South Africa, Wellington, November 2022: It was a distinguished complement of Italian guests and South African wine personalities that gathered at Diemersfontein Wine & Country Estate this week for a very special launch. They’d come to share in the unveiling of The Clockmaker Old Vine Chenin Blanc.
A wine with no ordinary story, its genesis was sparked by an unconventional friendship forged in wartime and which endures to this day. The Clockmaker is produced from Chenin Blanc vines planted more than 35 years ago and salutes the memory of Cesare Zanardi, an Italian entrepreneur who spent time on Diemersfontein as a prisoner of war in the 1940s.
Among the guests attending the launch were Cesare’s son, as well as the Italian Consul Emanuele Pollio, prominent Italian wine families in South Africa, and the founder of the Old Vine Project in South Africa, renowned viticulturist Rosa Kruger.
“This was an emotional occasion,” says David Sonnenberg who owns Diemersfontein with his wife, Susan. “While many long-distance friendships were renewed, the gathering also reflected a deeper significance for everyone. In celebrating together, the special relationship between Italy and South Africa that has existed for many generations was again revealed, and particularly where the fair treatment of prisoners of war during WW2 is concerned.
“The re-emergence of war and oppression in Europe, brought added poignancy,” he says.
Only 800 bottles of the Clockmaker single vineyard wine have been produced; its status and story highlighted by a commemorative carton and label emblazoned with the faded, sepia toned picture of Cesare himself.
“In each their own way, our wines are all special to us and the same is true of The Clockmaker,” David says. “It is not only a story of our family’s long history on the farm, and a magical vineyard, but also of those who have contributed to it.”
The maiden vintage of the medium-bodied wine has rich aromas of yellow peaches, ripe pineapple, honey and spice, with an appealing acidic flourish. “It’s splendid when served with roast duck, pork and fish dishes,” recommends Diemersfontein winemaker Francois Roode.
Indeed, it makes a fine tribute to the bonds of long-time friendship that it celebrates.
Cesare was 24 years old when he arrived on the Wellington estate owned by Max and Lillie Sonnenberg. Working as a farm hand, he tended dairy cows, worked in the apricot orchards, and helped with the fruit drying business. A friendship also bloomed.
The war ended in 1945 and Cesare returned to Bolzano, the town of his youth. He joined the family business and eventually became a master clockmaker. All the while he maintained contact with the Sonnenbergs. Despite the circumstances of being a POW, he never forgot the many good and warm memories of his years at Diemersfontein.
Sadly, Cesare died in 2011, but his memory has forever remained a part of Diemersfontein.
It was David Sonnenberg’s father, Richard, who planted the two-hectare Chenin Blanc vineyard from which The Clockmaker is produced.
“The plants have developed beautiful, thick stems,” says Francois. “Their gnarly arms show the signs of all the seasons they have endured in the Wellington climate. Still, the vineyard produces seven tons a hectare, which is good for its age.”
The last Chenin Blanc on the farm is always picked here, possibly because of the age of the vines, Francois says. In the Wellington sunlight, the grapes become golden yellow although the shaded underside of the bunches remain slightly green, imparting much-needed acidity.
The fruit is harvested in the early morning, de-stemmed and pressed. The juice spends two days in a tank before being racked to barrels for fermentation. It spends an overall 12 months in previously used barrels with 20% of the final blend coming from wine matured in a new barrel.
The Clockmaker Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2021 is available for purchase from the farm, Diemersfontein’s online shop or via the Diemersfontein Wine app, downloadable from the App Store and Google Play. It is also stocked by select fine wine retailers.
It sells for R280/bottle.
Diemersfontein is situated 50 minutes from Cape Town, in the heart of the Cape Winelands and in the foothills of the majestic Drakenstein mountains. While the quality of its wines has made the winery famous, its renowned hospitality has made it a popular destination.
Diemersfontein Wine and Country Estate is situated off Jan van Riebeeck Drive (R301). For more information call 021 864 5050, send an email to email@example.com, visit www.diemersfontein.co.za or make contact via @diemersfontein on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.