By Cassie du Plessis.
The onset of spring this year marks two significant milestones in the 158-year existence of the Burger family wine farm – where time is naturally measured in tune with the seasonal rhythm of the vintages and their highlights.
The one significant new signpost is that owner-winemaker Kobus Burger can count 20 harvests behind him and go out to measure the quality and character of the 2022 vintage – packaged in 23 market-ready products in his portfolio – during the current competition season. This, with Vinimark – the Wine Company doing their specialist thing for 20 years in the marketplace as national distributor.
For Kobus, it feels like yesterday when he fell in at the deep end with his father, Johnny Burger, in 2002 when the latter started focusing more on the production side. This was in the post-Bergkelder distribution era with the renowned Rietvallei Red Muscadel creating the first Rietvallei market-place footprint in 1976 – a footprint that steadily grew and showed great potential by the turn of the century, but clearly in need of national and international market impetus.
This is where Vinimark came fray into the picture – having been formed in 1985 as an independent wine marketing and distribution company by Tim Rands. And today Kobus Burger cannot over-emphasise the value of fitting into the fold of more than 50 best known South African brands through Vinimark and its WineWorx dynamism
“20 YEARS AND 23 WINES FURTHER” – KOBUS BURGER
“It really does not feel that long ago when my father and I had our first sit-down with Andrew Baker. Although we at the time had a long history in wine and a brand going back 26 years to 1976 when the first Rietvallei wine was released, we didn’t have much to offer a company like Vinimark.
We had only two wines, a Chardonnay and Red Muscadel and a close to non-existent market presence. All I can say is, thank you Andrew, thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to become part of the WineWorx/Vinimark team. I would also like to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to the whole Vinimark team, past and present.
Looking back now, 20 years later with 23 wines in the portfolio, a big thank you to each and every team member for all the support over the years. I look forward to the next 20 years with all of you by our side – can’t do it without you!”
It’s all about evolvement …
Of course, Kobus will not mention his own development and expertise in running today’s multi-faceted Rietvallei expansion and wine quality achievements. Certainly, the spate of competition successes in recent years has weighed in significantly to create a receptive marketplace and consumer acceptance.
This evolvement cannot be described more clearly than in the words of Andrew Baker, who walked every inch of the way along Rietvallei Estate’s path with Vinimark.
Andrew Baker, former Managing Director of WineWorx at Vinimark:
“Always quality and family heritage as a yardstick”
It so happened that out of the blue I got a call from the late Johnny Burger in 2002 asking if Wineworx would be interested in doing the distribution of their Muscadel as they were leaving Distell and were going to go on their own after many years with the Bergkelder.
It must have been a difficult decision for Johnny, but his mind was made up as he wanted to expand his offering to the marketplace, but Distell was only interested in the Muscadel.
I remember well how he and his son, Kobus – who at the time was working as a Mechanical Engineer with a view to getting involved in the farming side as well – came around for tea in my Stellenbosch Office and we had a really good chat.
They were clearly impressed with the wine-focussed approach and the opportunities Rietvallei could offer. They asked to come into the Portfolio in 2002, which I was delighted with and honoured by at the time as their brand was well known in the retail trade.
Kobus took over the winemaking initially under Johnny’s direction and it soon became very clear that he wanted to expand the range and this quickly developed.
Rietvallei and Kobus were always quick to seize on the trends in the market and release great wines at various price points and styles. He was in the enviable position of having the size and variety of vineyards to make incisive selections for the Rietvallei range and of course value-for-money wines such as the John B range, which I still enjoy today as a daily refreshing tipple. I’ve even aged some and they developed superbly!
I cannot fault Kobus’ enthusiasm and willingness to learn the industry and regularly pick my brain about ideas and opportunities out there. But at the same time he was determined to drive this fine brand to major heights in future, always using quality and family heritage as a yardstick.
Bob and Elaine Dudley – long-standing Rietvallei representatives
“Being involved in Rietvallei by marriage”
Key role players in Rietvallei Estate’s remarkable market-place footprint and today very much like part of the Burger family, are Bob Dudley and his wife Elaine, the latter who is officially a Rietvallei wine ambassador while Bob represents three wineries in the Southern and Eastern Cape regions, while “being involved in Rietvallei by marriage.”
Said Bob in a telephonic interview from their home in Sedgefield.
My wife joined Rietvallei 18 years ago as Vinimark’s representatives for these areas and we met the Burger family at Robertson’s regional wine show. This led to a lifelong friendship – which started on a high note by tasting their red muscadel served as a cocktail with strawberries on crushed ice.
I’ve since seen how they’ve developed a portfolio of really top wines over the years. Sauvignon Blanc is my thing and today the Rietvallei, John B and Stonedale labels have found acceptance and a good presence in these areas.
Kobus has excelled in winemaking ability and it is a privilege for me and my wife to be accepted in his family, which is something quite unusual for a rep or a PRO. Thanks to this association, working with their products has never felt like work for us,” concluded Bob.
Eckhart Gerber, CEO Vinimark – The Wine Company:
“The key to mutual success”
The date 5 September 2022 marks a valuable milestone – 20 years ago Rietvallei Wine Estate joined the Vinimark portfolio, with Johnny and Kobus Burger entrusting Vinimark with the responsibility to sell and distribute Rietvallei wines nationally.
It’s been an incredibly successful partnership, with consistently excellent wines and strong brand support resulting in the growth of Rietvallei and it being recognised as producer of consistently exceptional wines – ranging from super premium to easy drinking wines for any occasion.
Vinimark is proud to be associated with Rietvallei’s success and we look forward to the next 20 years of our journey with Rietvallei – we’re excited to witness its continued growth and the further enhancement of Rietvallei’s stature.
To Kobus and the Rietvallei Wine Estate Team: as we were humbled by your decision to place your trust in Vinimark back in 2002, it remains an honour to represent Rietvallei’s heritage representing more than 150 years and six generations of Burger family ownership. Working together for mutual success is key to any relationship and we thank you for your continued support over the past 20 years. Well done and best wishes for a prosperous future!
Riaan Rautenbach, Sales Director Vinimark – The Wine Company:
“A brand that consistently over-delivers”
I joined Vinimark in Feb 2017 and have been working with Kobus and the team for the past five years – during which time I’ve seen the Stonedale brand grow as it transitioned out of an On Con only brand to a brand that is now widely distributed. Cementing a reputation as a brand that consistently over-delivers on the price point.
The Rietvallei brand is seen as a brand that consistently delivers quality and award-winning wines, while Kobus and his team are a pleasure to work with. Both our businesses are built on strong family values and we complement each other.
Tackling the day-to-day challenges of doing business is done with a long term and sustainable view in mind and this to me has been instrumental in their success.
As a sales team, we know that we always have the support of the owner-winemaker and as a business, we know that we always have the support of the Rietvallei team as Brand Partner
Neil Stevens, Sales & Marketing Manager: Rietvallei Wine Estate:
“Boasting the knowledge and insights”
In the past ten years I have worked with several distribution companies in both the food and liquor industries. The Vinimark team through all the organisation’s levels is simply top-notch. They boast the knowledge and insights and they move forward year after year with innovation and new methods in collaborating with the wine farms. For me it’s only a pleasure working with Vinimark and the people behind it.
Continuing a wave of competition triumphs in recent years, this Robertson wine estate was crowned as Top Terroir Wine Estate for the second year in a row at the 17th annual SA Terroir Wine Awards, while also winning two coveted trophies for national winners in the Cabernet Franc and Cinsaut categories.
Clinching these two categories among the 32 national winners announced at the Clara’s Barn Restaurant (The Vergenoegd Löw Wine Estate near Somerset West) this year, were the 2016 Rietvallei JMB Cabernet Franc and 2020 Rietvallei Dark Cin Cinsaut.
Rietvallei last year also won the trophy as Top Producer, in addition to being named national winner for Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc with its Estéanna Sauvignon Blanc 2020 and Chenin Blanc 2020.
Said Kobus Burger, owner-winemaker of this 158 year-old wine estate, “We feel extremely honoured once again to have been awarded the Top Estate trophy and two national category trophies at this year’s Terroir competition – thereby reaffirming our unique terroir traits for fine wine production. It’s gratifying to see our area and its terroir-driven wines increasingly being acknowledged among the country’s leading wine terrains with their extraordinary diversity.
“The JMB Cabernet Franc 2016 is full-bodied and complex, with excellent fruit and wood-integration. Lots of work in the vineyard and minimal interference in the cellar allows this wine to express its terroir to the fullest. The Dark Cin 2020 is a uniquely dark and decadent Cinsaut, which truly personifies its name, as enchanting as it is captivating with a touch of mystery,” according to this sixth generation Burger at Rietvallei’s helm.
This top terroir acknowledgment follows on Rietvallei’s latest two Double Platinum Awards at the National Wine Challenge / Top 100 in May this year – for the same terroir-topping Rietvallei Dark Cin 2020 (Grand Cru Best in Class Cinsaut) – and Cabernet Sauvignon 2018. These, in addition to Double Gold for the JMB Cabernet Franc 2016 and the Classic Chardonnay 2021 in the 2022 Challenge.
In the Terroir competition, only wines certified as single-vineyard wine, estate-produced wine, and wine from a ward or district not divided into more than one ward, are in contention. These Awards have their origin in the highly regarded Wine of Origin System, which was introduced almost 50 years ago and is acknowledged world-wide as one of the best of its kind to verify the integrity of wine in the bottle and of statements made on the label.
2022 SA Terroir Wine Awards Trophy Winners
- SA Terroir Top Wine Estate Rietvallei Wine Estate
- SA Terroir Top Producer Saronsberg Cellar
- SA Terroir Top Area Tulbagh
- SA Terroir Top Wine 2019 Flagstone Treaty Tree Sauvignon Blanc
- SA Terroir Top Single Vineyard Wine 2019 Benguela Cove Catalina Sémillon
Two more Double Platinum awards and two Double Gold in the latest edition of the premier fine wine competition, the National Wine Challenge 2022, bear testimony to Rietvallei Estate’s ongoing momentum in quality wine production and acknowledgement, says winemaker-owner Kobus Burger.
This means that Rietvallei has in the past three years garnered seven Double Platinum Awards – in other words Top 100 listings – including two Grand Cru (Best in Class) achievements and four Double Golds in the competition, which this year drew a record number of entries.
The Estate’s winning wines this year are:
- Rietvallei Dark Cin (Cinsaut) 2020 with Grand Cru Best in Class and Top 100 / Double Platinum placement
- Rietvallei Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 – Top 100 / Double Platinum
- Rietvallei JMB Cabernet Franc 2018 – Double Gold
- Rietvallei Classic Chardonnay 2021 – Double Gold
This follows on 2021’s impressive achievement:
- Rietvallei Red Muscadel 2018 – Grand Cru, Best in Class and Top 100/ Double Platinum
- Rietvallei Estéanna Sauvignon Blanc 2020 – Top 100 / Double Platinum
- Rietvallei Estéanna Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot 2016 – Top 100 / Double Platinum
- Rietvallei 1908 Red Muscadel 2018 – Top 100 / Double Platinum
- Rietvallei Dark Cin (Cinsaut) 2019 – Double Gold
In 2020 the awards were:
- Rietvallei Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 – Top 100 / Double Platinum
- Rietvallei Natural Chardonnay (Unwooded) 2019 – Double Gold
“This shows that we receive constant acknowledgement, for which I am very grateful. I have great appreciation for the National Wine Challenge’s tasting panel for their recognition of all our hard work in the vineyard and cellar,” said Kobus.
With this positive start of the 2022 awards season, Rietvallei is looking forward to maintaining its momentum of reaping rich rewards in the country’s major annual fine wine competitions
Said Robin von Holdt, CEO of Buybetterwine that organises the annual National Wine Challenge, now in its 12th year, “A strong line up of substantially more than 600 fine wine entries made for the most competitive challenge this year. The wine quality was excellent, and organisers and judges were well-pleased with this result.
“The strong set of results in 2022 showcase a diverse portfolio of remarkable SA wines. Wine makers know how difficult it is to win a Top 100 podium award. This does not change, with this nut being as tough as ever to crack. New vineyards and new wines were again entered into the 2022 NWC for the first time. These additional fine wine entries simply make it that much harder to achieve the recognition that this very special win commands, from peers and consumers alike,” said Von Holdt.
Robertson wine region has in recent years made great strides in taking its place at the forefront of the Cape’s fine wine production and has indisputably become prime Chardonnay Country. It’s been proven over the recent decades that this noble Burgundian white cultivar thrives here in the ideal soils with their high concentration of chalk, clay and limestone.
At the heart of this development, Rietvallei Estate is increasingly garnering top awards at significant evaluations, while being at the thrust of Chardonnay evolvement following the first vineyards established here some 45 years ago.
Winemaker-owner Kobus Burger explains that his late father, Johnny Burger, regrafted an existing vineyard with Chardonnay cuttings in 1985 and what followed in 1988 was the release of the maiden vintage, the barrel-fermented 1987 Rietvallei Chardonnay. The following vintage, 1988, was responsible for the Estate’s first major recognition, being chosen for a coveted listing for the South African Airways’ Blue Diamond First Class.
“Chardonnay, together with the renowned Rietvallei Red Muscadel released in 1975, was the only natural wine in our portfolio for 15 years, until we added Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon in 2002.”
Today, Chardonnay is still a very integral part of the estate’s portfolio with no less than four individual versions of this elegant, yet diverse varietal spread across the estate’s different ranges, namely:
- JMB Chardonnay – treated with 100% French oak
- Classic Chardonnay – delicate blend of oak fermented and unwooded
- Burger Family Vineyards Chardonnay – fresh unwooded style
- John B Brut Chardonnay – vibrant young sparkling wine.
Rietvallei’s present Chardonnay plantings comprise a 1.2 hectares block established in 2004 in limestone-rich red Karoo soil and a 3.6 hectares block dating back to 2013 on a north-westerly slope, also in lime-rich Karoo soil.
“This vineyard planted in 2013 was incidentally the last one planted by my father in the year he passed away and the grapes for the JMB Chardonnay – ‘J M B’ of course being his initials – exclusively derive from this block,” said Kobus.
The proud haul of awards for the flagship JMB Chardonnay includes:
- 2020 vintage – Veritas 2021: Double Gold
- 2019 vintage – Chardonnay du Monde 2020: Gold and Top 10 selection (also Gold for 2012 and 2013 vintages).
- 2018 vintage – National Wine Challenge 2019: Double Gold
- 2017 vintage – Michelangelo 2018: Gold
- 2015 vintage – National Wine Challenge 2017: Double Gold
Meanwhile, the countrywide Chardonnay planting area under vines, as reflected on the Sawis (SA Wine Industry Information and Systems) website, bears testimony to the Robertson region’s status as the country’s Chardonnay production hub.
Robertson’s total Chardonnay area under Chardonnay vineyard – grown among some 52 wineries – totals 1 660 hectares, compared to Paarl in second place with 1 217 and then Stellenbosch with 1 122 hectares. Interestingly, the Cape South Coastal Region, where specialised producers in the Hemel en Aarde Valley – like the trailblazers in Robertson, played a pioneering role in putting SA Chardonnay on the map – still represents only 319 ha of the country’s total 6 587 ha – Sawis 2020 figures.
This situation makes all the sense in the world to eminent viticulturist Francois Viljoen of Vinpro’s Gen-Z Vineyard Project – actually born and bred among the Robertson vines.
“Chardonnay production absolutely flourishes here thanks to the area’s natural terroir assets and accompanying viticultural and economic advantages. I do not believe there are many producers here who do not have Chardonnay vines.
“The market for Chardonnay has grown significantly and the wineries have mastered the art of its vinification, with skilful wood-contact, while unwooded Chardonnay is rapidly gaining ground in Robertson.”
He said Chardonnay flourishes in a Continental climate with warm days and cold nights. The good soils especially, red Karoo soils with lime-rich contents give good vibrancy and grape composition of sugar, acid and pH levels, like proven in Burgundy.
“The cultivar does not like much wind; the warmer flowering and fruitset period is ideal and promotes fruit development, which yields sustainable production. Also, a cold winter as you will find in the Robertson Valley is needed for good budding. The good climatic conditions in the ripening period ensures healthy grapes and reduces risk.
“Yes, you can indeed call Robertson Chardonnay country,” he concludes.
In its existence of almost 20 years, the Rietvallei lifestyle range John B has become synonymous with over-delivery in quality and character for a more informal wine brand. And the latest vintage release, the Sauvignon Blanc 2022 promises to even outdo its predecessors, according to winemaker-owner Kobus Burger.
Having just been bottled as this year’s first delivery from a protracted and challenging harvest season, this wine not only promises to be particularly palate-pleasing, as has become customary for the estate’s award-winning Sauvignon Blanc wines, it shows very exciting, vibrant flavour features.
“I am very excited about this year’s release,” said Kobus. “The flavours show more prominent passion fruit and guava in addition to Rietvallei’s typically more green Sauvignon Blanc tones. Also on the nose, lemon zest and grapefruit with the tropical fruit, which follow through on the palate with a touch of grassiness and minerality – all ending in a crisp, long-lasting aftertaste.”
“One hopes this unpretentious little gem is a sign that Rietvallei can look forward to continue its remarkable run of competition successes in recent years – thanks to this year’s smaller but characterful and concentrated grape yield.
“We do indeed expect more exceptional quality Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc under the Estate Range – all still developing on the lees in the cellar and to be bottled later in the year.”
The rest of the John B range comprises a Cabernet Sauvignon-Tinta Barocca, a Rosé made from Cinsaut and two sparkling wines, Brut Chardonnay and Brut Rosé. Both the Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon-Tinta Barocca are now also available in handy 3-litre cartons.
This lifestyle brand aimed at everyday enjoyment, was inspired by the late Rietvallei patriarch Johnny Burger – a colourful and down-to-earth but influential Robertson wine personality.
Die rest of Rietvallei’s diverse portfolio of 20 wines, comprises the Heritage Collection, Classic Collection and Burger Family Vineyards – all available on-line for countrywide delivery or on the Estate, just off the R60 in the picturesque Robertson Valley.
JOHN B SAUVIGNON BLANC 2022
Residual Sugar: 2.9 g/l
Acidity: 8.1 g/l
VA: 0.56 g/l
Total Extract: 24.9 g/l
Total SO²: 128 mg/l
Free SO²: 44 mg/l
A perfect partner for any seafood, salads and light meals. Visit our online store to try our John B Sauvignon Blanc 2022.
“Our 2022 harvest, tough but totally on track”
With a long and challenging 2022 harvest season now complete, Rietvallei Wine Estate’s winemaker-owner Kobus Burger is upbeat about the quality and character potential of what he’s working with in the cellar.
In line with wine grape producer organisation Vinpro’s statement at the end of March that, pass the halfway mark, a smaller overall South African crop than last year, but with exceptional wines, was being expected – Rietvallei’s wine portfolio of 24 products shows good promise for excellent wines. The Estate comprises 95 hectares of vineyard in production, spread over six white and nine red cultivars.
Said Kobus, “Our harvest is definitely smaller this year, most noticeable on cultivars like Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Cinsaut.
“Our Sauvignon Blanc harvesting started as early as the 22nd of January and we finished with the last reds, which was our Cab Sauvignon, right before Easter weekend. So, it’s a very long vintage. Although it‘s been a very challenging year, the quality of the white wines that are already fermented dry, is looking very promising.
“We do indeed expect exceptional quality Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, and some of the reds which are still fermenting, the Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are showing fine potential.
“Definitely a challenging year. A cool December and early January, followed by the extreme heat waves, have had a big impact. Quite a lot of sunburn, natural acidity dropped, which meant pH’s went up. All making it more challenging in the cellar this year. Despite all this, the quality of the wines so far is exceptional.”
Rietvallei is looking forward to continue its remarkable run of competition successes in recent years – thanks to this year’s smaller but characterful and concentrated grape yield, especially of the Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. These two cultivars – in the form of the Estéanna Sauvignon Blanc 2020 and Chenin Blanc 2020 – among other achievements, were last year named as the national winners in the Novare SA Terroir Wine Awards and contributed to the Estate being named here as SA Terroir Top Estate and Top Producer.
- Meanwhile, the final overall crop estimate by viticulturists and producer cellars will be issued in May 2022, together with the official SA Wine Harvest Report. This according to Conrad Schutte, manager of Vinpro‘s viticultural consultation service, which issued the fourth crop estimate with Sawis (SA Wine Industry Information & Systems) on March 30 – stating that the SA crop was still estimated to be smaller than in 2021, but larger than the five-year average. Also that the 2022 season was characterised by cooler weather conditions from winter to mid-December last year, which resulted in later-than-normal budding, flowering, veraison and ripening, with the harvesting programme for most cultivars still delayed by about seven to ten days.