Cape Point Vineyard.
Cape Point Vineyard.
Image: Supplied

Winemaking has always been a dance between chemistry and alchemy, a fine balance of good old-fashioned agriculture on the ground, and gut feel in the cellar. It’s an art that few really master in their lifetime.

Yet nestled atop the Noordhoek Valley – with sea spray close enough to smell and even taste when the wind blows right, surrounded by vines famed for their bounty – you’ll find a young, new winemaker with a fierce work ethic, an old soul and an artist’s flair for creating real beauty from each unlikely bunch.

Introducing Riandri Visser: the new winemaker at Cape Point Vineyards.

Invited to lunch at the Food Barn’s legendary Chef’s Table with Chef Franck Dangereux and Visser herself, I discovered afresh how food and wine, when created by true artisans, can lift us beyond the ordinary as we imbibe and savour art made drinkable and edible.

On arrival, I was welcomed by a relaxed Visser. With a glass of her chilled Sauvignon Blanc in each hand, she immediately offered me one. And it quickly went to work - taking off the sharp edges of my hot, frenetic day. Then, the larger-than-life Franck appeared out of nowhere to explain that he would be pushing the envelope with the food and wine combinations we’d be enjoying together.

Specifically designed around the Cape Point wines, he instructed us to “keep an open mind.” Not hard to do when a chef of Franck’s calibre is working away behind the scenes. With Franck back in the kitchen, Visser began to share a little more about herself …

Although reserved at first, she can’t help but light up when talking about wine. Taking over the reins from the inimitable Duncan Savage, Visser had big shoes to fill – made all the more intimidating by having to fill them during one of the toughest seasons in wine. Having assisted Savage in the cellar since 2014, 2017 was the first vintage Visser was totally responsible for. With the years-long Cape drought really beginning to bite, and the steady and experienced hand of Savage gone, Visser admits that this vintage challenged her to the extreme.  

But if the critics are anything to go by, she proved up to the task …

96 points from Wine Master Tim Atkin for Isliedh 2017, which also garnered an exceptional 5 star rating in the 2019 edition of John Platter,  and was awarded ‘Top Performer’ in the WineMag Sauv/Sem Report 2018.

What makes these accomplishments all the more sweet, is the fact that it was this very wine that drew Visser to a deeper love for winemaking. She recalls with vivid detail when Savage came to talk to her university class and share Cape Point’s flagship Isliedh 2013 with them, “It had a beautiful balance which touched my soul.”

The name of the proprietor’s grand-daughter and pronounced “I lay” - it’s Visser who’s now set to take Isliedh to new heights and more souls than ever.  

Accompanied by a pairing menu reminiscent of Franck’s days at La Colombe (then recognized as the top restaurant in the country and in the top 100 in the world), we dined on a 6-course menu that included dishes like charred duck, kalamata tapenade, glazed turnips and burnt orange, accompanied by a flawless partner - Cape Point’s Semillon 2007.

The standout for me was the red mullet taco, whipped miso, yuzu and truffle creme fraiche - brought together beautifully by the sublime Isliedh 2017.

“This is from a special block of vines, high up on the farm, pummelled by crazy winds and completely exposed to the elements.” Visser explains, “First, you taste the salt from the ocean then you bite into the skin of the tiny berries and discover they’re packed with flavour.”

With a passion that’s as undeniable as it is infectious, it’s evident Visser will do whatever it takes to ensure that what ends up in the bottle is the best expression of the specific site it came from. The Isliedh 2017 is a perfect example: born in a tough year, it exudes a tension you can taste.

Poised to perfection, this wine, like the artist who made it, is no doubt destined for greatness.

QUICK Q&A WITH RIANDRI VISSER:

Why did you decide to become a winemaker? I initially wanted to live out my passion for art, but along the way, I discovered a new version of myself in wine … a passionate interest and thirst for knowledge that became a lifestyle.

Your winemaking philosophy? Respect, understand and stay true to terroir, cultivar and vintage while aiming for a wine with purity and soul. 

What do you regard as the main secrets behind Cape Point Vineyard’s success? We choose to focus on Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, because we know these cultivars thrive in our environment. This focus, along with our value on team, has played a huge role in Cape Point’s success.

Any passions and hobbies? I recharge by spending time outdoors by the ocean, or in the mountains on my bike or hiking with family and close friends. I enjoy photography, drawing and reading.

What can you just not do without in your life? The support of my loving family and my pets.

Who do you admire in your industry and why? I admire winemakers who love and support fellow winemakers and viticulturists. My partner, Drew Harty is also a winemaker, he is a great support and a brilliant winemaker.

How do you feel about the SA wine? We’re producing phenomenal wines that are showcasing our level of quality and commitment to excellence. We still have a long way to go, but we are on our way and that is important. The future is full of possibilities and opportunities. 

Your favourite white and red wines – to drink? I have to be honest, I keep a few bottles of the Cape Point Vineyard’s Noordhoek Sauvignon Blanc 2017 in my fridge, and this wine is drinking beautifully. I prefer drinking light, elegant reds and right now the Trizanne Signature Wines Reserve Syrah 2017 is my go-to red. 

- Wade Bales is the Founder of Wade Bales Fine Wines & Spirits: wadebales.co.za

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