Greg Sherwood MW: The journey from grower to producer

By , 3 April 2024

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Winshaw Vineyards, Stellenbosch.

It’s a simple factor of modern winemaking that wineries need grapes for the production of their wines and vineyard owners need buyers for their crop. This is the basis for a relationship between wineries and grape growers. While many may think that it is just the more recent decade’s crop of young guns in South Africa that don’t own vineyards, instead preferring to purchase in grapes from various growers, in fact, large vineyard growers exist all over the Cape winelands, preferring to see themselves as farmers, selling grapes to a wide assortment of producers, from small one-man boutique bands to large, internationally recognized wine brand owners.

It was in California in 2007 when I was participating in the Napa Valley Vintners’ Master Programme, that I encountered some of Napa Valley’s larger grape growers, and like their compatriots in the Cape, they steadfastly preferred to think of themselves as farmers and agricultural grape growers rather than essentially part of the wider winemaking industry per se. I was doing a day of viticulture for my studies, covering everything from planting to pruning, and we were being hosted by, what I thought at the time, was a fairly large grower in Napa Valley, owning circa 200+ hectares of vineyards. My Napa Valley Vintner (NVV) host, Bruce Cakebread from Cakebread Cellars, was one of their long-term customers, buying in substantial amounts of premium Cabernet Sauvignon for his now famous brand.

I remember chatting to the grey-haired owner’s son, a chap in his late 20s, and remember asking him why he doesn’t just make his own wine from the best grapes on the property. As a South African, it seemed the most obvious way to add value to your raw material and diversify out of pure agriculture. Looking at me with a hint of a grimace, he proclaimed that he was perfectly happy growing the best fruit in a high-demand market, rather than going down the rabbit hole of making and marketing wine. He almost seemed relieved that he didn’t have that added pressure on his shoulders.

Most successful grape purchases nowadays seem to be procured by simply a handshake and a mutual willingness to trust one another. Often, the longer-term contract between a grower and winery can be contained within a page or two. All of this discussion can be boiled down to two qualities that are present in all successful contracts, namely trust and respect. If wineries were to trust the grower to produce and deliver grapes of sufficient quality and growers were to trust wineries to compensate them fairly for the effort, a handshake would surely be all that is required.

In terms of Californian grape growers, there is one name that stands out in the hierarchy of grower fame, and that is undoubtedly Andy Beckstoffer, a native Virginian that arrived in Napa Valley over 40 years ago and was one of the original members who set up the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association in 1975. By last reports, Beckstoffer is the largest privately owned grape grower in California with vineyard assets of over $200 million under management, supplying grapes to famous premium producers such as Paul Hobbs, Schrader, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Clos du Val and Tor, and there simply isn’t a more famous vineyard designation in Napa Valley than the eponymous Beckstoffer To Kalon vineyard that produces some of the most sought-after and expensive Cabernet Sauvignon in the whole of California. Also, and most significantly, basic agricultural commodity pricing had been the norm before Beckstoffer came up with his unique pricing formula that tied the grape price to the ultimate retail price of the bottle they were going into.

Within the Stellenbosch context, two significant grape growers have cemented their place in the supply echelons of premium grapes, namely the Carinus family in the Polkadraai Hills, and the Winshaw family on their 300-hectare farm with 50 hectares currently under vine just next door to the Meerlust Estate. During my recent fortnight visit to the Cape, I had the pleasure of spending a day with Pierre Winshaw, exploring their vineyards and tasting through an extensive selection of their wines. Having previously produced a limited amount of their own wines under the Usana label, it was with the 2017 vintage that brothers Pierre and JP decided the time was right to introduce the Winshaw Vineyards premium range incorporating some of the best fruit from the farm, to produced a Malbec, the Cabernet Sauvignon-based Bordeaux blend the Charles Winshaw and the Cabernet Franc-based blend called the Bill Winshaw, correspondingly named after their grandfather and great grandfather.

For such a new premium brand on the market, success has come quick and fast with high critical reviews from not only myself but also more recently from Winemag’s editor. It is perhaps due to this success that the Usana label has now been retired completely in favour of the generic Winshaw brand, that includes a Pint Gris, a Chenin Blanc, a Chardonnay and a more modest Cabernet Sauvignon cuvée, before you move onto the more premium Winshaw Vineyards range that includes a thrillingly good Malbec, a more serious, top-notch single cultivar Cabernet Sauvignon and then the Charles and Bill Winshaw red blends. For the Winshaws, the idea is definitely about adding an extra layer of value and building a brand with staying power, with an initial aspiration to reach a production level of circa 60,000 bottles.

On my visit, Pierre Winshaw gave me a preview of some of their future releases, and everything was looking pretty smart including:

Winshaw The Runaway Pinot Gris 2023, 13% Abv.

Made from vineyards planted in 2009. This white is bright and aromatic with juicy green apple, honeydew melon, chalky minerality and rock candy bon bon nuances. Crisp and vibrant, the palate is crystalline and pure, finely textured, delicately spicy, and very persistent. Perfect for a hot Cape summers day.

91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Winshaw Swashbuckler Chenin Blanc 2023, 13.5% Abv.

Made from vines planted in 2013 using a 500-litre oak barrel component, this shows an exotic expression full of golden delicious apples, pineapple, wet straw and honeydew melon. The palate is concentrated and beautifully saline and intense with greengage, peach, and melon notes, finishing with hints of white toast and a delicately picante spice.

93/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Winshaw Gold Dust to Grapes Chardonnay 2023, 13.5% Abv.

From vineyards planted in 2004, the aromatics on this Chardonnay are savoury and earthy with hints of dusty straw, lemon biscuit and leesy spice. The palate shows a bold concentration of apple preserve, crystallised fig, grapefruit jelly, and white toast with a subtle vanilla pod kiss on the finish. Quite delightful.

92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Winshaw The Fox Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, 13% Abv.

Deep and broody with layers of sweet cherry tobacco, black plum, bruised strawberry and black currant. The palate is beautifully sweet and sour with black plum, blueberry and crème de cassis, with a seductively long, salty finish. Generous and accessible with plenty of mouthwatering appeal.

91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Winshaw Vineyards Bill Winshaw 2020, 14% Abv.

66 Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Merlot – Shows savoury layers of earthy black fruit, blueberry, tilled earth, coffee beans and grilled herbs. The palate is creamy and textural, plush and fleshy, with smoky graphite, salted liquorice, sweet tobacco spice and black currant leaf. Plenty of stuffing on the mid-palate, this wine is powerful and impressively structured with stony minerality on the finish.

94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Winshaw Vineyards Charles Winshaw 2020, 14.5% Abv.

Another classy Cabernet Sauvignon based blend, the aromatics are rich and powerful, packed full of sweet tobacco, earthy black currant, grilled herbs, iodine and graphite spice. The palate shows great generosity and fleshy opulence with layers of black and blueberry fruits, cherry tobacco, buttered brown toast and salty liquorice on the finish. A really classy but accessible Cape Bordeaux blend expression.

95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Winshaw Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2022, 14.5% Abv.

30% new oak employed producing circa 1,400 bottles – A classical archetypal Cabernet Sauvignon that resonates with perfumed violets, creme de cassis, graphite and salty liquorice. Beautifully plush and creamy, this 2022 shows an impressive depth and breadth, picante black cherry, wet tobacco, oyster shell and intense maritime nori and iodine nuances. Utterly seductive in so many ways.

94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Whereas in the past, many older generational growers were more than satisfied with merely farming grapes, as the younger generations have followed, the allure and prestige of creating a long-lasting premium brand with their own farm’s provenanced fruit has been too irresistible for many growers including the Winshaw’s but also Danie Carinus with his excellent Carinus Family Wines from the Polkadraai Hills. I’d like to think that these new premium projects are merely the beginning of the creation of a new legacy for future generations to continue and grow.

  • Greg Sherwood was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and as the son of a career diplomat, spent his first 21 years traveling the globe with his parents. With a Business Management and Marketing degree from Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, Sherwood began his working career as a commodity trader. In 2000, he decided to make more of a long-held interest in wine taking a position at Handford Wines in South Kensington, London, working his way up to the position of Senior Wine Buyer. Earlier this year, he moved across to South African specialist merchant Museum Wines to become the Fine Wine Director. He qualified as a Master of Wine in 2007.

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    Greg Sherwood | 3 April 2024

    The one question I forgot to discuss is whether or not we will ever see proprietry grower vineyards like “Beckstoffer To Kolon” Cabernet …. perhaps a “Carinus Vineyard Cabernet Franc” or a “Winshaw Cabernet Sauvignon” in the same way consumers already recognise Landau Vineyard Semillon or La Colline Semillon? Those are of Basil Landau following a person and La Colline a single vineyard name. But I think Stellenbosch is overdue some proprietry grower names. The Raats Family Wines Winshaw Vineyard Cabernet perhaps? Comments on a postcard.

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