especially for Cape Riesling. Moveable trellising wires, careful canopy management and modern viticultural practices, plus the cooling shadows cast by the surrounding mountains, ensure the slow ripening of the grapes.
Natural farming methods combine happily with the latest technology to bring out the best in each vintage. A sophisticated drip irrigation system, with probes that measure soil moisture, supplements natural rainfall during the drier and warmer summer months. Three weather stations on the farms are used to forecast possible outbreaks of disease in the vineyards and to ensure that spraying is carried out only at the right times, and with the right chemicals. Fertilisation is computer-controlled and a patrol of vigilant ducks, rather than pesticides, decimates snails.
Currently, there are 140ha under vine, planted with ten varietals. All vineyards are trellised and receive supplementary drip irrigation owing to the very rocky, sandy-loam soils found on the farm. The most significant varietals are Cape Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Without good grapes there can be no fine wine. At Theuniskraal, grapes harvested in the cool of the morning are ripe, crisp and flavour-filled when they reach the cellar. Gentle handling and minimum manipulation preserve that flavour throughout all the stages of wine-making.
The Secret of Theuniskraal
Theuniskraal is situated 7km north of Tulbagh, tucked in the lush Winterhoek Valley, formed by the Witzenberg Mountains to the east, the Obiqua Range to the west and the Winterhoek Mountains to the north.
These encircling mountains create important watersheds and are the main sources of the three most significant rivers in the Western Cape. Situated 2 050m above sea level, these peaks are regularly snow-clad in winter, giving the vines the opportunity to retreat into proper dormancy, essential for late-budding varietals. Intense cold leads to more even budding in spring, which has a beneficial impact on grape quality.
Establishing these vineyards involved crushing tons of boulders. The Jordaans undertook this gigantic task, producing Theuniskraal’s cool, stony, sandy-loam soils with excellent drainage and aeration – which in turn provide the ideal growing conditions. Moveable trellising wires, careful canopy management and modern viticultural practices (along with the cooling shadows cast by the surrounding mountains) ensure the slow ripening of the grapes. Without good grapes there can be no fine wine. Grapes are therefore harvested in the cool of the morning to remain ripe, crisp and flavour-filled. Gentle handling and minimum manipulation preserve these flavours.
ANDRIES JORDAAN – WINEMAKER
As a fourth-generation Theuniskraal Jordaan, winemaking is quite simply in Andries’ blood. Further trained at the University of Stellenbosch, Andries has taken over the responsibilities of the cellar from his father, Rennie, who still lends a hand – along with the rest of the family. Andries’ cousin Wagner is Theuniskraal’s viticulturist. Andries’ first priority is to create superlative wine. His ambition is to help bring about a change in the South African wine-drinking culture, encouraging people to enjoy wine moderately, every day. Theuniskraal wines are perfectly priced and epitomise consistently good quality.