I knew that Rose Jordaan was into fynbos, but it took a fresh visit to Bartinney to remember quite how much.
It was a classic Cape winter’s day ( not in a good way), i.e. the kind where you should be indoors near a powerful heat source - not motoring along the N1 to the Stellenbosch winelands in torrential rain. Yet I was determined to meet with owner Rose Jordaan to go deeper into the Bartinney story - one that I only knew parts of - to distill the essence of what has made this little pocket of the Banhoek Valley so irresistible to me over the past few years.
When visitors to the Cape ask me to recommend wineries to visit, Bartinney’s Tasting Shed is a permanent fixture on my list. Beyond the wines, which we’ll get to later, it’s a space that resonates with me on a number of levels. Foremost, both the farm and tasting room are exquisite, yet relaxed and unpretentious. As someone easily put off by extravagance, it’s the kind of place where I know I can unwind in a beautiful setting, whether popping in to enjoy a glass of Chardonnay while taking in the breathtaking Banhoek views from the wide balcony, or for something completely different, like a wine and fynbos pairing. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a stone’s throw from the town of Stellenbosch - in less than 15 minutes you can travel from bustling student town to the heights of the Helshoogte pass, which boasts some of the most impressive vistas the Cape Winelands has to offer.
Even on a gloomy Saturday in Winter, the cosy Bartinney Tasting Shed is a welcome sight. As is its proprietor, Rose Jordaan, who mirrors the surroundings both in elegance and warmth. After drying off and settling back into a pair of comfy couches, Rose began to recount to me the part of the Bartinney story that is the most well-known: of how her and husband Michael bought back the family farm in 2006, which Michael’s father had sold 9 years prior. In 2008, Rose moved to the farm with her daughters, and that’s where the serious work began.
“When we took it over, it was really in a bad state,” she said, matter-of-factly. “In fact, there were three protea plants on the entire farm. That was it. And 17 hectares of the [28 hectare] farm were alien vegetation. So we started there. First, you’ve got to come to terms with where you are; what are you starting with - because you’re not starting with a clean slate. A clean slate is natural, pure, pristine beauty. But we’ve already messed that up. So now we’ve got to go back to nature. Nature is perfect, the way it is.”
I have never seen Bartinney’s tasting room not overflowing with proteas, so can only imagine Rose’s distress to find the old family farm in such disarray. “Looking at what we had, was a very aggressive viticultural practice and spray gun program. Nothing made sense to me. I couldn’t understand. There were no birds on the farm. There was no sound, because there was no cycle... no circle of life.”
2009 marked the Jordaans’ first vintage since their return, and they bravely opted to go cold turkey on spraying that year. They lucked out with near-perfect growing conditions - 2009 is renowned as one of the Cape’s greatest vintages of recent decades, which saw a cold, wet Winter and long, dry Summer, i.e. ideal conditions for vineyard health. Rose describes this vintage as a shock to the system - a clearing of the slate - and the beginning of a commitment to let nature be the guiding force going forward.
For the past decade, it’s been at the top of Rose’s agenda to bring back the balance, as she explained in more detail: “So we have our vineyard, our monoculture - but almost more important are the spaces between. The vision really is to allow them to become living spaces. When you look from an aerial perspective, you start seeing that there are corridors from the mountain to the river. And those corridors need to be the living environment. In-between those corridors, that are actually almost not as important, are the blocks of vineyards. So you can imagine, those corridors start penetrating the vineyard blocks, and that natural habitat allows for the health of that vineyard to be sustainable. You can completely see it in the liberation of the wines. They were tight, they felt fiddled with. They were quite contrived. Whereas now, there’s less and less tweaking. The vines are very healthy. We have no rot, so we have no disease. There’s very little intervention.” I had to concur, sipping on Bartinney Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and then Cabernet Sauvignon, that the wines, crafted by winemaker Ronell Wiid, were vibrant and unrestrained on both nose and palate.
In addition to replacing the use of pesticides and herbicides with biological methods and the expensive, labour-intensive task of clearing alien vegetation, the establishment of a fynbos nursery has been a critical element in regaining balance in Bartinney’s vineyards. Born as a counter-response to the high cost of buying fynbos, cultivating the indigenous plants has turned into one of Rose’s greatest passions. An avid mountain biker, Rose is most animated when describing the different types of fynbos she discovers while exploring the mountainside: “I’m terrible, I can’t leave them alone! I want to nurture them and grow more. And then you get so excited and you say, this essence, it smells so amazing! What can we do with it?”
This curiosity about the different types of fynbos and their properties, fired up by Rose’s discovery of a long out-of-print book, The Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Southern Africa , is what inspired her in her latest endeavor: The Tempest gin. Named after the dramatic nature of the Cape of Storms, the idea is for the properties of the gin to change according to the season in which it is crafted. Fascinatingly, different elements of fynbos, with a wide spectrum of aromas, are dominant in different seasons. Thus far, Rose has created Autumn - distilled using Juniper and indigenous wild rosemary, confetti bush, African wormwood and citrus buchu - which are naturally most expressive in Autumn. She plans to craft an expression of each season, all in good time.
According to Rose, utilising the fynbos is a natural progression: “It’s my joy. It’s what I love the most. It’s almost a culmination of what we’ve been doing, but now celebrating the in-between spaces, the spaces that are actually creating the wine. It really has been such a fun experience.”
Rose’s enthusiasm is infectious. It’s no wonder that her passion for the indigenous flora and fauna has spread to the neighbours, resulting in the establishment of the Banhoek Conservancy. Providing well designed, permanently marked off-road tracks, their aim is to protect the environment, uplift the community and re-establish a balance between human activities and nature. If you ask me, that sounds like one robust circle of life.
I never imagined that a Rose would teach me to take time to smell the fynbos, but life, like nature, is filled with magnificent surprises - if we let it take its course.