Wine lovers are delighted to find they no longer have to travel far to enjoy a wine tasting experience. Ballito’s own wine cellar, Seventeen87, has opened and we met up with the project’s head viticulturist Daniel Märkl.
A striking mural of the late, great Zulu King Shaka sits front and centre in the beautiful tasting room at the Seventeen87 wine cellar at Sugar Rush Park. It’s a commanding piece, and the perfect addition to the Zulu-themed cellar, which aims to brings more than just good wine to the region.
The wine’s name, Seventeen87, pays homage to King Shaka’s birth year, 1787 and was launched by Enterprise iIembe (the economic development agency of the iLembe District Municipality).
“One of the main aims of the cellar is to add to the tourism offerings available to both local and international visitors to the region,” says Cheryl Peters, responsible for tourism and investment promotion for the region. “ The wine cellar also gives people another reason for a day visit to the area and an opportunity to learn more about the Zulu culture and enjoy some great wine.”
Originally from Stellenbosch, Daniel is a qualified viticulturist and oenologist (wine maker) and has worked at top farms around the Western Cape and overseas. He admits he was sceptical when Enterprise iLembe first approached him to run their wine-making project.
“I was resistant at first, but then I realised how exciting it would be to be part of something new like this. I’d spent my whole life in Stellenbosch and the timing was good for me.”
The iLembe Vineyards and Winery Project was first started 10 years ago, with a cultivar that was deemed suitable to the climate of the region, called Villard Blanc, being planted in Maphumulo, Ndwedwe and Mandeni.
The decision to plant in these areas, Daniel says, was intended to help bring new agricultural opportunities and create employment for local communities. The project was funded by the KZN Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.
Daniel explains that while the grapes planted in iLembe are not the same ones used to make the Seventeen87 wine, they are sold and used to make blends. The wines which form part of the Seventeen87 brand are sourced from other wine estates.
The beautifully designed tasting room is ideal for intimate tastings and small gatherings. “We could have made the look and feel more modern and contemporary, but we really wanted it to speak to what we are doing here. KZN doesn’t traditionally have a strong wine-drinking culture and people are sometimes intimidated by wine tasting. This is a very laid-back, relaxed setting where people can come together and learn about wine in a comfortable environment.”
Their alignment, specifically on similar community-based projects, has led to a close working relationship with popular Drakensberg wine, Cathedral Peak, which is also sold at the Seventeen87 cellar. “You want to be able to give people a range of different wines to try at a tasting. We now have 18 different wines on offer,” says Daniel.
Cheryl added, “With a host of other activities and a fantastic restaurant on site, Sugar Rush Park is the ideal location for the wine cellar. The wine cellar is available for intimate functions such as dinners, parties or events of between 15 and 20 people, which can include catering which is offered in partnership with Food Fundi, as well as a wine-tasting with Daniel.”
Wine-tasting tips from Daniel
• Swirling your glass and holding it an angle: when you do this you are testing the viscosity and therefore the alcohol content of the wine. It’s called ‘tears of wine’ and the slower the wine runs, the higher the viscosity and alcohol level.
• Swirling the glass is also done to ‘open the bouquet’. Smell is a huge component of tasting the wine. Oxygen sits on top of the wine and when you swirl it you allow the fragrance to come through better.
• Swallowing your wine contributes nothing to the tasting experience. All the taste sensors sit on your tongue and none in your throat.
Text: Leah Shone