Craftsmanship is at the heart of wines produced from grapes using the earth as their canvas and winemakers who use the skills developed over generations to produce rich varietals and outstanding blends.
Following in the footsteps of the ground-breaking Marie Furter comes a bevy of female winemakers at Zonnebloem. Elize Coetzee is cellar master, Bonny van Niekerk makes the Zonnebloem reds and the white wines are made by Kelly-Marie Jacobs. To add to the female connection they work together with Isabel Habets, Zonnebloem’s resident viticulturist.
The farm in Simondium near Paarl where Zonnebloem is today was established in 1692. In 1856, then owner Petrus Malherbe divided the farm between his two sons, with his one son, Willem Malherbe, naming his portion Zonnebloem (sunflower). In 1940 the farm was sold to the Furter family and South Africa’s first female winemaker, Marie Furter, took over the production. She was a mere 21 years old and was forced to step in when her father died just before harvest time. She didn’t just cope, she excelled, dominating the Cape Wine Show by winning three trophies at the event for three years in a row.
In 1943 the farm was handed over to Marie’s brother-in-law, John de Villiers, who chose the crest “The Hand that Works” that became the Zonnebloem motto. In 1963 winemaking was taken over by Distell who, through modern methods and techniques, took Zonnebloem to new heights, garnering accolades for the brand right through to the present day.
The location of the vineyards and precise sourcing of grapes is a key element of the wines’ quality. The grapes of the gold medal-winning Zonnebloem Pinotage are sourced from trellised, dry land and irrigated vineyards in the Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch Kloof, Devon Valley and Helderberg areas, and harvested by hand. Each vineyard block is individually vinified and as most face south-west, they benefit from cooling maritime breezes that contribute to the slow ripening of the grapes and concentrated fruit flavours. The result is a full-bodied wine bursting with cherry flavours and spice.
Zonnebloem was one of the earliest cellars to focus on the lesser-known Mediterranean grapes that are so well suited to climate change and their big Shiraz/Mourvèdre/Viognier blend is one of the Cape’s best-kept secrets. The Limited edition Lauréat is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon but includes a substantial portion of Merlot and some Shiraz as well as Petit Verdot and/or Mourvèdre or Malbec.
Each pictorial element of the distinct Lauréat label depicts some part of Zonnebloem’s history. Apart from the lion and the lamb, it carries the De Villiers motto: La Main a l’oevre, meaning the “hand that works”, a gable of the home of the Furters, and a trophy to underscore its award-winning history.
In 2017 Zonnebloem walked away with four medals at the prestigious International Wine & Spirit Competition. Adding to the brand’s impressive list of accolades, the 2015 Zonnebloem Pinotage was awarded a Gold medal at the competition, while the 2014 Lauréat received a Silver Outstanding, and both the 2015 Zonnebloem Shiraz and 2015 Merlot took home a Silver.
“Zonnebloem has been enjoyed by generations but stays relevant despite there being so many changes in the world of wine. I think it is because it has such a contemporary attitude and style. It comes from being open to possibility and that includes applying new research and technology. To me that’s an important way of honouring and strengthening the legacy,” says Isabel Habets, Zonnebloem’s resident viticulturist.
Bonny van Niekerk, Zonnebloem Red Winemaker, inherited her interest and love of wine from her mother. Indeed the study of wine can create a lifetime of pleasure in this fascinating pursuit and rewarding career. For our Distell Inter Hotel Challenge Wine Stewards meeting with Bonny albeit virtually, was particularly insightful and helpful! Hear more here…
SEE FULL INTERVIEW ON ZOOM HERE…