Melvyn Minnaar: Song of Nuy

By , 1 December 2021


Sitting close to the window, the full-length, crispy-clean glass offered a view of the vivid landscape, and I thought of my friend Erik Laubscher, the great painter who died in 2013. The glazed scene from where we sat was something that he adored, that he painted, that he would celebrate with the full emotional exuberance of a passionate artist.

The landscape which from this setting unfolds into an endless panorama is, like Laubscher’s paintings of place, a celebration of nature and man’s endeavours. “Experiencing the landscape is a spiritual experience for Erik Laubscher,” another friend, Amanda Botha, wrote in a catalogue essay in 2004.

Sitting where we were a few weeks ago, the visual experience was palpable. This was the marvellous ‘lookout’ eatery and tasting venue of the Nuy Winery, delightfully named Nuy-on-the-Hill.

Cute in its curious geographical elevation in what is essentially a vast flatland on the edge of the Klein Karoo with a fertile, cultivated valley (due to a remarkable dam) that disappears in the majestic mists of the distant Langeberge, the hill right next to the R60 became the Nuy wine hotspot when it opened in 2015. In a dynamic, clever shift (including well-considered investment into the facility), the off-the-road farm-stall style tasting cottage opposite the highway gave way to this sharp, modern, genuine wine-tourism shopstop. Nuy is very much on the map.

From Nuy-on-the-Hill the road leads to the farms, winery, further away from the buzz with the surrounding reddish earth clad in green carpet of the season’s young vines. Some fine and enterprising people live and make a living here.

Vines were planted just under a hundred years ago and in 1947 the first Nuy wine, White Leipzig was served for the then Princess Elizabeth’s 21th birthday bash in Cape Town. (White Leipzig resurfaced a few years back under the guidance of the Smit owners as a blend of chardonnay, chenin blanc and viognier.) In 1963 the founders met to start the winery with the lovely name. Today twelve members provide the grapes and Christo Pienaar is in charge of the cellar.

Among  the tasting glasses of Nuy wine (of which the red and white muscadels are the most famous, of course) that the charming server Heinrich van der Merwe brought lovingly to our table at Nuy-on-the-Hill, was the gem of the valley – the wine with a story, the cult wine of its history.

Next harvest will mark its 40th celebration, delivering the grapes for one of the country’s most unusual wines. It’s a wine that, in its early years, was the talk of wine buffs, much as today’s young’uns kick up nerdy dust. Then it was called ‘Chant de Nuy’, now labelled ‘Chant de Nuit’ (‘Night Song’, and there-in, too, lies a tale) and it had a unique and remarkable aromatic.

The quiet, legendary winemaker Wilhelm Linde, then taking the Nuy Co-operative Winery to be the country’s finest muscadel producer, oversaw the invention of a wine labelled Chant de Nuy – ‘Song of Nuy’. This he created by blending a dash of the Ferdinand de Lessep table grape (isn’t that a great name!) with chenin blanc and colombard. The whiffs of pineapple was an unmistakable identity. Those in the know bought it by the case to surprise their wine-savvy guests. The name was all poetry, the taste ever so exotic – perfect for the changing wine landscape at the unfolding of the eighties. (Modern wine history is very haughty about that decade, but some unusual and great experiments took place in some cellars.)

Around a decade after Chant de Nuy first was poured, the spoilsports pounced. The Wine and Spirits Board said that dash of Fredinand made the wine uncertifiable. Another complaint was that the name sounded too much like ‘chardonnay’ (that grape was just becoming the darling).

Dorre Landskap – Klein Karoo, Erik Laubscher.

But a clever poetic spirit prevailed and the song was rededicated to the night: Chant du Nuit – a wine to sip while watching the last sunlight of the day fade from this beautiful landscape, a truly spiritual experience. A wine person himself, Erik Laubscher would have agreed wholeheartedly.

  • Melvyn Minnaar has written about art and wine for various local and international publications over the years. The creativity that underpins these subjects is an enduring personal passion. He has served on a few “cultural committees”.

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