De Toren Private Cellar’s World-Class “Wines by Design”

“THE TRUTH IS IN THE VINE” is etched onto the walls of De Toren Private Cellar’s underground tasting room, encapsulating the estate’s guiding philosophy, an approach that has – in little more than 20 years – elevated this boutique Stellenbosch cellar into one of South Africa’s most respected premium wine producers.

De Toren focuses on crafting superlative Bordeaux blends.

Founder Emil den Dulk says that although parts of the farm were initially planted with Chardonnay, “we knew this area was ideal for Bordeaux cultivars.” Working closely with academics from Stellenbosch University, he and his team embarked on an extensive soil analysis of the property. A dozen sampling holes were dug on each hectare of the farm, treble the wine industry’s standard practice. Across the farm’s 25 hectares, 15 separate soil types were identified. Complementary rootstocks were then matched to individual soil types, and 25 clones across the five classic Bordeaux varieties were planted.

These were vineyards designed from the ground up to produce world-class wines, with attention given to how each vineyard was planted. Imported plastic-wire trellising was used to minimise damage from the buffering of summer winds, while the judicious use of drip irrigation is dictated by cutting-edge leaf-pressure testing. Aerial near-infra-red photography is used to map the vineyards; ensuring individual rows are grown, harvested and vinified to the height of their potential.

With an eye on sustainability the viticulture team has also embraced organic practices in the vineyards, and all De Toren wines will be certified organic from the 2020 vintage. “We want to farm with nature, not against it,” explains De Toren cellar master, Albie Koch. “That means being vigilant and proactive in the vineyards throughout the year, but it’s well worth the effort. We can already see how the natural balance is returning to the vineyards.”

Grapes are hand-harvested exclusively in the cool of the early morning, for a mere two to three hours maximum every day before successive rounds of hand sorting ensures only the finest unblemished berries make it into the cellar.

“We like to molly-coddle our grapes in the cellar,” chuckles Winemaker, Charles Williams, explaining that De Toren – named for the tower reaching skywards from the cellar roof – was the first 100-percent gravity-fed cellar in South Africa. “The whole cellar was designed around our desire to treat the grapes softly the whole way through the winemaking process. If you respect the quality of the fruit, the fruit will respect you in the bottle.”

In the cellar, the juice is vinified in smaller, wider tanks, specially designed for De Toren, to allow for a greater ratio of skin contact. For barrel ageing, individual vineyard blocks are carefully matched to specific French coopers and once in barrel – a mix of first-, second- and third-fill oak – the wines lie undisturbed for a full 12 months.

“We taste each batch every month, and during tasting the winemaker will begin formulating an idea of the final vintage blends,” says Koch.

Those sample blends are taken around the world, showcased in blind tastings to select customers and members of the wine trade for feedback.

The latest addition to the De Toren range is the De Toren Délicate, offering wine-lovers a unique perspective on Bordeaux. This refreshing Malbec-dominated wine is a light style red blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, and is the perfect balance of upfront fruit and gentle tannins. Best served chilled, it’s ideal for a South African summer’s day.

Book XVII was a logical evolution of De Toren’s acclaimed Bordeaux blends, an expression of meticulous winemaking and extreme viticulture. Often compared to the famed “super-Tuscans,” it is a wine that is silky smooth yet powerful, and a worthy addition to any connoisseur’s cellar.

As complementary as it is a contrast, The Black Lion was the De Toren team’s first official foray beyond the boundaries of Bordeaux. Far from expressing a regional style, this 100% Shiraz sets the benchmark for the cultivar. Grapes for The Black Lion are sourced from the Swartland (for structure), Stellenbosch (fruit and freshness), and the Helderberg (finesse), with the combination of terroirs adding immense complexity to the wine. In the bottle, the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.

Both Book VXII and The Black Lion are hand-crafted in a separate cellar-within-a-cellar at De Toren, and are presented in striking bespoke packaging. Little wonder they have been hailed worldwide as two of the finest ultra-premium wines to emerge from South Africa.

“These wines are about meticulous viticulture and doing the utmost for perfection in the cellar,” says Koch. “They are showcase wines, to show the world what South Africa is capable of producing.”

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