What a year. And if the Mayans are right we're in for a worse 2012. No reason to panic. Just an apocalypse. Impending doom provides the perfect opportunity to flog a few cases to stockpiling doomsayers. A 5 for 1 end of the world Sauvignon special.

Despite my best efforts, a number of friends find my wine conversation about as interesting as watching paint dry. So when I turned on the telly to watch Zuma's two hour bore-a-thon during the ANC centenary in Bloem, I thought to myself, is this how my friends feel when I make light conversation about the differences between French oak cooperages, types of filtration and the optimum temperature for white wine storage? Surely not?

To test this theory I thought we'd briefly investigate the topic of cool climate, what exactly makes Elgin so cool? If your eyes start to flicker and the motor neurons start numbing then skip a paragraph and be riveted by Pendock's predictions of sweaty prawns dipping in The Pool Room pond.

Elgin experiences slightly cooler daytime temperatures than Stellenbosch or Franschhoek but what really sets us apart is the difference between the high of the day to the cool of the night, or the diurnal temperature variation. Cue 500 readers lost.

At night, temperatures in Elgin are much lower than the surrounding regions causing the vines to shut down completely which stops sugar conversion through respiration. Due to cooler nights, the vines take longer to 'warm up' during the day i.e. respiration takes longer to get going. This ensures a long, slow ripening of the grapes keeping the sugar, pH, acid and flavour compounds in perfect balance.

A local viticulturist made a useful analogy when describing the effect of cool vs warm climate on grapes. He said it's like cooking in a microwave versus an oven. Tulbagh is the microwave. Fast and ready. Elgin is the oven. Slow and steady. That's not to say that cool climate is better, it simply means there's a difference in style. Cool wines typically have more finesse, are higher in natural acidity, and as a result, improve with age. Warm wines offer styles that are typically bold, ballsy, fruity and drink well early on.

Equipping a restaurant is complicated. You can't walk into Makro and choose the latest double door fridge, you need one that you can walk-in. You can't buy an oven that handles the Sunday roast, you need one that handles the daily output of the Elgin Free-Range Chicken factory. As I speak Shimmy is putting the finishing touches on our newly built bread oven, made using fancy materials and firebricks, built to retain enough heat to bake bread for 16-18 hours. Soon we'll be selling fresh ciabatta's to the desperate housewives of Elgin.

As it stands The Pool Room is looking a lot like downtown Baghdad. A 20 metre pool surrounded by bits of steel, broken bricks, piles of rubble and a strange little peeing statue that was torn down as briskly as Saddam in Firdos Square but without the help of US Coalition Forces. We may call on their help if Pendock's predictions of hot and sweaty cyclists cleansing themselves in our beautiful pond materialise.

We aim to have construction completed by May, just in time for the Elgin winter rush. The official public launch is likely to be in the spring. Like all things on Oak Valley we try our best to overachieve, so having a restaurant, deli and wine tasting all-in-one is par for the course. I was very surprised we didn't add a gym and spa. It promises to be a fantastic sales platform for our free-range beef and pork products along with a delicious new range of charcuterie handcrafted by the talented Greek, Nicole Precoudis. The restaurant is also equipped with a custom made wood burning braai which will be used to cook your choice of Oak Valley meats. Seasonal veggies and herbs will be sourced, as far as possible, from our very own garden behind the restaurant. It all sounds very delish.

After being awarded the 5 Platter stars, the Pinot Noir 2009 is flying out the tasting room and is now on allocation. During the 2010 growing season, our Pinot vineyard was hit hard by a gale force north-westerly during flowering which lead to a much reduced crop, resulting in only 500 bottled cases of Pinot 2010, down from the usual 1,200 – a marketer's nightmare.

On the recently launched SAWi (South African Wine Index) rating system, our Pinot 2009 achieved an impressive score of 96.8, enough to place it in the top 24 wines in South Africa along with the likes of Kanonkop, Paul Cluver, Hamilton-Russell and Bouchard Finlayson. The SAWi Index uses results from 45 international and domestic competitions over a period of three years and then weights the results according to the importance attached to each competition i.e. Gold at Decanter is weighted more heavily than Gold at Veritas for example. The algorithm then churns out a score for each wine out of 100.

After passing on the opportunity to bottle the 2009 and 2010 vintages, we finally decided to bottle 1,500 cases of our first Oak Valley Shiraz from grapes harvested in 2011. The wine will only be released later this year as it still needs time to mature in barrel. The grapes come from a 3 hectare vineyard planted in 2006. This young north-facing vineyard is showing enormous potential and after recently tasting another barrel sample this wine has me very excited. A soft mouth-filling wine, white pepper aromas with lovely rich red berry fruit intensity on the palate, refined tannins showing both elegance and structure.

Our Rawbones second label saw the release of the Medium Rare Rosé, also made from our Shiraz grapes, in November 2011. It's dry and deliciously refreshing for summer. We put together a cheeky little ad to celebrate the launch, see above.

Our Merlot Cabernet Blend 2006 has attracted much interest recently, enough interest to ensure that we'll be moving onto the 2007 vintage shortly. The 2007 vintage differs slightly in style as Vissie used barrels with a much tighter grain and staves that were aged for longer outdoors over 36 months as opposed to 24 months. Since the staves are exposed to the elements outdoors, rain soaks into the wood and reduces its tannin content. This resulted in finer softer tannins. Vissie believes this is the best he's made yet and after chugging a bottle with the folks over dinner I tend to agree. 56% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Franc and 17% Cabernet Sauvignon. It's full bodied with beautiful ripe red fruits, mulberries, dark cherries, very good freshness that comes with natural acidity, soft and elegant tannins. Made in a classical Bordeaux style, 18 months in French oak, 70% new wood. This is a serious wine that is built to last.

The Absa Cape Epic returns for its 5th consecutive year with Oak Valley as a host venue from March 30th to April 1st. I was interviewed recently by a freelance journalist working for Supersport who asked what the Cape Epic meant to Oak Valley. Amongst a host of flattering reasons, I said it was an excellent branding opportunity for our wines. It may sound a bit opportunistic but it's the truth. A few thousand people in direct contact with your brand. We love having them here. During the two days on Oak Valley we will have our own tent on the sports field so please relax and enjoy a glass or two with us.

The opening of new MTB trails on the neighbouring Eikenhof and Mara farms has been delayed until March 2012. We hope to have them completed before the Epic. Another 29km of riding in Narnia.

In 2008 we experienced a freak tornado that partially flattened one of our greenhouses. Using the salvaged wreckage we are now building a new greenhouse that will extend our capacity by half a hectare. A real case of 'n boer maak 'n plan.

Christmas is the busiest time of the year for our flower division and our dedicated staff were working tirelessly to deliver over 54,000 bouquets to Woolies alone. A phenomenal feat!

It's time we introduced the two remaining members of the Oak Valley Wines team. Beverley Horrell, 'The Brand Ambassador,' is our Sales Manager in the Western Cape, and Ebony Sanders, 'The Aussie,' who manages our tasting room. Both are performing like absolute stars and we're lucky to have them.

Enjoy the rest of this glorious Cape summer.

And remember.

We're not quite as cold as Burgundy but just as cool.

WINE Oak Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2010 Oak Valley Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon 2008 Oak Valley Chardonnay 2010 Oak Valley Pinot Noir 2009 Oak Valley Merlot Cabernet Blend 2007
AWARDS 92 points
rated by Stephen Tanzers International Wine Cellar
at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2011
4.5 stars
in John Platter
4.5 stars
in John Platter
Double Gold
in the Five Nations Challenge 2011
Winemakers Choice Diamond Award 2011.
5 stars
in Christian Eedes Chardonnay Report 2011
5 stars
in John Platter
SAWi Index Top 24
wines in South Africa
New release. Not yet rated.
PRICE R75.00 R130.00 R120.00 R190.00 R125.00
5 February   Wild Runner Trail Series XL, 7am to 11am
25 February   Wine @ the Mill in-store tasting, Biscuit Mill in Cape Town
25 March   The Spur Adventure Sprint, 9am to 1pm
30 March to 1 April   Absa Cape Epic hosted by Oak Valley
4th Quarter 2011   Spring Newsletter
OAK VALLEY ESTATE   South Africa   Tel. +27 (0)21 859 4110   wines@oak-valley.co.za   www.oakvalley.co.za