Is Franschhoek the Capital of Fizz?

Around the world, purveyors of sparkling wine pursue the spirit of celebration with impassioned fervor. In France, where the method champenoise is trademarked, the pop of a champagne cork signifies celebration. In New York City, the Veuve Clicquot Manhattan Polo Classic celebrated its 12th iteration in 2019. In Paarl, the Veuve Clicquot Masters Polo Cape Town toasted to its ninth annual iteration in 2019.

With the Drakenstein mountains and Paarl’s blue sky as a resplendent background, the Veuve Clicquot Masters Polo Tournament is synonymous with glamour. The polo spectacle has attracted Hollywood celebrities, such as Tony-winning actress, Anika Noni Rose, who graced the Paarl polo fields in 2018. 

Polo, the sport of kings scintillates alongside the splendor of the wine of widows, champagne.

Champagne Veuve Clicquot, is internationally recognised as a symbol of elegance and innovation. Madame Clicquot, the widow who assumed the reins of the business after the untimely passing of her husband, Francois in 1805, is still recognized for her sagacity in the cellar. Madame Clicquot is credited with the invention of the ‘table de remuage’, the riddling table technique that clarifies champagne. Madame Clicquot is also credited with blending the first rose champagne.

While Val de Vie means ‘the valley of life’, in the neighbouring Franschhoek Valley, winemakers are giving life to a celebrated stream of bubbles. Roughly twenty-five kilometers from Val de Vie, in Paarl, several South African producers have continued the French tradition of making sparkling wine using the traditional method.

Method Cap Classique (MCC) is a South African moniker for the process of crafting sparkling wine. The first cap Classique was crafted at Simonsig by Frans Malan in 1971. ‘Kaapse Vonkel’, or ‘Cape sparkle’, was created in Stellenbosch, roughly 29 kilometers from Franschhoek.

Method Cap Classique is crafted from various grapes in the Cape. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are two of the most popular varietals that are used in the production of MCC. Many producers prefer to whole-bunch-press the grapes, with the first press, the cuvee, used as the base wine. Once the base wines and blends are bottled, the bottles are matured, horizontally for a minimum of twelve months. After the wine has matured ‘on the lees’ to the winemaker’s satisfaction, the bottles are riddled and disgorged. This means that the bottles are turned upside down, the lees are frozen in the neck of the bottle, then removed. The winemaker adds their preferred dosage, and the sparkling wine is subsequently aged on the cork to allow the wine to achieve integration and balance. The carefully controlled process of producing Method Cap Classique insures a modicum of quality.

Paul Gerber is one of the most respected MCC producers in South Africa. After several years of seducing the palates of bubbly lovers at Le Lude, in Franschhoek, Paul joined Franschhoek Cap Classique producer, Colmant in 2019.

Before he became a winemaker, Paul Gerber was a maths teacher. Paul says, “I convinced my wife to let me study winemaking, all I wanted to do after studying winemaking was to make bubbles.”

With a wealth of knowledge and boundless bubbles behind him, Paul has joined forces with Jean-Phillipe Colmant at Colmant Cap Classique and Champagne, in Franschhoek.

In 2002, Jean-Phillipe Colmant and his family emigrated from Belgium to South Africa. Jean-Phillipe worked in the funeral industry, prior to his foray into fizz.

“In Belgium, champagne was always part of our culture,” Jean-Phillipe says, “but I never thought I would make it, I was making tombstones before I moved to South Africa.”

Today, Colmant produces about 50,000 bottles of method cap classique a year, in Franschhoek – far from the cemeteries of Belgium. 

Colmant began bottling their vintages in 2006. Jean-Phillipe confides, “when I launched the range, my daughter was in grade 1, now, she’s in matric. That’s how time flies!”

“Everyone always talks about looking back, talks about what you would have done differently,” Paul says, “the golden thread that spans through the vintages is what ties the wine together.”

Over Colmant’s colourful, short past, eleven different vineyards from three regions have contributed to the winery’s character. 50% of the grapes used come from Franschhoek, 30% from Elgin and 20% from Robertson. Colmant is renowned for its Brut Reserve. The non-vintage consists of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay. Aged for two and a half years on the lees, the wine is a study of elegance.

Paul says, “cap Classique and champagne are process-driven wines, a slight press here and there can make a big difference.”

The method cap classique that Colmant, and in the Franschhoek valley is rich with the spirit of innovation and elegance.

The resplendence of the Cape shines  through, like a golden thread.

“We should show the sun in the fruit,” Paul concludes.

Polo With a Purpose

Alongside the sparkling Veuve Clicquot Masters Polo tournament, the grandeur of Paarl’s polo fields at Val de Vie lay host to the Pink Polo tournament, which was launched in 2010. The event serves as an opportunity to raise awareness about breast cancer and an opportunity to contribute to those whose lives are affected by it. A portion of the proceeds from the tournament’s ticket sales support charities which make a difference in the lives affected by Breast Cancer. Pink Polo takes place at Val de Vie on 9 November 2019.

The Magic of Bubbles

From 30 November to 1 December, visit the Franschhoek valley to experience the magic of bubbles at the 10th annual Franschhoek Cap Classique and Champagne Festival. With a wide range of local MCCs and select French champagnes on offer, the festival is a luxurious opportunity to study the bubble. The event takes place at the Huguenot Monument and the 2019 dress code allows guests to look their best in blue and white.

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