Most Europeans dont appreciate the gravitas of the word Spioenkop, of Spioenkop the place in South Africas province of KwaZulu-Natal and what took place there over a century ago. But then the Belgian couple Koen and Lore Roose, who make wine in the Western Capes Elgin Valley on a farm that is also called Spioenkop, are by no means typical Europeans. Like many who studied history at school in South Africa, they too were enthralled on learning about The Battle of Spioenkop in 1900 and the amazing victory of the Boere over British soldiers despite being far out-numbered. Click here for a brief account of what transpired.
Just as World War I and II were milestones in European history, so was the battle of Spioenkop a milestone in the history of the South African people. And gauging from the early beginnings of Spioenkop Wines under the guardianship of the Rooses, the establishment of this Elgin wine farm on a hill very similar to the one in KZN is set to become a milestone in its own right.
The vision of winemaker Koen Roose is to produce elegant wines that are sexy and pure but at the same time unique, a little wild even. Squeaky clean is not for him. Personality is important and at Spioenkop, whether its to do with his atypical vineyard plantings or the combination of Old and New World in his boutique wine cellar, technology and laboratory analyses will only be used to assist the winemaker and never to detract from the importance of human involvement. “At the end of the day its about what you feel and taste in your mouth. Taste intensity is crucial,” stresses Koen.
“The most beautiful wines dont necessarily come from the most beautiful vineyards. Every vine should be allowed to express its individuality and what we dont want is manipulate them all to be homogenous. Who wants to drink monotonous wines without soul or character? Great wine isnt perfect. It shouldnt be! Great wine has to do with an amazingly good taste experience…”
Spioenkop is not just about a couple of Belgians who fell in love with South Africa and the Elgin Valley with its mild climate. The Rooses moved here with a specific goal in mind, to take up the challenge of proving what they believe in when it comes to farming practices and winemaking techniques and of honouring wine South Africa in the long term. “Terroir is important to us. We believe in appellation or wine of origin in its purest form. Aromatic yeasts are banned from our fermentation cellar, as are computer-controlled rotating presses to extract the juice from the grapes… At Spioenkop we arent afraid of hard labour. We prefer the gentle treatment of a basket press in the winery and tend to the vineyards by hand, on foot, avoiding the use of throbbing tractors that compact the ground and hamper the natural scheme of things such as micro-organisms in the soil that influence the vines, the grapes and the wines.”
At this farm they dont use supplementary irrigation and they dont interfere with nature by way of pesticides and chemical weed controls. They do use various forms of compost-tea and herbal tea as natural fertilisers – and they work according to the lunar cycles. Are they crazy? Just a little – the winemaker goes by the book but likes to push the envelope a bit, where he feels its warranted. Are they bio-dynamic? “No, not strictly speaking,” says Koen, “but we strive for a balance between the natural way of doing things and what makes for a sustainable business. We are green at heart and work in harmony with nature, but we dont bullshit: honesty is our marketing tool. Here we believe that most of your wine experience takes place between your ears…”