Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wine, Art and Food: Donald Hess’ Glen Carlou Estate in South Africa

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Glen Carlou Head Chef Hennie van der Merwe

On my recent tour in South Africa, I also stopped at Donald Hess’ Glen Carlou Estate in Paarl valley. We visited the fascinating contemporary art exhibition, had lunch in the fabulous restaurant and tried some of the excellent Glen Carlou wines.

Donald Hess Wines

Donald Hess is well known in the US for being the owner of the Hess Collection winery in California. But he has owns several other wineries all over the globe in Australia, Argentina and in South Africa. See my posting on Donald Hess here.

It all began in 1844, when Johann Heinrich Hess laid the first cornerstone for Hess Family Estates with the founding of a beer brewery in Bern, Switzerland. For more than 100 years, beer was the central business and business was in Switzerland only. When at the age of 20 his father died, the young but bold Donald Hess had take over the family business. The next 20 years were marked by Donald’s successful attempts to restructure the business in Switzerland, including the creation of Valser Water, which would become Switzerland's leading mineral water company. In 1978, when he was in his early forties already, Donald Hess finally turned to wine and started his astonishing journey of buying and establishing wineries around the globe. He purchased his first Napa Valley vineyard in 1978 and soon after acquired the old Christian Brothers property on Mount Veeder, which is now the home of Hess Collection winery, as well as part of his collection of modern art.

Picture: The Hess Family Estates

Today, Hess Family Estates comprise 6 New World cellars and vineyards:

(1) The Hess Collection Winery on Mount Veeder in Napa Valley with a vineyard area totaling 270 hectares marked the beginning of Donald Hess's venture into the 6 New World cellars and vineyards.

(2) Artezin Wines in Napa Valley, which specializes in handcrafted wines from the heritage grapes Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Carignan.

(3) Sequana Wines produces single vineyard Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma and Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey. I recently met James MacPhail, the winemaker recently and reported about it here.

(4) Glen Carlou Vineyards in South Africa. Located in South Africa's Paarl region, the Glen Carlou Winery is known for its Chardonnay and Bordeaux varietals.

(5) Bodega Colomé in Argentina, with presumably the highest vineyard in the world at 10,200 feet/3,111 meters above sea level in the northern part of the Calchaqui Valley. Bodega Colomé focuses on Argentina's two traditional varietals, Malbec and Torrontes, in biodynamically farmed vineyards.

(6) A major share (85 percent) in Peter Lehmann Wines, Australia. Founded in 1980 by the legendary Peter Lehmann and now managed by his son, Doug Lehmann, Peter Lehmann Wines is one of Australia's most respected wineries, located in the Barossa Valley.

Donald Hess has many interests. One of them is art. His Napa Valley collection opened in 1989 in the original winery built in 1903. The Museum at the Glen Carlou Winery opened in 2006, and his latest passion in Bodega Colomé also has an art gallery.

Glen Carlou in Paarl: Art, Food and Wine

Etsablished in 1985, Glen Carlou has become one of South Africa's leading wine producers. The Glen Carlou Estate on the slopes of the Simonsberg in the Paarl region was originally owned by the Simonsvley family, Dutch settlers who came in the 17th century to the Cape region. It was in 1985 that Walter Finlayson, one of South Africa's most prominent winemakers, re-discovered the potential of the farm and bought it. He named the farm Glen Carlou as a tribute to his Scottish ancestry. The first Glen Carlou wines were produced in 1988. In 1989, the winery, whose design incorporates ideas used in the winemaking of the USA and France, was built into the mountainside at the highest vantagepoint of the farm.

Donald Hess got involved in 1995 and in obtained a 100% share in Glen Calrou in 2003. Donald Hess' arrival made Glen Carlou part of the Hess Family Estates, a global company. Large-scale renovations resulted in a state-of-the-art underground cellar beneath the winery, which holds 2 000 French and American oak barrels in ideal conditions for the maturation of wine. Building on the considerable success of his art museum at the Hess Collection Winery in Napa, California, Donald Hess established a 500 sq meter exhibition space at Glen Carlou, showcasing African contempory works. The Glen Carlou restaurant offers a tempting selection of cuisine, with both ethnic and international flavours, that can be enjoyed under the high wooden beams of the tasting arena or outside on the terrace.

Pictures: The Glen Carlou Estates including Wine Cellar and Art Exhibition

The vineyard area totals 65 hectares, with 60% red and 40% white wine varieties planted. Advanced viticultural practices include among others satellite weather stations and soil moisture probes. The Chardonnay grapes come from 22 different parcels. They are vinified separately with different yeast strains. The young wine then spends 10 months in barriques on the lees. Additional regular stirring of the lees – very much in tradition in Bourgogne in France - adds to the wine’s complexity and richness of flavor. The classic red wines, Glen Carlou Grand Classique is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The wine ages for up to 20 months in French oak barrels of 225 liters.

Lunch at Glen Carlou

We visited the interesting art exhibition and the wine cellar. Glen Carlou’s custom-designed cellar features an open-plan inner arena where visitors have the opportunity to gain insight into the vintner’s art.

Pictures: Mussels and Trout for Lunch at Glenn Carlou

The wood-beamed tasting room and the restaurant are very attractive, offering panoramic views of the Paarl Valley and the Drakenstein Mountains in the distance. Needless to say that the lunch we had and the wines were outstanding. We had Trout for Rand 95 and Mussels for Rand 90 with a Glass of Sauvignon Blanc

Picture: View from the Restaurant

The Glen Carlou Wine Portfolio

I did not taste the Glen Carlou wines, but its wine portfolio offers three distinctive wine ranges. The exchange rates at the time of drafting this posting were: 1BP = 10 Rand and 1$ = 7 Rand and 1Euro = 9 Rand.

The contemporary range comprises 2 blends, the Tortoise Hill Red and the Tortoise Hill White, in the Rand 40 to 50 price range.

The classic range comprises 6 single variety wines - Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir - and a cuvee - the Grand Classic - in the Rand 65 to Rand 130 price range. The Grand Classic 2006 is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec, and 3% Cabernet Franc

The prestige range comprises two ulta-premium single variety wines: the Quartz Stone Chardonnay, Rand 275 for the 2008, and the Gravel Quarry Cabernet Sauvignon, Rand 375 for the 2007.

schiller-wine - Related Articles

German Winemakers in the World: Swiss-German Donald Hess, US, South Africa, Argentina, Australia

In the Plane: Wine on South African Airways from Johannesburg to Livingstone in Zambia (Victoria Falls)

Queen Elizabeth II Gives State Banquet in Honor of President Zuma - Neither English Sparkler nor South African Wine Served

New World Wine Producer South Africa

Boekenhoutskloof – Producer of Sensational Premium Wines as well as Good Value Table Wines in Franschhoek

Lunch with Raphael Dornier in Stellenbosch

Burgundy Wines in South Africa: Hamilton Russell Vineyards

Devon Rocks - A Boutique Producer of Pinotage in South Africa

Wining, Dining and Relaxing with the Chocolate/Coffee Pinotage at Diemersfontein Wine and Country Estate in Wellington, South Africa

In the Glass: A Rust en Vrede 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon With South African Oysters in Stellenbosch

Marianne Wine Estate: South African Wine with a French Soul

Meeting Ntsiki Biyela at Stellekaya in Stellenbosch – South Africa’s Only Female and Black Winemaker with International Recognition


  1. Dear Mr Schiller,

    Thank you for sending a link to your blog post on Glen Carlou. We are delighted to read of your experience we look forward to welcoming you on your next visit to South Africa.

    Kind Regards,


    Georgie Prout
    Public Relations Manager

    Glen Carlou | PO Box 23 (Simondium Road) Klapmuts 7625 South Africa

  2. Glen Carlou Head Chef Hennie van der MerweFebruary 15, 2011 at 9:36 AM

    It is always great to meet wine and food lovers from all over the world.

    Let us know when you are back in the country and we would love to have you back!