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Molly-coddling their grapes brings top results

“The truth is in the vine.” Just six simple words etched onto the walls of De Toren Private Cellar’s underground tasting room and vinoteque.

And yet they neatly encapsulate 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.

With an unwavering focus on crafting great Bordeaux blends, the wines of De Toren have become coveted worldwide, raising the profile of high-end South African wines across the globe.

But as founder Emil den Dulk likes to say, De Toren began with a view – stretching from the Helderberg, over False Bay and across to Table Mountain. He and wife Sonette first bought the property in 1991, a home in the winelands “to start afresh”.

However, their shared passion for wine soon took hold, and it wasn’t long before they became tempted by the prospect of producing premium wine from the farm they called home.

Recognising the potential of this site on the flanks of the Polkadraai Hills, Den Dulk soon acquired an additional 17 hectares of vineyard to the west, laying the foundation for De Toren’s innovative “Left Bank” and “Right Bank” approach to crafting world-class Bordeaux-style wines. Over the next 20 years, the Cabernet-dominated De Toren Fusion V and Merlot-driven De Toren Z continually raised the bar for Bordeaux-style blends from South Africa.

Although parts of the farm were initially planted to chardonnay, “we knew this area was ideal for Bordeaux cultivars,” explains Den Dulk. 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.

“Farmers are always taught that vineyards should be planted north-south or east-west,” Den Dulk says. “We looked at the summer weather patterns on the farm and realised that the dominant wind direction is from the south-west. By aligning the vineyard rows to the prevailing wind off False Bay, it blows cooler sea air through the vineyards, instead of against it. That lowers the temperature, gives us a longer ripening period, and keeps our vines free of disease.”

With an eye on sustainability the viticultural team has also embraced organic practices in the vineyards, and all De Toren wines will be certified organic from the 2020 vintage.

“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% 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,” he said. “If you respect the quality of the fruit, the fruit will respect you in the bottle.”

“The aim is to ensure De Toren Z and De Toren Fusion V are always true to their character, and the character of the vineyard.”

The first wine to make a name for De Toren was the De Toren Fusion V, first released in 1999. Picked from the slightly warmer west-facing vineyards on the property, it’s a “Left Bank” wine dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon yet supported by the classic Bordeaux companions of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Blended harmoniously together, it’s a seamless “fusion” of the five classic varieties of Bordeaux that is consistently scored highly by international wine critics.

Inspired by the world-renowned wines of the famed “Right Bank” of Bordeaux’s Garonne River, the maiden vintage of De Toren Z followed in 2004. Crafted from ocean-facing vineyards, where the vines are cooled by summer sea breezes, its name is a tribute to Zephyrus, Greek God of the Wind. Dominated by Merlot, the “Zee” contains all five of the classic Bordeaux varieties, delivering perfume, sophistication and power. Characteristics which De Toren Z is so well known for, continually securing it international acclaim.

“With upfront fruit, freshness and elegance, these wines have one foot in the Old World and one foot in South Africa,” adds Koch. “We perfectly represent that balance of two styles.”

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 SA summer’s day.

From the outset, De Toren’s focus has been on the cultivars native to Bordeaux, but in 2008 Den Dulk set the winemaking team a challenge: with no restrictions on viticulture, cellar practice or cost, with the singular goal of quality, how would they craft the best wine in the world?

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