Vitis Vinifera Awards 2022

the quest to find the best

The five-star Lanzerac Estate in Stellenbosch was the venue for the tenth annual Vitis Vinifera Awards that took place during the first week of September. It is the purpose of this event to promote all drinks produced by Vitis Vinifera grapes and to celebrate being fortunate enough to work with this noble vine.

Vitis Vinifera Awards showed unprecedented growth in a time when most wine and spirit competitions shrink. This is why for the second year, a conscious decision was made to focus on the judge’s profile, to be in line with the event’s quest to find the best. Panellists consisted only of Cape Wine Masters and top qualified spirit specialists. For these experienced palates, it was all in a day’s work to taste through the vast array of entries in the quest to find the best.

After a few years of challenges, we find businesses in a recovery phase and there are new opportunities to become stronger and more resilient. Exports filled the gap and many came out stronger as they had to concentrate effort on the foreign market. Vitis Vinifera Awards, therefore, had to rethink how to be of greater service to the wine and spirit industry.

In 2022 the Vitis Vinifera Awards added a silver award to compliment the gold, double gold award and changed the Top 10 producer award to a Top 5 producer award to make it more relevant to consumers.

The wine panellists were Conrad Louw CWM – Chairperson, Mary-Lou Nash CWM, Anton Swarts CWM, Meryl Weaver CWM, Nina-Mari Bruwer CWM, Lizette Tolken CWM, Dave March CWM, Lisha de Villiers CWM, and Catherine Dillon CWM. The panellists for spirits were Dr. Carla Weightman, Anriënka Vlok van Zyl, and Dr. Carolyn Snyman CWM.

Wine entries

The categories that received the most entries were Sauvignon blanc, red blends, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon. There was only slightly more red wine than white wine entries.

The Cap Classique wines were a relatively small class with excellent examples. Catherine noted that most examples had richness with good acidity whereas Conrad was impressed by the balance.

Most of the Chenin blanc entries were from the 2022 vintage, showing tropical fruit. Some showed great diversity and zestiness. Many of them were outstanding fruit-driven styles. KWV and Imbuko had very high-scoring entries.

In the Sauvignon blanc category, the 2022 vintage stood out as vibrant, fruity, and flinty. Nina-Marie commented that the quality of the vintage was consistent with a few stand-out examples. Meryl said the examples on offer varied from easy quaffers to some serious wines. Dave thought it was clean and precise winemaking saving the zesty fruit. Bloemendal, Almenkerk, Imbuko and Ridgeback entered some stellar Sauvignon blanc wines.

Conrad felt there were really elegant Chardonnay wines and commented that the wine was generally good, while Cathrine thought the 2022 vintage showed potential. Mary-Lou said the older vintages showed a wide range of styles, but the best ones had body, richness, and balance. The wine all panellists loved, was the Bloemendal Estate Chardonnay.

The rosé and blanc de noir wines showed well with finesse, a good category yielding excellent food companion wine according to Conrad. Mary-Lou said: “Great summer wines, and a style for everyone.” The wine came in a range of colours and flavours. The Jakkalsvlei Pinotage Rosé coming out on top.

Most of the Bordeaux-styled blends and the Cape blends displayed great structure and depth. The Cape blends, as a class, generally exhibited a lot of concentration and judicious use of Pinotage.

Pinotage was generally well-made with some classy executions. Bloemendal and KWV entered excellent high-scoring examples. Conrad said there were few over-extracted examples and generally good balance.

The big Merlot category had bold and well-balanced examples. A few of the entries had a green character. Some of the panellists thought this category was the most exciting, and the wines from Bloemendal, Badsbeg, and Landskroon were standout examples. Lizette said: The judiciously, not-over-oaked wines stood out.”

Among the Cabernet Sauvignon wines, the 2019 and 2020 wines showed the best. Some were serious wines and had decent structure and balance. The 2021 wines were young, and the panel thought that these wines need time. Dave commented on the firm tannic structure on most, with oak used well throughout the flights.

The Shiraz wines varied wildly. There were some excellent 2019 wines, while the 2020 wines were soft, smooth, and velvety. Cathrine said the 2021 vintage was challenging and it showed in the wines presented. Entries from Benguela Cove and Darling Cellars showed well in the tasting.

The few examples of Pinot noir varied in quality, with some showing good balance and typicity.

Spirit entries

In the tasting of the spirits, the quality and diversity of gin were good, with something for everyone. Carla noted the overall quality of the gin was high, and we (South Africa) are up there with some of the top producers (in the world). Caroline said that South Africa offers a lot of craft gins relative to other countries. The art of gin-making lies with blending, so it is not as important by location as the skill of the blender. Caroline and Carla said some of our fynbos gins or gins from local botanicals are world-class. Anriënka thinks it might be a good idea for producers to benchmark their products before entering a class, although we have beautiful examples, there is still room for growth in that category.

The range of grappa was very diverse, with some nicely balanced. Entries from Blackwood Spirits and the Wilderer Grappa Shiraz stood out.

The vodka and brandy categories were small, but with high-scoring products. The standout products were Wilderer Rogue Vodka and Sugarbird XO Brandy.

We asked the panellists where the opportunity for South Africa is:

  • We should focus on producing and using a high-quality spirit base.
  • South African brandies offer a unique and distinctive aroma and taste profile – sunshine in a glass.
  • The growth in local gins will be those that use a high-quality neutral spirit and focus on distillation and infusion with carefully selected local botanicals.

It would also be great to see more South African Whisky in spirit competitions.

The Anchor Oenology – Best on-show Trophy

For the second year running, the industry-leading Anchor Oenology sponsored the Anchor Oenology Best on show Trophy. Congratulations to Thor Vintners & Co with their Badlands Sauvignon Blanc / Nouvelle / Colombard 2022 as the winner. The winemaker of the winning wine gets to go on a trip to any wine destination in the world.

The Top 5 performing producers were:

Bloemendal Wine Estate, Imbuko Wines, Jakkalsvlei Private Cellar, Koelenhof Wine Cellar, Sands Traders Wineways.

We asked some of the Top 5 producers for reactions to being awarded. Here are the responses.

Louis van der Riet, winemaker at Jakkalsvlei Private Cellar: “What wonderful news. We are really thrilled to be awarded as one of the Top 5 producers at the Vitis Vinifera Awards 2022. We are a winery situated in an unexpected vine-growing region on the South African South Coast and we use the Vitis Vinifera Awards to benchmark and test the impression of our wines against other regions and producers. Receiving this accolade just reaffirms to us that what we are doing in the vineyards and the cellar is working and we can proudly showcase our wines against any wines in the industry.”

Andrew de Vries, managing director at Koelenhof Wine Cellar: “What an honor and blessing to be a Top 5 producer at the 2022 Vitis Vinifera Awards! We are grateful for this award and like to thank the organisers and esteemed tasters for this recognition. Thank you Vitis Vinifera!

Carl Schmidt, director at Sands Traders Wineways: “This award is a recognition of our efforts to produce high quality, affordable wines for all wine lovers.”

Bloemendal Wine Estate Bloemendal Estate Chardonnay 2017
Bloemendal Wine Estate Bloemendal Estate Sauvignon blanc 2021
Imbuko Wines Van Zijl Family Vintners Sauvignon Blanc 2022
Jakkalsvlei Jakkalsvlei Hanepoot 2022
Kindred Spirits Sugarbird XO Brandy NA
Koelenhof Wynkelder Koelenberg 2021
Landskroon Wines Landskroon Paul Hugo Red 2021
Ridgeback Wines Ridgeback Lion Hound Sauvignon blanc 2022
Roodezandt RF McGregor Red Muscadel 2021
Thor Vintners & Co Badlands Sauvignon Blanc / Nouvelle / Colombard 2022
Wilderer Distillery Wilderer Grappa Shiraz NA
Wilderer Distillery Wilderer Rogue Vodka NA
Wineways Black Tie Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot 2021
Wineways Leipoldt Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot 2021

In the words of Event Chairman, Conrad Louw: “The level of judges who participated in the Vitis Vinifera Wine and Spirit Awards are some of the best qualified and experienced tasters in the industry. They all have the best credentials and track records, making awards at Vitis Vinifera Wine and Spirit Awards truly credible.”