RADFORD DALE ACQUIRES ORGANIC ELGIN WINE FARM
South Africa, Stellenbosch, Tuesday, 7 September; RADFORD DALE was at the forefront of the South African virtual winery concept with their first vintage circa 1998. Ever since then they have sourced and grown grapes from a variety of vineyard locations to produce site-expressive wines from their Stellenbosch cellar.
The project was founded by friends Ben Radford and Alex Dale, who made the first wines together. Now Radford Dale is a team effort also comprising three international investors from the U.K., Australia and France as well as local partners Heather Whitman, Kathleen Krone, Andy Openshaw and Jacques de Klerk (the latter who is in charge of Viticulture and Winemaking).
For their ranges Terroir Selection, Thirst and Vinum, this independent, premium producer has long looked to the mountainous, viticultural sub-regions of the Helderberg area in Stellenbosch (1998), Elgin (2007) as well as the Paardeberg Mountain (2003) in the Swartland.
Minimal interventionist winemaking is at the core of their philosophy. The aim of the winemaking team is to reflect the environment the fruit is grown in and to retain all the qualities of elegance, purity and character that come from the best-adapted varieties in the right site, grown in the right manner.
Now 23-years on from that first groundbreaking vintage the Radford Dale team is for the first time acquiring an estate in the form of the established organic vineyards of Elgin Ridge, in the Elgin region. It’s an exciting development for the beleaguered South African wine industry as a whole – for a local, medium-small winery to put down roots and invest, during such economic turmoil, in not only land but also in organic viticulture, at a time when global warming is at the forefront of agriculture.
Commented Jacques de Klerk: “Our current model has served us well by allowing for adaptability and flexibility in terms of production. We have also learnt a great deal about the different regions and varieties over our first quarter of a century. There have been many opportunities for trials and experimentation and an inevitable refinement of the concepts that Radford Dale was originally founded upon. Now, we are ready to implement the knowledge gained with the focus that is required to bring out the best within the site we have chosen for our estate.”
Radford Dale Organic
Elgin Ridge, now known as Radford Dale Organic, is Elgin’s only certified organic and biodynamic wine estate.
Located at 282 metres above sea level on undulating mountain slopes, the estate enjoys temperate climatic conditions with cold winters and warm summers creating optimal growing conditions. The proximity to the Atlantic Ocean ensures cooling coastal breezes, which further help to moderate temperatures.
The organic vineyards are well established, ranging from 12 to 15 years old, a peak window where vines are primed to begin producing the best grapes of the life cycle. This, the cool climate and the care and nurture these vineyards have received by the previous owners Brian and Marion Smith are the cornerstones of why the Radford Dale team was drawn to this property.
Said de Klerk: “We have worked with various sites and growers within Elgin for over 15 years and it has always been a firm favourite for its ability to consistently deliver wines of balance and finesse especially with regards to well established varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The relatively high altitude, varied topography and unique combination of soils mean that it has been an extremely exiting area to explore. Now we are looking forward to expressing our ideas in a way that we had only dreamed of before!
The Smiths are heartened that Radford Dale will continue farming the land organically. “It brings joy to my heart that the farm will continue on in the spirit it was created, natural vines producing natural wines expressing the distinctive cool terroir of Elgin,” shared Marion Smith.
Elgin Ridge is the result of a long-lived dream. The couple sold their successful IT business in London and purchased what was then a neglected apple farm in Elgin in 2007 in order to pursue their dream of making small quantities of authentic wines.
The Smiths will continue to sell the existing inventory of Elgin Ridge labelled wines. “We will work closely with Radford Dale over the coming months to ensure our wines are available for both local and export customers.
For Dale, who grew-up and learned his trade in Burgundy, it is also the continuation of an enduring dream and belief system. Having always steered clear of conventional winemaking, preferring instead to produce wines that constantly speak of their unique environment.
“In modern winemaking far too much emphasis is focused on commercialism, medals and other superficial stuff,” said Dale. We want to consistently give our wines the opportunity to express their own character by working as naturally as possible in the vineyards, employing traditional methods, and manipulating things as little as possible in the cellar.”
“2022 will be our 16th consecutive vintage making Elgin Pinot Noir.”
There are pragmatic reasons for the acquisition too, the team has enjoyed an increasing demand for the styles of wine they make and for that they need a permanent source of organic fruit. Some of the vineyards they work with are under continual threat of being grubbed up or sold.
“When it comes to conventional wines you can replace the vineyard with another one, but when it comes to organic it becomes next to impossible,” underscored Dale. “Provenance and purity of viticultural conditions are important for unadulterated character in wine.”
Another caveat shared Dale is the mounting concern globally around climate change and water scarcity. “With water becoming more and more precious it makes sense to move into the cooler viticultural regions that also have an abundance of available water.”
“Striving for true expression of terroir, vintage and variety, we have for many years been on a path of minimal intervention in the vineyards that we’ve worked with and in our cellar. There have been a great many lessons along the way which have led to the realisation that we could only take this concept so far without committing to total organic farming. Organic farming and winemaking allows the removal of any and all ‘crutches’ with which to prop up the fundamental elements of winegrowing where they may be lacking. Organic farming and winemaking therefore require an increased focus on these fundamentals and that is where we believe we can find the true expression we are aiming for” explained de Klerk.
A place to call home
Looking to the future Radford Dale Organic will incorporate a tasting facility for visitors to come and experience the full range of wines along with the mesmerising views of the valley. The tasting room will be open by appointment from November 2021 (including to the general public). The cellar will also operate as the sole production centre for all organically-certified Radford Dale wines.
Of the farm’s 20-hectares, approximately 6-ha are currently under vine. The plan is to take that total to 12-ha within a two to three year time-frame, commencing in 2022. The priority is to plant more Pinot Noir as well as South Africa’s first certified organic Gamay vineyard. The balance of the farm land is given over to nature and the endemic fynbos found in the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve.
The farm, to be now known as Radford Dale Organic is located on Appletizer Road, Elgin, Elgin Valley. The Radford Dale team will begin harvest 2022 with an empty cellar, making the first vintage from the get-go, their own.
Although comparatively under the radar locally, Radford Dale enjoys a highly successful export trade, to over 40 markets around the world, which has fared well throughout the pandemic. Radford Dale Organic will be an opportunity to bring the message home more prominently in the South African market, where organic viticulture remains very limited. Their Stellenbosch base —now known as Radford Dale Stellenbosch—will continue as normal. Radford Dale Organic in Elgin being an extension of their production capacity, dedicated solely to organic wines. The continued vision being to produce wines of purity and expression that remain faithfully South African.
Shared de Klerk: “We are all extremely excited to add another element to our growing business, but the most important aspect is the fact that Radford Dale now has a true home of its own. The acquisition of Radford Dale Organic doesn’t only mean land, vineyards and an additional production facility, but it also gives us a home from where we can connect with our supporters by expressing our individuality in terms of our viticulture, winemaking and hospitality.”