If producing good wine, supporting a good cause, and following good growing practices sounds like a difficult and complicated mission, that’s because it is. But for Bruwer Raats, winemaker, and Andre Shearer, CEO of Cape Classics, doing and creating good is simply their way of life.
In chatting with Andre and Bruwer about their ethical commitments, wines, and careers, I discovered two passionate individuals, neither of whom dreamt of a career in wine, but who both love their country of South Africa, their neighbors, and their role in bettering the community through wine and philanthropy. Bruwer put it well when he said, “I did not choose winemaking…. winemaking chose me. Once I got exposure in the wine industry, I followed my heart in doing something that I am very passionate about.”
A few short years after apartheid ended, large wine importer Cape Classics founded Indaba Foundation to address the needs of the country’s most vulnerable children through early childhood development. Its Institute provides permanent, formal, and accredited training of Association Montessori Internationale practitioners on the African continent, initially focusing on the critical phase of 0 to 6 years old.
If you’ve ever enjoyed a bottle of Indaba Wines, you’ve contributed to this tremendous cause! Cape Classics uses their Indaba brand to fund the Foundation, pledging $0.50 of every case. Andre told me, “As we grow as a business, we aim to grow the percentage contribution since that is exactly what financial sustainability would mean to us.”
Bruwer, who is also proprietor and winemaker of internationally acclaimed Raats Family Wines and B Vintners, joined the team in 2008. He has been “absorbed by their passion” since 1996 and now treats Indaba and its Foundation as his own.
Good Growing Practices
Andre and Bruwer’s passions don’t stop at education. They are also extremely invested in the environment and sustainability.
To support good growing practices amid today’s environmental challenges, the team at Cape Classics evaluates the social, environmental, and ethical practices of their winemakers. If they feel their standards aren’t met, they won’t trade with them—pure and simple.
Perhaps this is why Andre works so well with Bruwer, who believes that terroir should be the driving force behind all he does. About his winemaking style, Bruwer said, “I never try to make any style, but rather try to reflect the terroir of the vineyards with as minimal interference as possible. Raat Family Wines have become known for making wines that reflects the origin of the grapes.”
Both acknowledge that sustainable growing practices are not always easy though. When I asked Andre about the most difficult part of maintaining sustainable wine cultivation and production, he said, “South Africans are actually very ‘sustainably minded’ in general. Our region is focused on sustainability since we live in a region that is actually one of the six Floral Kingdoms of the world. The families who live and produce in this region are veryrespectful of it. As far as the most difficult part? That’s perhaps the restriction that the area directly surrounding most vineyards is untouchable and when a place produces wines of majesty, it is not a foregone conclusion that expansion is possible. Most wineries are partof protected areas and law prohibits one from planting in sensitive areas.”
Fortunately for wine drinkers, there’s good to be had in every bottle that Bruwer Raats touches, too. He is the winemaker for three labels: his own Raats Family Wines and B Vintners, as well as Indaba Wines in collaboration with Cape Classics. Bruwer’s astounding attention to detail and appreciation for terroir are at the core of each wine, from his beloved varietals Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc to his well-composed blends.
I had the opportunity to try a few of Bruwer’s wines and found it hard to pick a favorite. The Chenin Blancs from both Indaba and Raats Family are both great expressions of the grape. Indaba’s 2016 Chenin is cold fermented in stainless steel tanks for three weeks before a small portion sees French oak barrels. It is aged on the lees for five months. The resulting wine has notes of tropical fruit, ripe pear, and lees. In contrast, Raats Family’s 2017 Original Chenin proudly states “unwooded” on its label. It also displays wonderful lees character, but its flavors are more citrusy with notes of lemons, limes, and a touch of almond.
Bruwer’s favorite red grape, Cabernet Franc, is the star of Raats Family’s Dolomite Cabernet Franc and Red Jasper. The 2014 Dolomite Cabernet Francis an exciting New World version of a Loire favorite. It is floral, fresh, herbaceous, and mineral. Its flavors are closer to the red berry end of the spectrum with lingering spice and a faint bell pepper quality. 2015’s Red Jasperis made of 48% Cabernet Franc, 36% Malbec, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, and 2% Petit Verdot. This deep, complex Bordeaux-inspired blend is perhaps the best value in his portfolio. Bruwer composes a different blend every year, showcasing his level of detail and appreciation of balance. This vintage is full of plush black fruits, spice, and cocoa, as well as the green bell pepper notes that Cab Franc lovers treasure.
I also tried Idaba’s 2017 Mosaic red blendof 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot. According to the tech sheet, grapes were sourced from select vineyard sites in Paardeberg, McGregor, Stellenbosch, and Durbanville. In this wine, you’ll find flavors of ripe blackberries, black plums, chocolate-covered espresso beans, and clay—a reflection of the vineyards’ red Karoo clay soil.
All of these wines are delicious and truly incredible value, but Bruwer’s pièce de résistance is the B Vintners label. These terroir-specific bottlings are made in partnership with his cousin, Gavin Bruwer Slappart. They created the label “to tell the unique story and heritage of the SA wine Industry through wine, but with a futuristic outlook and a modern approach.” The 2016 Black Bream Pinot Noir from Walker Bay is a bright, intense, multidimensional expression of perhaps the hardest to grow grape in the world. I continue to be shocked by the examples coming out of South Africa. This one in particular is very savory and juicy with pronounced flavors of black cherry, overripe strawberry, clove, oregano, and marjoram.
This wine is not trying to be Burgundy. Like their mission and ethics, this wine is South African. And that’s very, very good.