“Two wineries being neighborly!”
Glen Carlou and Backsberg are neighboring wineries in Paarl who kindly hosted me for a tasting of both wines, then lunch at Backsberg’s lovely al fresco restaurant.
Let’s call that the spirit of South Africa, yet it is wonderful to see wineries working together to showcase the styles and quality of South African wine.
The visit began in the stylish Backsberg tasting room, where I was greeted by Backsberg representative Harry Haddon and Glen Carlou winemaker Arco Laarmar, who somehow has developed the nickname “The Welder.” Both seemed very effervescent and personable and passionate about South Africa and its wines.
The Backsberg winery has 110 ha under vineyard and additional satellite vineyards in two other areas. The vineyards are located along the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountains, mid way between Paarl and Stellenbosch and 40 minutes from Cape Town.
The Backsberg tasting room is rather whimsical in design … light and airy and down to earth at the same time. As we tasted, a steady stream of visitors popped in and out, buying wines from the winery’s curiously labeled brands (e.g. Tread Lightly by Backsberg anyone?)
At Backsberg you will find wines in various quality levels, with whites including Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and sparklers as well including Viognier. Reds include Merlot, some Rhone varietals, and red blends. They even have a Kosher range (sparkling brut, Chardonnay, Pinotage, Merlot). The premium wine receives a lot of tender loving care with new French oak and up to 12 months on the lees.
You don’t see a lot of Kosher wine in South Africa, but owner Michael Back’s grandfather arrived at the shores of Cape Town as a penniless political and religious refugee from Lithuania. In the fullness of time he became a butcher, then bought the farm that is today Backsberg Estate Cellars. The farm was “mixed use” (produce, grains, as well as wine) with the wine making activities on the farm established by Michael’s father Sydney with the cellars open to the public for the first time in 1970. Michael joined the business in 1976 and focused exclusively on wine, selling off other parts of the business. I didn’t meet Simon Beck, Michael’s son and Marketing Manager, yet with his experience (studying French in Montpellier, vineyard work in California, traveling in China, a a four-year Business Science Economics Degree at the University of Cape Town) it sounds like he will continue the family tradition.
Backsberg has a very cool restaurant, where Harry and Arco took me to lunch. We sat under the trees and enjoyed wines from both Backsberg and Glen Carlou with some really fabulous food. You can read more about the restaurant here.
Now the first sip I had of wine from Glen Carlou, a few days before the tasting, was at Nobu at the One and Only Hotel on Capetown. It was a Syrah and notable for its dry elegance and balance. You will find various quality levels and varietals here too, with the whites often picked at different sugar levels to keep the acidity high. I quickly become a fan of the Bordeaux blends with its soft juicy tannins, and the Cabernet Sauvignon with its hint of mint and black marble. And of course I love “The Welder,” Arco’s signature sweet late harvest Chenin Blanc.
65 hectares are under vine, and Glen Carlou feels their success is matching the ideal terroir with a specific variety. When you visit, you will find a tasting room and restaurant as well as an art gallery, as the winery is owned by Donald M. Hess, who is a collector and owns many wineries around the world.