Something remarkable happens when the spark of creativity is met by the flint of unyielding focus. Magic happens.
A week ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of dining with two such magicians. Both masters in their field, decades of hard work and dedication to their respective crafts has not dampened their passion for innovation – far from it. Instead, it’s serving as the basis from which to explore ever-more exciting horizons in the world of food and wine.
John Loubser has been Steenberg’s cellar master and their GM of wine for 15 years. During his time here, he has not only helped to establish Steenberg as a world-class wine estate, he has also leant his magnanimous skills toward strengthening the collective Constantia Wine Region and in so doing, inadvertently established himself as one of its most respected contributors.
John’s recent decision to leave Steenberg Estate to focus exclusively on his own label, Silverthorn Wines, was reason enough to catch up with him.
Our lunch, on a wintery afternoon at the beautifully appointed Catharina’s restaurant, alongside its Executive Chef, Colin Archibald Maclean, was a chance to recognize the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. And what better way to do so than by enjoying the fruit of both John and Archie’s crafts right alongside them!
With both men at the top of their games, our time flew as the food and wine flowed. What a fitting celebration to these two men’s noble commitment to fine wine and food.
John’s decision to leave Steenberg to focus exclusively on Silverthorn Wines was not an easy one. But it will see John taking his specialist Method Cap Classique to new heights.
“After an incredible journey at Steenberg, for which I am eternally grateful, I am thrilled to channel all my passion and energy into Silverthorn Wines. This is the culmination of a lifelong goal and dream. I have finally conquered my Everest, now for the stars…”
Although John has garnered many accolades for both red and whites over the years, his magical touch with bubbly was evident in the various Silverthorn vintages we enjoyed together. The Green Man 2011 is a Blanc de Blanc style which was the overall winner of the 6 Nations Challenge. To highlight the variations in vintage, the 5-star John Platter Green Man 2010 (which spent 30 months on the lees) was paired with Prawn and Smoked salmon ravioli, dill cream sauce, coriander and micro greens.
This magnificent dish was a worthy companion to the bubbles and was all thanks to the man sitting across the table, Chef Archie. Having recently joined the Steenberg team after a three and a half year stint as Head Chef at Singita, Archie began his career as a barman back in Scotland. It was only after an emergency that required he lend a hand in the kitchen that he knew he had found his calling.
“There were three other Colins in the kitchen, so they defaulted to calling me by my second name Archie,” he laughs. The name, plus the passion for food, stuck.
Archie’s approach is all about exciting palates with interesting combinations of taste, flavour and texture. Cooked simply and presented beautifully, next up was the slow-cooked pork belly, with butternut puree, cauliflower rice with ash, baby carrots and blue cheese jus. John opened the Jewel Box Brut 2010, a special cuvee of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and barrel-matured to add richness and texture, perfectly complimenting the pork belly.
As the afternoon lingered on, the conversation was lubricated by another gem from John’s cellar, the Semillon 2002, another 5-star John Platter to complement one of the highlight dishes of the day… Archie’s green apple parfait, tart satin, sous vide apple, gingerbread and butterscotch sensation.
Clearly satisfied with the quality coming out of his kitchen, Archie regaled us with many stories of his travels and escapades. His stories, as rich and memorable as the food and wine before us.
John is firm in his belief that specialising in producing high quality bubbly made in the traditional method is where the opportunity lies. And as I reflect on our time together, I’m left in no doubt that we have the quality to compete with and even be better than most French Champagnes.
On that note, let’s raise our glass and toast to two artful magicians and their formidable futures.