If you’re looking for an expert on South African wine, we’ve found him and his name is Michel Bouic. Michel is a long-time employee of Red Carnation Hotels, and is the Operations Manager at Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat. As a result of Michel and the rest of the team’s hard work, Bushmans Kloof has recently been awarded a Diners Club Diamond award for its 2017 wine list and won the Overall Best Diamond for the Western Cape. Here, Michel talks us through their excellently stocked cellar, shares his top wine tips, and offers a guide to buying the best South African wine.
Please can you tell us a bit about your background?
“I studied a three-year Hospitality Management course through the International Hotel School based in Cape Town, and then did my internship training at our beautiful sister property, The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa. After two years, I was relocated to Bushmans Kloof to finish my training. When I graduated, I was offered a permanent position and three months later, I was promoted to the Assistant Front Manager. From there, I became Koro Lodge Manager. Koro Lodge is our private villa that caters for families up to 8, usually consisting of 4 adults and 4 children. I took over as F&B Manager at the main lodge in 2012.
How many wines are housed in the Bushmans Kloof cellars?
“We currently have around 2,450 bottles, which consist of white wines, red wines, South African sparkling wines, French Champagne, dessert wines, ports, sherries and grappa from over 244 wine producers, both local and international.”
How do you discover new producers and vineyards?
“We discover new producers in a number of ways, from wine magazines and social media to word of mouth. I also try and visit as many new wine farms as possible.”
How often does Bushman’s Kloof introduce new wines to its collection?
“We release a new wine list every year. This usually takes place in August or September because this is typically when wine producers release new wines from their respective cellars.”
What local vintners do you work with?
“We work very closely with Cederberg Cellars, a stunning boutique winery situated in the Southern Part of the Cederberg. We also work with Driehoek, Cape Rock Amnesty, Fryers Cove and Tierhoek, all of which are situated in the Orange River region in the Western Cape.”
What grapes and wine varieties are local to the region?
“Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz & Cabernet Sauvignon grow very well in this region because they are well suited to the climate of the Western Cape which covers both coastal and inland terrain.”
Can guests and diners visit the cellars?
“Yes, they can. We also offer complimentary wine tasting. Guests are welcomed into our award-winning wine cellar to sample a selection of wines and learn more about the viticulture of our sister winery, Bouchard Finlayson.”
What’s the rarest or most exclusive wine in the cellar?
“Our rarest bottle of wine is the Château Margaux Grand Cru 1983. It’s a fantastic wine, thought by many to be the best wine of Bordeaux’s 1983 vintage.”
What is unique about the South African climate and soil that helps it produce great wines?
“The Western Cape Region has a consistent seasonal weather pattern. We have our autumn, winter, spring and summer periods. Wine cultivators rely strongly on this throughout the year. In the Western Cape, you will find coastal wines, inland wines and, if you’re really lucky, a few in between the two. Vineyards that are based closer to the coast focus more on your lighter style varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Vineyards that are further inland will focus on growing heavier styles such as Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. This is because the temperature on the coast is always cooler than it is inland, and the wind and the amount of sun exposure also differs between the two.
What’s more, every region in the Western Cape has a different soil type. Some are soft and granular whereas vineyards like the Cederberg have got hard clay slates. This all impacts on the flavour of the wine.”
What should people look out for when buying South African wine?
“If you are buying wine in South Africa, try and use the John Platter Guide as a way of buying good quality wine that is very well priced. If a winery is in the John Platter Guide, it is definitely worth trying.
Always try and buy wine from a specialist wine shop or wine merchant; they will always have a better selection and most of them offer free wine tastings, too. If you are buying South African wine overseas then always ensure that there is a wine certification on the neck of the bottle. It must state what region in South Africa it is from, such as Stellenbosch, Paarl, Hermanus etc and not just “Wine from South Africa”. I advise buying wine from a reputable wine merchant, they tend to have a better selection than elsewhere. It might be a little more expensive but you are guaranteed good quality South African wine. You can also purchase straight from the vineyard – most of them offer door-to-door deliveries.”
Do you have a personal favourite wine?
“That is a very difficult question, like asking a parent which child is their favourite! My top two wineries in South Africa are Bouchard Finlayson and Cederberg Cellars. Bouchard Finlayson produce excellent Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, whereas Cederberg Cellars produce Top Chenin, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.”
A number of Bouchard Finlayson wines can be found on your menu. What are their signature styles and what makes their wines special?
“We are very fortunate to stock the full Bouchard Finlayson portfolio. Being situated in the Hemel-en-aarde (Heaven and Earth) Valley, they have got the ideal climate to grow exceptional Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a variety of Italian and Spanish cultivars like Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Barbera. Peter Finlayson is one of the best winemakers in South Africa, and he was one of the first winemakers to introduce Pinot Noir to South Africa in the early 1990s. He producers excellent wine that can be allowed to age, especially his world-renowned Galpin Peak Pinot Noir collection.”
What is the most popular Bouchard Finlayson wine, and why do you think your guests like it?
“The Bouchard Finlayson Sauvignon Blanc is our house white wine and is a real crowd pleaser. It is an excellent example of what a South African Sauvignon Blanc is all about.”
Allow Michel to share his favourite wines with you, enjoy a complimentary wine tasting session and explore some of the Western Cape’s best vineyards when you visit Bushmans Kloof
Image Credits: all images courtesy of Red Carnation Hotels