”So here i am, at Ken Forrester’s 96 Winery Road restaurant in South Africa!”
I first met Ken Forrester in New York at a trade event in New York City focusing on wines from South Africa. During a panel section on Chenin Blanc, I remember how he made a clear point between Chenin Blanc and “Steen” which is what this ubiquitous grape had been called in S. Africa for many decades. The basic message is that Chenin Blanc is a quality grape in its own right, and deserves respect.
During my recent trip to S. Africa I had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Forrester’s vice president of sales and marketing, Anthony Van Schalkwyk, and learn more about Mr. Forrester’s extraordinary life, his wines, his philosophy, and his wines.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to learn about Ken Forrester is that he is a self-made man from the old school – the story goes that he began working in a Johannesberg restaurant at a young age, worked hard, and very quickly was able to work out a way to own his own restaurant and go off from there.
In fact, today Anthony and I are meeting at a restaurant Mr. Forrester owns with Devon Valley wine maker Martin Meinert and Chef Kathy Romer- Lee called 96 Winery Road. It is very quaint, very wine-centric and in some ways similar to the restaurant where I was introduced to Robert Mondavi in California’s Napa Valley, a place frequented by local winemakers. And though tonight we are tasting and drinking Mr. Forrester’s wines, the wine list itself has many excellent selections.
Chenin Blanc has been S. Africa’s most widely planted grape, though with my visit I see that Rhone varietals are taking hold. The Ken Forrester brand has three levels: Petit (easy drinking wines with grapes sourced from hand-chosen producers including Chenin Blanc, Pinototage, Merlot-Cabernet)); Ken Forrester Range (fruit from the family property in Stellenbosch including Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and “Renegade” which is a Rhone style blend ), and the Icon Range (stand-alone parcels from single vineyards with individual bunch selection and the best barrels which include The FMC, Chenin Blanc sourced from the best grapes in the best barrels, The Gypsy, another fabulous Rhone style blend, and Ken Forrester T Noble Late Harvest, a sweet balanced style of Chenin Blanc).
Since some people may refer to Mr. Forrester as “Mr. Chenin Blanc” all the levels of Chenin Blanc were naturally quite good, with the best being the FMC as the fruit is sourced from old (1967) bush vines, with low yields and three to five pickings. and an excellent late harvest. The Sauvignon Blanc, increasingly one of S. Africa’s best wines, was excellent, possibly because to get the specific balance between structure and richness the pickers pick twice – early and late – and blend the two, as well as its long time on the lees with reserve three and four year old barrels. And of course the T Noble Late Harvest, coming from those same old Chenin Blanc bush vines, was fabulous.
While Ken Forrester tries to be as organic as possible, for various reasons he is not ‘officially’ certified yet uses creative organic practices for controlling disease such as bringing in ducks to eat vine-damaging snails.
A fabulous introduction to the wines of Ken Forrester, which are happily available in the American as well as many other markets.