when Fons Aaldering launched his eponymous wine brand on an unsuspecting SA in May 2010, shortly before the soccer World Cup, he chose La Colombe as launch pad. Alas, lunch left much to the imagination, featuring as it did, homepathic truffles and foie gras. “If you ever come to the Netherlands” offered Fons “I’ll take you to a decent restaurant.” So on Thursday I was treated to the meal of my life at De Librije in Zwolle, home town of Herman Brood. Here is Fons and our chef, Jonnie Boer.
Synchronicity ensured that Fons’ Devon Valley winery was the Best Cellar feature in the Sunday Times on Sunday.
The back label: Having a surname that starts with two a’s is a marketing dream, for it secures poll position in lexographically sorted wine guides and on wine tourism maps. Which explains the eponymous brand name chosen by Marianne and Fons Aaldering for wines made on a farm they bought a decade ago from the king of aerosol propellants, Dave Hidden, in the hidden valley of Stellenbosch, Devon Valley.
Alan Pick, of Butcher’s Shop & Grill fame in Sandton, even argues forcibly that SA should rebrand itself Afrique du Sud on supermarket shelves to get ahead of two strong competitors: Australia and Argentina.
New Zealand trained twenty-something Free-Stater Dustin Osborne, who cut his teeth at Mont Rochelle in Franschhoek (ground zero for wine tourism), makes the wine. In a 150 ton cellar built just in time for vintage 2012. Painting it black makes sense when you live in the Netherlands as the Aalderings do, as Dutch screen writer turned architect Rem Koolhaas throws up today’s edgiest buildings. His latest creation, the headquarters for China TV in Beijing, is known locally as “The Big Pants.” Three and a half centuries ago Aaldering ancestors brought their Cape Dutch architectural vision to the Cape. A vision which is today being updated.
At one stage Fons was making 1.5 million airline meals a day for 63 airlines and today his wine is served worldwide on KLM. With berths on board secured through a scrupulous selection process and without a call to the president of the airline who is a personal friend.
The largest importer of exotic ingredients into the Netherlands – with over 3500 restaurants as customers – Aaldering wines are a quality beachhead in a Dutch market awash in SA co-op offerings sold at cutthroat prices in Dutch supermarket chains like Albert Heijn. Novel marketing wheezes, like three 15m long Pinotage delivery lorries that jostle with caravans on the winding roads of the Low Countries, confirms a commitment to SA’s unique grape and a fresh approach to marketing.
Last month, Fons hosted two dozen owners of Chinese restaurants in the Netherlands in the Winelands. Aaldering wines and dim sum will be on the menu. This is soft wine marketing and far more effective than generic campaigns that suck R35 million out of the industry each year yet “didn’t help me sell a single bottle” as Fons sums up.
The Dutch are careful and frugal consumers, with many a Dutch recipe starting off “borrow an egg.” Something Fons is more familiar with than most as in a former life, he was a chef. Younger brother Jos is farm manager while the Somerset West community of expatriate Dutch “we came here for the sun, not the wine” are enthusiastic supporters.
Best wine: The vinocurious will enjoy Aaldering Pinotage. The unwooded 2012 is great when tasted together with Nagelkaas, cheese studded with cloves and cumin from Friesland, while the white version, which is tank fermented, is like a spicy Chenin Blanc. As opposed to the barrel fermented and oak matured white Pinotage from Mellasat in Paarl which is more Pinot Grigio in style. Taste the white and red 2012 Pinotages side-by-side and it becomes clear where the distinctive love it or hate it esters come from – the skins. The Shiraz 2009 is fresh and light on the palate while the maiden vintage Chardonnay 2011 is also elegant and seamless.
Open: Monday-Friday 10am – 5pm.
Tasting Charge: Free.
Directions: GPS Co-ordinates S 33 55′ 9.81″ E 018 49′ 8.14″
Take the N2 from Cape Town to Somerset West and exit at Baden Powell Drive. Carry on past Meerlust and Spier and at the robot in front of Neethlingshof and Asara, turn right towards Stellenbosch. Pass the mountain of rubbish which seems to be the way the burghers throw up new topography in Stellenbosch now that the days of tectonic activity are over. Turn left at the sign post for Devon Valley. Travel down a bucolic country lane for a couple of kilometres until Aaldering appears on your right and Brennaissance whose King of Clubs Cabernet 2009 is one of the finest in the Winelands, is on the left.