Callender Peak Wines
“This is some of the best fruit I have worked with in South Africa“
― Donovan Rall
Callender Peak wines come from the Macdonald farm in the Agterwitzenberg Valley, 2.5 hours drive northeast of Cape Town. The valley sits between 750-950m asl and runs north-south. It is behind Tulbagh and is the valley before the Kouebokkeveld. The Olifantsrivier starts here and travels north to eventually spill into the Atlantic at Strandfontein on the west coast.
Predominately an apple and pear-growing area, the Agterwitzenberg is a very cool climate for viticulture in South Africa. The wines are now made by Donovan Rall and he thinks the Chardonnay in particular is some of the best fruit he has seen in South Africa.
The story of the farm as told by Callender Peak Wines owner Marguerite Macdonald:
“It began back in the seventies with a university friendship between the son of tenth generation South African wine-maker N.C Krone from Tulbagh and the son of a Cape Town businessman who had a fruit-tree farm. Nicky Krone of TweeJongezellen and rugby playing Donald Macdonald became friends at Stellenbosch University.
In the early eighties on one of his many visits to the Macdonald farm in the remote and idyllic Witzenberg Valley over on the other side of the Tulbagh mountains, Krone inspired Macdonald to plant a few stokkies. He loved the terroir and was convinced it had potential for producing great grapes – high altitude, long cold winters, lots of summer sun, rocky soil. As a member of the ‘rebel’ group who defied the rigid power of the KWV and SA government in the early 80’s, Krone had access to some varietals that the rebels had smuggled into the country from France.
He gave Donald a bunch of premium Chardonnay shoots, which Donald planted directly into the ground- with minimal soil preparation and no root stock. The resultant chardonnay made by Nikki for a few years in a row( two barrels each year) was exceptional. -even in Nicky’s experienced eyes. But clearly not a sustainable working model for Nicky to have to make this ‘private’ wine.
A few more stokkies were harvested from the originals and the vineyard expanded. Enough to make 4 barrels. But what wine maker felt like making four barrels of some-one else’s chardonnay? Time went by, Donald emigrated. Donalds brother Dugald took over the farm. For a couple of years, David Finalayson of Glen Carlou vinified the grapes, keeping most for himself and giving the Macdonald and Jeffery families (the Macdonald’s farming partner) a barrel for themselves. It was fabulous. He loved it and the farmers were happy to have their ‘own’ wine. Dugald’s wife Marguerite made the labels by hand and everyone was happy. For a while. But again, it was not a model made to last and everyone had ‘other business’. Besides, the farm’s real business was as a nursery for specialised deciduous fruit trees, with a fruit production of its own.
One year in the early 90’s the grapes were sold to Kevin Grant of Ataraxia and that particular vintage achieved a record price at the Nederburg Auctions. The farmers were delighted- they asked if they could have some of the bottled wine instead of payment for the grapes. But when this amounted to only 18 bottles of this wine, they became convinced that there was something special about the area and were persuaded to experiment with more vines. With a little consultation, in went some Shiraz, some Cabernet Sauvignon, some Sauvignon Blanc and more of the original Chardonnay. All on the same small scale, all without root-stock and on parcels of land that weren’t being used by the fruit tree business.
The small volume wines were made by various winemakers- passing through the hands of Johan Kruger of Sterhuis, Clive Torr and Carl van der Merwe of de Morgenson, all the while gathering more and more recognition for their unique provenance: the narrow high altitude Witzenberg Valley at the edge of the Groot Winterhoek.
For a few years now, with gifted winemaker Donovan Rall as their official partner at the helm of the business and Marguerite Macdonald backing the production, Callender Peak Chardonnay and WinterHoek Sauvignon Blanc have found recognition, sustained quality and stability.”
The Winterhoek Sauvignon Blanc is Beautifully made wine with freshness and effortless fruit. Ripe, but not heavy or tropical, thanks to the cool climate. Aromatic with out being pungent, with a balanced fruit weight and lovely natural acidity that cleans and refreshes the palate. Donovan gives the juice 1-2 hours contact with the skins, and this adds an extra layer of texture and complexity.
Interestingly, the Chardonnay is planted on its own rootstock – this is incredibly rare in South. The two vineyards are a mix of sandstone and clay. The fruit was pressed without being destemmed into old French oak for natural fermentation. The resulting wine is powerful and classy. Rich orchard fruit notes and a cooing minerality on the nose with a focused and long palate. This is a wine unencumbered by winemaking and is all the better for it.
The Callender Peak wines offer a purity and freshness that only comes with cool climate viticulture. Expertly handled in the winery by Donovan, he has managed to express real character in the wines with good weight and intensity. These are unique wines of real class.
Due to its elevation and the population of skilled agricultural businesses, we believe Ceres Plateau is a WO that will become more and more important in the South African scene as time goes on.
Location: Ceres Plateau
Winemaker: Donovan Rall
First Vintage: 2007
Viticulture: Traditional farming. Own vineyards, Chardonnay on its own roots.