De Toren, Stellenbosch: one of the top names from Stellenbosch, and indeed from South Africa, full stop, that has propelled itself to this elevated position in less than 20 years.
In 1994 Emil and Sonette Den Dulk were searching for a special property in the Cape. They came to this spot and, looking out at Table Mountain in the West, across False Bay and east to the Stellenbosch mountains, they knew they had found what they were looking for. Their aim was to create South Africa’s first five varietal Bordeaux blend with a philosophy of gentle winemaking and detailed vineyard practices. 17 years later they would be nominated New World Winery of the year by the Wine Enthusiast magazine.
De Toren has 22ha on the Polkadraai Hills overlooking Stellenbosch at an elevation of 200-400m, benefiting from the cooling South-Eastern wind to form a microclimate perfectly suited to the elegant style they covet. 25 different clones of the five bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, are matched to 10 different rootstocks and planted across fifteen different soil types. Each variety, clone and root stock is matched to the soil type to gain as much complexity from the vineyard as possible.
Stellenbosch native Albie Koch is cellar master. Together with winemaker Charles Williams he is committed to creating wines that are elegant, nuanced, silky soft and true to site. Attention to detail is obsessive: grapes are handpicked in the first two hours of daylight, and immediately taken to a cool room to preserve their flavour and freshness. Only these two hours are used for picking, the rest of the 10 hour harvest work day is spent inspecting and selecting the best grapes for the cellar. Every berry passes through 23 different check points. Carefully controlled drip irrigation ensures that each vine is kept in that precarious state of struggle, allowing for concentrated, full flavoured, small berries to grow. Yields are very low. Each vine produces just over a kilogram of grapes. Before harvest even begins up to 40% of the bunches are removed, to ensure all the vine’s energy goes into producing small and concentrated berries. Using a combination of aerial imaging, detailed chemical analysis, and taste tests, the vineyard is divided up and harvested bit by bit, making sure only perfectly ripe grapes are picked. Book XVII and Black Lion take the obsession further with even lower yields and their own dedicated winery within a winery.