If you don’t already know, I never pass up an opportunity to spend some quality time with Neil Ellis Wines. And what better way to get to know their impressive range of wines (and family!) than an intimate wine tasting afternoon at a stunning venue in Gardens?
Mindful that no single vineyard can satisfy the needs of all grape varieties, Neil Ellis set out to identify distinct terroir in which individual varieties will excel. He placed the emphasis not only on the environment, but also on caring viticultural practices by a dedicated team of growers which extends through to the winemaking practices.
Today the journey of Neil Ellis Wines is not only of Neil Ellis anymore. After four decades of making wine, the next stage of the journey has begun with Neil’s son, Warren, sharing responsibilities of winemaker and viticulturist in the pursuit of quality winemaking. Neil’s youngest son, Charl, heads the financial team while his daughter, Margot, fulfills the role of brand manager.
I was heartily invited to attend this informal wine tasting extravaganza afternoon. I made my way from work, feeling quite excited at the prospect of exploring the range of Neil Ellis wines in more depth than I have to date. And let me tell you; they have an expansive range of wines, and each of those demand a full write-up as they are all superb! But for the sake of the word-count of this blog (and your sanity!), I’ll only highlight my favourite finds of the day.
The venue was the very impressive, but completely understated, The Stack Bar & Brasserie in Gardens. I’ve never even heard of this place, and now my heart aches knowing I found it at this late stage of my life. As you walk up the very plain brick driveway, it doesn’t look like much, but as soon as you enter the lush gardens, you are faced with an elegant double story building that begs to be admired in all it’s architectural beauty.
Enter and up the steep staircase with its leopard print carpet, the space opens up into a massive living/dining room with a visually stunning bar on the one side. It’s almost as if you’re visiting your very rich and arty side of the family, and spending some time in their lifestyle-magazine home. Except it’s way more cosy and inviting than those magazine houses. It wants you to sink into the plush couches and to enjoy the bundles of books on the side tables. It invites you to order a pretty drink and sit on the balcony and admire the setting sun over the city. It asks you to linger a bit longer, and to explore the different rooms and nooks. It proudly shows off its vast selection of artwork and indulges in your utter amazement at the striking interior design of its innermost beauty. Yes, I’m giving a static building a voice and a heart, because The Stack is truly alive. It’s humming with vibes and positive energies. I haven’t come across such a breathtaking venue in a long time. It only seemed like the most suitable place to showcase this specific range of wines.
That afternoon, the venue was filled with a jolly crowd of media, friends, influencers and bloggers. Each space was taken up by different tabled displays of Neil Ellis wines, each manned by a member of the Ellis family themselves. Because that is how a family business is run, right? I was so impressed that they were all there for what seemed to be a relatively low-key event, but then did I really expect anything less from such a successful business and brand?
After a beautifully hearty welcome by Posy Hazell, I was given a glass, ushered in the direction of the laden trays of canapés and told to enjoy myself. Glorious. I decided to start with the white wines and work my way around to the reds, and then end the night with the vintage and reserve offerings.
At the white wine table I met Margot, daughter of Neil and the face behind the branding, marketing and distribution. I was casually chatted through the range of white wines. I’ve tasted quite a few of the whites before as they are already marked in my little book of favourites, but thought it best to remind my palate of the full range on offer. However, I got the chance to taste the exquisite “Op sy moer 2017”.
Op sy moer 2017
Op Sy Moer translates as “on the lees”. By keeping it on the lees, the wine is better preserved and less oxidation occurs. As it matures, the lees add more richness and texture to the wine. Secondary aromas and flavours evolve, giving the wine even more complexity.
With no added sulphur, unfined and unfiltered, Op Sy Moer is bottled with fine lees. For best results when aging, store the bottle cork down. Before opening and enjoying, turn the bottle cork up for three to five days (the longer the better) to allow the lees to settle.
In the vineyard: The vineyards are about 450m above sea level. They are old, non irrigated bush vine vineyards that grow in Table Mountain sandstone soils, among the natural fynbos vegetation and rooibos tea plantations.
In the cellar: The grapes were whole bunch pressed and transferred straight to barrel for fermentation. 10% was fermented as whole bunches and kept on the skins for four months after which it was pressed. This wine underwent natural fermentation, no additives and no sulphur addition.
Tasting notes: Youthful straw colour with a slight green tinge. Complex nose of citrus zest, pineapple and a slight nuttiness. Fresh, vibrant palate, with good texture and a long creamy finish. This is a wine that will keep evolving in the glass.
After a few snacks, I moved on to the first red wine table where I met Charl, son to Neil and the numbers man. He happily talked me through a selection of their red wines, of which the Groenekloof Syrah 2016 was by far my most favourite because of it’s bold and vibrant blend of Shiraz and Cinsault.
Groenekloof Syrah 2016
In the vineyard: Sourced from low yielding bush vines on our property in the Groenekloof ward. The soils consist of decomposed granite and clay, allowing for good physical properties. These vineyards receive no supplementary irrigation.
In the cellar: Handpicked, crushed and fermented on skins in open top fermenters allowing punch downs and gentle pump-overs to extract colour, flavour and tannin. Malolactic fermentation in French oak puncheons.
Tasting notes: The nose has bright dark fruit with contributing spicy perfumed aromas from the Cinsaut. Savouriness lingers in the background, which comes through on the palate.
Warren Ellis, son of Neil and second generation winemaker, manned the next red wine table. In passing I heard a lot of excited whispers about the Piekenierskloof Grenache 2014, so I decided to make that my point of departure. What a stunning wine with notes of vibrant red fruit and spicy peppery aromas. I couldn’t possibly work my way through all of the wines on offer, so I selectively tasted a few more before catching a breath on the balcony to watch the sun setting over Cape Town.
The space was slowly filling up and I saw lots of familiar faces over glasses of wine, and made a few new ones at the tasting tables as we eagerly exchanged notes and made recommendations about what to try next.
I saved the absolute best for last. It was by far the most popular stop on this wine tasting journey. It was the vintage and reserve wines, presented and poured by Neil Ellis himself.
I never realised that a white wine could age so beautifully. Neil presented me with two 2008 Sauvignon Blancs, one from Elgin and one from the Jonkershoek Valley. They were both deliciously juicy; so complex in its simplicity and packed to the brim with mouthwatering flavours of ripe fruit and a deep richness that leaves you with that satisfying full-mouth experience. I didn’t want to spoil my tastebuds with anything after I tasted those two, and it was the perfect wrap up for a decadent afternoon of wine tasting.
All in all, a beautifully festive afternoon spent in good company. If you’ve not tried the Neil Ellis range of wines, please be kind to yourself and pick up your favourite bottles today. You simply won’t be disappointed. These wines should be the staples in your wine rack – ready for any occasion, whether it needs to be dressed up or down.
Disclaimer: I was invited to this event in my capacity as photographer/writer as part of a media outreach. There was no expectation for platform coverage in the form of a blog, or social media posts. This is my honest and truthful opinion and review thereof. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are solely those of The Little Hedonist, given in good faith and in no way influenced by the company or its affiliates. All images, unless otherwise stated/credited, are also my own.