Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Raphael Dornier having Lunch at the Bodega Restaurant
I first met Raphael in the virtual world, on the Facebook Page of German wine journalist Mario Scheuermann, discussing the pros and cons of the 2010 Soccer World Cup for the South African economy. We agreed that next time I would come to South Africa, we would continue the discussion over lunch at his restaurant Bodega in Stellenbosch. When we had lunch at the Dornier Wine Estate earlier this year, off Blaauklippen Road at the outskirts of Stellenbosch, we didn’t really talk about the Soccer World Cup, but about the delicious Dornier wines, the exquisite Bodega food and the people behind it.
The Dornier Estate
The first thing you see when you arrive from Stellenbosch is the extravagant winery. With its curved roof and the use of face brick and reflecting materials, the building blends creatively into the dramatic scenery of Stellenbosch Mountain, enhancing the beauty of its natural surroundings. Raphael Dornier says: “The style of the winery is a visual translation of our wines – elegant, clear yet complex and distinctly unique”.
The Dornier Estate is located on two estates, both with long traditions. The history of Keerweder goes back to 1694, when it was acquired by Jac van Dyk. The Homestead farm includes a historic Sir Herbert Baker homestead and one of the oldest wine cellars in the area. The Dornier family bought the first farm in 1995, planted most of the vineyards and opened the new cellar in 2003.
Picture: Dornier Winery
There are currently 70 hectares under vine. The varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Chenin Blanc. These seven varieties are the building blocks of three blends. In addition, Dornier has started to grow wine in the Swartland.
Raphael, my wife and I had lunch in the Bodega restaurant. While the winery building with its striking architectural beauty of the superb modern cellar reflects the passion for architecture of Raphael’s father, Christoph Dornier, the Bodega restaurant is Raphael’s baby. Housed in a carefully renovated 19th century Cape Dutch barn, this is a mellow spot for a languid lunch, conversation fuelled by wines, and unpretentious cooking. Grab a table on the terrace and linger over the views of the ultramodern wave-design winery against a stunning mountain backdrop.
Picture: The Bodega Restaurant housed in a 19th Century Cape Dutch Barn
Neil Norman is the Dornier Chef de Cuisine. I asked Neil who was his greatest cooking influence and why? “For inspiration in the kitchen, I would say Thomas Keller from the French Laundry in the Napa valley. For cutting edge flavours, definitely Neil Perry of Australia”.
Picture: Dornier Chef de Cuisine Neil Norman
Raphael, Christoph and Claude Dornier
Raphael Dornier is now the full time Managing Director at Dornier Wines. He was born in Munich in Germany and grew up in Switzerland where he received most of his school and university education. Raphael holds a PhD in Economics. He says: “In five years, I see Dornier as one of the most prominent brands of South African wines. With our small range of unique wines we will showcase the potential and character of our soils as well as our individual style. With the support of our dedicated team we will strive to improve from vintage to vintage based on our tradition of creativity, innovation and perfection.”
The Dornier Wines Estate was founded Christoph Dornier, Raphael’s father. Christoph was born in 1938 as the youngest child of Claude Dornier, the German aviation pioneer. He passed away in 2008. Art had been his vocation from the early days. After art schools in Switzerland and Germany, he had developed his trademark style made of symbols, riddles and bright colors. In the early 1990’s he became one of the first foreign investors in post apartheid South Africa.
Everyone in Germany and everyone in the world interested in aviation know Claude Dornier, Raphael’s grandfather, who was born in Kempten, Germany, in 1884. Claude is known as the aviation pioneer, who replaced wood and paper with metal in the design and construction of early aircraft. Unable to persuade Graf Zeppelin officials to diversify into airplanes, he formed his own company with his brother and enjoyed immediate success with some of the world's earliest, large, all metal aircraft. Notably, Dornier's DO-X was the world's largest passenger plane at its time, which in the face of widespread skepticism concerning its practicality flew from Germany to New York in 1931.
JC Steyn heads the Dornier wine cellar. He graduated from Stellenbosch University and took over Dornier Wines 5 years ago, after having gained experience of the full spectrum of viticulture and winemaking as right-hand man to charismatic winemaker of Cape Town’s Signal Hill Winery, Jean Vincent Ridon.
Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Dornier Winemaker JC Steyn
What we Drank and Ate
We had a lovely lunch at the Bodega, which offers spectacular mountain views and delectable country fare paired with Dornier wines. We were lucky to be there while the restaurant was hosting its second annual asparagus festival. Neal Norman offered a mouthwatering menu, featuring white and green asparagus, freshly picked on Saxenburg farm. As main course, I had asparagus with Black Forest Ham, Raphael with Salmon. As a starter we shared Flammenkuchen with green and white asparagus, porcini and watercress. Delicious! As to the wines, we had two flights, a white one and a red one.
Picture: My Main Course - Asparagus with Black Forest Ham
Dornier has three ranges of wines. (1) The Cocoa Hill wines are the entry level wines, no wood. They offer lively fruit, uncompromised pleasure, and great value. The Cocoa Hill segment includes a Chenin Blanc, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Rosé and a Red Blend. Cocoa Hill wines are roughly in the US$ 12 range. (2) The dornier wines are the middle-level wines, all in the US$ range. They comprises single variety wines, no or only little wood. The aim is to express the unique concentrated varietal characteristics refined with soft, clean tannins and abundant freshness. The range includes a Chenin Blanc, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot and a Pinotage. (3) The DONATUS wines comprises the two flagship red and white blends. They aim at achieving a combination of a distinctive local character with an. individual Dornier style. All wines are fermented and aged in separate batches and blended after a long ageing process. The Donatus wines are in the US$ 30 range.
First flight: 3 Chenin Blancs
Raphael Dornier explained that since their inception as a wine producer they have been making white wine with a Chenin Blanc focus. Each of the three ranges of Dornier wines includes a Chenin Blanc. ‘At Dornier Wines we believe that Chenin Blanc is by far the most attractive and versatile white wine varietal available in South Africa and we see it as integral in the future of white wine production on the farm” says winemaker JC Steyn.
2010 Cocoa Hill Chenin Blanc
Grapes were selected from vines aged between 19 – 52 years-old and located in several different Stellenbosch micro-climates. Wine was left on lees for two month to give it the desired fullness and texture. A pleasant, unwooded, straightforward wine, fresh and fruity. guava and kiwi notes on the nose, good structure, more tropical aromas on the palate, clean and crisp fruit aftertaste.
2010 dornier Chenin Blanc
The grapes were sourced from the Swartland. Fermented half in tank and half in fourth-fill barrels. Five months on the lees. The wine is rich and ripe, on the nose white pear, dried peaches and ripe apricot notes, good acidity, a silky mouth-feel.
2009 DONATUS White
The 2009 is a blend of Chenin Blanc (77%) and Semillon (23%). All batches spent eight months on lees in French oak barrels (300 litre barrels, 30% new). The wine combines the opulence and complexity of barrel-aged Chenin Blanc with the freshness of the Semillon, notes of ripe apple, citrus and roasted nuts on the nose, rounded, full palate, lots of minerality, a wine that could be put away for at least 10 years.
Second Flight: 3 Red Wines
2007 Cocoa Hill Red
Dornier’s red entry-level wine. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Franc. It combines its fruit driven layers of dark berry fruits, spice notes and nuances of roasted cocoa beans.
2007 dornier Pinotage
Both parents of this cultivar (Pinot noir and Cinsaut) are clearly present, the wine shows the elegance and poise of the Pinot Noir with its freshness and mild blackberry characteristics, from the Cinsaut it borrows the masculine flavors and upfront fruit attributes, a wine with a fine tannin structure.
2007 DONATUS Red
A blend of Cabernet Franc (70%) and Merlot (30%). Notes of spice, cassis, tobacco and hints of sweet fruit on the nose, firm tannin structure and flavors of red fruits on the palate, with a fresh, lingering finish, a wine with class and presence, worthy of extended cellaring,
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