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south african wine, part 7
Neil Ellis

Neil Ellis (right) is on a bit of a roll at the moment. He may not be in-yer-face all the time like some of his winemaking peers, and so he probably gets less press coverage than he deserves (we journos are generally a lazy bunch who just take notice of those who shout the loudest). But Neil is doing what winemakers should be focusing on: making really good wines. 

Back in 1986 he started out on his own as a negociant – a relatively rare commodity in South Africa where estate wines are held in such high esteem – after gaining experience with KWV and Groot Constantia. The business model was simple: he leased cellar space, bought in top-quality grapes, and made his wines.

Then in 1993 he went into partnership with Hans Peter Schroder, who coincidentally had in 1986 purchased a Stellenbosch wine estate, Oude Nektar, in the Jonkershoek Valley. Neil brought his winemaking expertise to the table, while Hans Peter brought extensive cellar space and a spectacular estate. The partnership has proved a robust one, and currently Neil Ellis wines produces some 40 000 cases annually.

The winery and Oude Nektar estate

These days, grape needs are largely met by three main vineyard areas: Oude Nektar in Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch, which has 40 hectares of red grapes; the 120 ha Contreberg Farm in Groenekloof, Darling, which is at altitude and just 8 km from the cold Atlantic, a good source of whites; and the Whitehall farm in Elgin, which is the Cape’s coolest wine region.

I met Neil on a sunny early December mid-morning, and we took a drive up to the top of Oude Nektar, through some beautiful vineyards and fynbos. It really is a lovely estate. Later we headed back to the winery for a tasting. One of the features of this line-up was its consistency: there wasn’t a wine here that I wouldn’t be happy to have in my cellar.

A view over the fynbos to the Jonkershoek valley

Neil Ellis Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Groenenkloof
From south-facing slopes 180–350 m above sea level. This has a lovely aromatic nose with delicate, herbal grassy notes and nice fruit. After a while it opens out to give an expressive green pepper edge. The palate is fantastic with nicely balanced fruit, some savouriness and a fine, subtle herbiness. An expressive Sauvignon with natural elegance. Very good/excellent 92/100

Neil Ellis Chardonnay 2004 Elgin
From 2.5 hectares of low yielding, 16 year old vines. 90% are Burgundy clones and a third of the wine goes through spontaneous fermentation. Fantastically expressive nose: refined toasty, nutty oak combining with fresh, slightly herby, melony fruit. The palate is expressive with some toasty, spicy oak, a creamy texture an nice fruit freshness. Only half the blend goes through malolactic fermentation: the rest is stopped by the use of lysozyme and low temperature, which Neil prefers to using
SO2. A fairly serious, complex wine with lots of interest. Very good/excellent 92/100

Neil Ellis Grenache 2004 Piekenierskloof
(Not bottled yet, just 4 barrels made, from 60 year old vines.) Dark, spicy nose. The palate is deep but supple and spicy, showing expressive red fruits with lovely structure. A really expressive sort of wine. Very good/excellent 92/100

Neil Ellis Shiraz 2004 Groenenkloof
Expressive dark spicy nose with a firmly structured, spicy palate. Really good fruit character here and nice spicy tannins. Impressive stuff in a savoury mould. Very good/excellent 91/100

Neil Ellis Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Jonkershoek Valley
Quite a fine, expressive blackcurrant nose with an earthy, spicy edge and subtle herby freshness. The palate shows nice open fruit with just a subtle touch of greenness and hints of chocolate and spice. Quite a classic style that should live a long time. Very good/excellent 92/100

Neil Ellis Shiraz 2000 Jonkershoek Valley
An evolved nose showing earthy, leathery complexity along with subtly meaty black fruits. The palate is rounded and open with generous ripe black fruit and some savoury complexity. Very good/excellent 90/100

Wines tasted 12/05
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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