Theuniskraal, one of the town of Tulbagh’s best-known wine farms and South Africa’s very first 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.
According to tradition, 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, Helena Debora Jordaan, a widow 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. Big wooden vats were sent out to the Cape from Europe by sea and then on to Tulbagh by rail where they were filled with wine and sent back the same way.
In 1948, the estate launched a Riesling (Cape Riesling) which two years later was awarded a gold medal at the Commonwealth Wine Show in London. Theuniskraal Cape Riesling has to this day a great following. The acclaimed Theuniskraal range further includes Theuniskraal Sémillon/Chardonnay, an unwooded fruity blend of Sémillon and Chardonnay, Theuniskraal Sauvignon blanc, Theuniskraal Prestige, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, Theuniskraal Shiraz, Theuniskraal Cabernet Sauvignon, Theuniskraal Bouquet Blanc, a sweet white blend of Gewürztraminer and Muscat Blanc and Theuniskraal Moscato Rosé, a semi-sweet rosé made of Muscat Ottonel and Shiraz.
Andries Jordaan’s two sons, Rennie and Kobus continued where he left off. Rennie, the eldest son of Andries Jordaan, now retired, still provides very valuable input. The passing away in 2010 of his younger brother, Kobus, was a great shock for the family and a big loss for Theuniskraal. The next generation has continued the tradition, with Andries Jnr as principle winemaker and cousins Wagner and Flippie assisting with the winemaking and viticulture.
Theuniskraal is situated about 7 km 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 2 000 m above sea level, they are regularly snow-clad in winter, giving the vines the opportunity to go into proper dormancy, essential for varietals such as Cape Riesling, Shiraz and Chardonnay. Intense cold leads to more even budding in spring, which impacts beneficially 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 noble elegant varietals. 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, supplement natural rainfall during the dry 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.
Currently, there are 120 ha under vines, planted to thirteen varietals. The most significant varietals are Cape Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Chenin blanc, 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 through all stages of wine-making.
WINEMAKER’S PROFILE: ANDRIES JORDAAN
My winemaking philosophy is based on simplicity.
I try to keep the process as simple as possible by doing the basics right
for as we all know, a great wine is made in the vineyard.
The Jordaans’ proud tradition of handing down the art of winemaking from father to son still lives on today with current winemaker Andries Jordaan and his cousins, Wagner and Flippie, the third generation at Theuniskraal. Andries’s love for winemaking grew from an early age roaming the vineyards and the cellar on the farm.
After majoring in oenology and viticulture at the Stellenbosch University, Andries honed his skills at Simi Winery in California and Wagner his in Australia, before joining the rest of the family at Theuniskraal. Over the years he has gradually taken over the responsibilities in the cellar from his uncle, Kobus.
“My first priority is to make top-quality wine,” says Andries, “but on a broader scale, I would also like to help bring about a change in the wine-drinking culture among South Africans by encouraging people to drink moderately every day while enjoying your wine with food.” To this end, Theuniskraal wines are well priced but represent consistently good quality.
His winemaking philosophy is one of simplicity. “I try to keep the process as simple as possible by doing the basics right for as we all know, a great wine is made in the vineyard.” By putting a great emphasis on gentle handling and minimum manipulation, Andries does everything he possibly can to preserve the precious flavours and enhance the natural quality of the grapes.
“I think it is important that your style of winemaking fits the demand of you potential market and if it proves successful, to make sure that you maintain the quality and style,” he says.
Theuniskraal wines are designed to be enjoyed, with a wide variety of delicious food dishes and at all sorts of occasions.
Date of birth: 2 September 1966
Marital status: Married
Tertiary studies: Degree in oenology and viticulture from Stellenbosch University
Work experience: Andries honed his skills at Simi Winery in California, USA, before taking over the winemaking reigns at Theuniskraal where he has been for the past 30 years.