1 september is National Cap Classique Day in South Africa. This initiative was started in 2019 by the Cap Classique Producers Association (CCPA), because something as fantastic as Cap Classique deserves its own day on the wine calendar! I've got the pleasure to interview Cathy Grier Brewer, co-owner of Villiera Wines, a family boutique winery which is specialized in sustainable Cap Classique. Over the years the family Grier build their business from scratch, focussing on sustainability, nature and innovation.
Photo: Back in the 80ties: Jeff, Cathy and Simon Grier
The family Grier
Grandfather Grier arrived in South Africa from the United Kingdom in the 1920’s. He studied at Elsenberg and started a poultry business. The second generation of Griers (Robin and Alexander Snr) took it a step further and were involved in developing County Fair, added value poultry business and planted some vineyard. The third generation (Jeff, Simon and Cathy) were more interested in what to drink with poultry and started a wine business (Villiera) in 1983.
Cathy: ''It was exciting and a challenge. We were all very young and ready to work hard – we had no idea what was ahead. In those days it was a small boutique winery and the vineyards needed some attention. My father, uncle and grandfather were mainly in the poultry business with some vineyards on the side. They decided to diversify. My brother, Jeff Grier, had completed his winemaking degree and my cousin, Simon Grier had studied the farming side. I had just started a career in computer programming. The wine route was not as established as it is now, so it was easier to establish yourself and grow.''
Photo: The Villiera winery (swipe to right for more photos
Jeff and Simon Grier started the family-owned Villiera Wines outside Stellenbosch in 1983 and embarked on an extensive replanting of classic and local varieties. Some of the vineyards had the wrong varieties planted in the wrong soils. Also some virus infected vineyards needed to be removed to make the soils healthy again. They needed to take into account which varietals suited our area, which were more popular and were going to be easier to sell and which were going to be suitable for Cap Classique.
Photo: The cellar of Villiera (swipe to right for more photos)
And they all play their part. Jeff is the cellar master and enjoys every part of it. He studied at Stellenbosch University as a winemaker. After gaining practical experience locally and overseas he started at Villiera in 1983. In 1987 he became a Cape Wine Master and is responsible for wine production both at Villiera and Domaine Grier. Simon loves the outdoors and is responsible for the vineyards at Villiera. More and more he became a recognized authority in environmental aspects. After Cathy, Jeff and Simon purchased Villiera, Cathy left her computer career and went to Pru Leith in London to study Food & Wine. She joined Villiera in 1987 and in the summer months serving many lunches and breakfasts. In the winter months she worked on a computer program to start a wine club which grew quickly and this was the beginning of their mailing list and wine club. Over time she moved more into sales and marketing. Cathy is also a Cape Wine Master. Their 4th generation family member, Xander Grier, joined the Griers a few years back. After he had studied BSC Food Science at Stellenbosch University, he gained practical experience as a winemaker in South Africa and overseas.
Cathy talks about Xander, their 4th generation family member: ''With him came the amphora, fermentation eggs etc. Interesting that the young crowd are wanting to go way back to the past.''
The introduction of hi-tech cellar facilities for the production of still wines as well as Méthode Cap Classique combined with a unique wine business philosophy has seen Villiera developing into one of the largest private wineries in the country.
Cathy: ''Cap Classique is 40% of what we do and is hugely important to us. We were extremely luck to meet up with Jean Louis Denois, a Champagne producer. With his knowhow we avoided all the potential early mistakes and quickly grew to one of the top Cap Classique producers in South Africa. But one cannot sit back and expect to stay there. We have had to keep on top of the game and remain innovative and have pioneered many of the Cap Classique categories: the first Rose, Blanc de Blanc, low Alcohol, additive free. We do have all the hi-tech facilities needed to ensure quality and at the same time operate as naturally as possible.''
Villiera Tradition Brut NV
This “Méthode Cap Classique” (bottle fermented sparkling wine) is a blend of red and white grapes displaying the full, balanced yeasty complexity synonymous with a wine made in this style. The wine retains its fresh racy zestiness that is a result of crisp acidity and delicate fruit
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Villiera Tradition Rosé Brut NV Joyful
Rich pink colour, vivacious cascading bubbles and the full rich flavour of Pinot Noir combined with the elegance of Chardonnay and the uniqueness of Pinotage providing the colour. This is the Tradition Rosé - rich in flavour with a long finish.
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Terroir, microclimate and varieties
The varieties planted in the vineyards are 50% red and 50% white. The wines produced are 40% Cap Classique, 30% red and 30% white. At Villiera, productivity is of utmost importance. Their new pruning techniques taught to the pruning team by Italian company Simonit and Sirch has greatly improved productivity of the vineyard team and uniformity, longevity and quality of the vines.
Cathy: ''We have duplex soils. Sand over gravel over clay. Our area is influence by Table Bay and False bay with the cooling breezes coming in off the ocean. We focus on Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc for whites and Merlot and Cabernet for reds and then of course the Cap Classique varietals : Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and we even have some Pinot Meunier (not much of that planted in South Africa). We also have a number of old vineyard blocks and belong to the Old Vine Project. We have a number of certified heritage Old Vine blocks which we vinify separately to make wines like our Stand Alone Gamay Noir (one of two in SA), Bush Vine Sauvignon Blanc and Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc. Some of the Gamay Noir will be finding its way to The Netherlands soon.''
Photo: Getting ready for harvest (slide to right for more photos)
The Villiera filosophy
Villiera has been awarded many times for being fully sustainable, including The Drinks Business Green Company of the Year in 2017. Simon Grier is passionate about the environment and climate change.
Cathy: ''Our ongoing emphasis is on green energy, rainwater harvesting, water efficiency and other sustainable projects. Villiera is a certified member of the Old Vine project, Porto Protocol and the vineyards are IPW certified. Villiera has been IPW approved since the accreditation was introduced.''
Cathy continues; ''South Africa has great sustainable and traceable credentials for our wines. HACCAP is more to do with health and safety which is essential when supplying clients like Woolworths in SA and M&S in the UK. WIETA (Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association) is another - it strives to ensure fair treatment, respectful relationships and dignified lives toward achieving a transformed agricultural sector. The WIETA Fair Labour certification provides product assurance - before one can apply for the use of the WIETA Seal, a traceability exercise and an audit need to be undertaken to ensure the wine producer has taken all the steps required for recognition by WIETA as an ethically responsible business. Villiera was one of the first wine farms to be WIETA accredited in 2005.''
Photo: The Pebbles Project (slight to right for more photos)
The Pebbles Project
The Pebbles Project is located on Villiera who made available the offices.
The main emphasis of the Pebbles Project is on education and enriching the lives of disadvantaged children and families in the Winelands farming communities in the Western Cape.
''This is a wonderful story!'', says Cathy. ''Pebbles was started by one person (Sophia Warner). We already has a creche on Villiera before The Pebbles Project started but it was not properly structured and so we were only too happy when they came along and offered to get involved.Then more farms and more people joined The Pebbles Project and they quickly outgrew their office in Somerset West. My cousin, Simon Grier, offered them a house on Villiera which was converted to offices (over 10 years ago). They have outgrown that too and a second set of offices were built a few years back. They keep saying they are grateful to us for housing them but we honestly get way more in return. They look after our ECD (Early Childhood Development centre),and After School Club for the older kids, train our teachers, have introduced a healthy feeding scheme, a mobile computer centre, toy library, book library etc. The have extra classes in Maths literacy and many more for the older kids at the After School. Drama, sport, dancing and all sorts of educational excursions. It's hard to explain all that they have achieved. Hugely rewarding to be part of - for the kids, their parents and ourselves. They also manage the OWETHU clinic on Villiera that looks after the primary healthcare needs of 1000’s of farm workers in our area.''
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