The Wine Explorers: Namibia to Zimbabwe14th March, 2014 by Jean-Baptiste Ancelot
Flying from Namibia we arrived in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, writes Jean-Baptiste Ancelot of the Wine Explorers.
At the exit of the airport we suddenly realised that we were in the “real Africa“ : damaged roads, sometimes traffic lights not working – so you drive slowly with your warnings ON –, no street names and traffic signalisation missing most of the time.
But this in fact is not a problem and doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that Zimbabwe is a beautiful and lovely country with open-arms people and fantastic landscapes that you must visit at least once in your lives, like the Victoria Falls or some great safaris places.
The pioneers brought vines to “Rhodesia“, as Zimbabwe was then called, in about 1890, but grape growing was not undertaken commercially until about 1960*. Trade sanctions imposed by Britain – after the Rhodesian government declared its independence in 1965 – forced farmers to diversify and some planted vines of Clairette blanche, Pinotage, Chenin Blanc and red Muscadel. These were distributed to the Eastern Districts, Hippo Valley, Marandellas and the Mazoe Valley.
When Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, the wine industry was integrated under the control of three wineries: African Distillers (AFDIS), Cairns Wineries and Meadows Estate. Nowadays wine industry is decreasing in Zimbabwe. From what we saw in different information sources, we thought that there were 2 wineries in the country : Mukuyu Winery and Bushman Rock Estate. However it appears that the day before we arrived in Zimbabwe – incredible but true – one of these two estates, Mukuyu Winery just closed ! (temporary or definitively ? Mystery…)
We had the chance to spend a few days at Bushman Rock Safaris and Wine Estate, a winery which was first planted in the late 30’s (with first commercial wines in the 60’s). The 102-hectares property was purchased by a civil engineer Mr. D.C. Mullins in 1949. His vision for the untamed area of woodland was a European style vineyard and winery and his wife and family helped him clear and terrace the land, put in basic irrigation and plant 12 hectares of vines, making it one of the first vineyards in the country.
In 2007 a joint venture company was established between two families who owned adjacent properties and the “Busman Rock Safaris” concept was born. The two families set about developing Bushman Rock into a gracious Wine and Wildlife Estate preserving the natural beauty of the valley whilst working towards the production of quality wines. They developed the wine estate over the last 13 years, replanting and expanding the vineyards with new “noble cultivars” imported from the Cape like Semillon, Sauvignon blanc, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet sauvignon and Cabernet franc, adding drip irrigation into all vineyards and re-trellising the vines.
As a preservation program for the Zimbabwean nature, they introduced into the estate 13 of the magnificent species of African wildlife : Giraffe, Eland, Sable, Kudu, Nyala, Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest, Tsessebe, Wildebeest, Zebra, Impala, Bushbuck, Waterbuck, Duiker. They also developed facilities to cater towards equine tourism with the focus on polo, although there are also showing jumping and dressage arena. With the focus on polo they created the Polo Arena, a full size international polo field, have built a restaurant and function venue at the winery as well as renovating existing structures into a conference and function venue for seminars as well as building a picturesque Chapel for weddings.
Bushman Rock wine range is composed of 9 wines; 4 of them particularly drew our attention :
Dry White 2010, a white blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Perel (a white varietal from Israël), matured six months in three-year old French barrels. A nose of citrus, pear and fresh menthol. Fresh and fruity in mouth with a delicate bitterness on the finish. Structured with 12.5% alcohol. Nice match with asparagus for example. Cellar price: $4,5 (about 3.30€)
Charlevale 2010, a white blend of Semillon (60%), Sauvignon blanc (35%) and Moscatel (5%), matured 12 months in 3-year old French and American barrels. Acacia, honey and white flowers on the nose. Fresh and clean in mouth with a citrus finish. 13% alcohol. Goes well with goat cheese. Cellar price: $7 (about 5.10€)
Alicante Bouschet 2008, a red wine made from Alicante Bouschet, an old grape coming from the south of France and matured 24 months in three-year old French barrels. Nose of strawberry. Light in mouth with a taste of red berries. Fresh and well-balanced. Can perfectly pair with a roasted chicken. Cellar price: $6 (about 4.40€)
Merlot 2010, a 100% Merlot red wine matured 24 months in three-year old French barrels. Nose of prune and blueberry. Smooth tannins in mouth with a taste of black berries. Nice match with a juicy peppery steak and French fries. Cellar price: $6 (about 4.40€)
“In the resent future we will reduce the wine range and focus more on key products like the Charlevale or the Alicante Bouschet. Because of this focus we hope to gain a certain precision and concentration within our wines that will hopefully strongly increase their quality“, confirmed current M.D Jonathan Passaportis. The addition of Nelia Kanyasa, world-class winemaker and vintner-agriculture manager at Bushman Rock Estate since 2013, will definitely help.
Other whites we tasted are Hanne 2009 (100% Hannepoot) and Moscato 2010. For the reds : Syrah 2009, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 and Stellagallen 2009 (a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc).