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Sijnn makes Irish news

David Trafford presented his wines at the excellent Stanley’s Wine Bar. Tomas Clancy wrote a great article in the Sunday Business Post:

Chenin bottling_compressed

Bottling Chenin Blanc by hand

24 May 2015 by Tomas Clancy

Raising vineyards is like raising children, says bespoke South African winemaker David Trafford. “You don’t need a degree to raise a child. What you need is love, and attention to detail.”

Trafford’s post-apartheid vineyards are an example of what South African wine could become. Many of his production vines were planted after 1994, with many of his most exciting wines coming from vines planted in areas never before considered as wine regions.

Trafford is a self-taught winemaker with a traditional ethos. Until the second half of the 20th century, few winemakers received technical training. Knowledge was passed down through practical observation. Born of farming parents, Trafford has learned his skill in this vein. He has studied under some of the world’s best wine producers and his sought-after wines are difficult to obtain.

However, Irish wine lovers have access to his wines thanks to Galway wine importer Dr Eilis Cryan, who spotted Trafford’s rising star 20 years before he came to world attention. She met Trafford when he was a raw start-up attempting to grow vines 1,000 feet up the side of a mountain in the eastern end of Stellenbosch, and decided to invest.

The valley that wine forgot

In South Africa today there are around 26 main wine regions, of which the most important to Irish wine lovers is Stellenbosch. One step out of Cape Town, it is home to many beautiful and august estates and wineries. To the east is red wine territory, to the west is white wine land. To the north of Stellenbosch is the little less urbane region of Paarl. Some world class cabernet sauvignon and spicy brilliant shiraz from the likes of Fairview emerge from this warm region. Surrounding Cape Town itself is Constantia, home to some fine white wines and the ancient sweet wine, Vin de Constantia. Further regions scattered around the main areas include Franschhoek, Elgin and on the west coast, Hermanus and Walker Bay. However, the reason for this geographical clustering in the Western Cape is more to do with culture, politics and history than climate and oils.

Trafford grew up on a conventional farm in a remote area in the Stellenbosch wine region. The family planted a few vines for personal use and Trafford grew up and left the farm to work as an architect. He cultivated a deep interest in fine wines, travelling to experience winemaking in other cultures and observing wine-producing neighbours.

“I went to St-Émilion in France and I did a vintage there. I could see how they were working with small plots, how carefully everything was maintained. I learned a lot,” says Trafford. “So I looked at my options. It seemed that if you were not born into winemaking you had to spend a lifetime earning millions doing something else and then buy a wine business,” he says. “I didn’t want to wait that long. The other way to go was not to think about the grand project, but to think about being as good as you can be with what you have. So that meant starting small, using the land we had, regardless of what the view was.”

However, under apartheid in South Africa, new vineyards could not be planted without the agreement of the government wine body, the KWV. And agreement was difficult to obtain. When apartheid ended in 1994, Trafford set about planting vines on his family’s slopes adjacent to the Helderberg Mountains.

This inter alpine pasture land offers limited production capacity for winemakers. Trafford’s production capacity is 3,500 cases a year. While we expect this from a 400-year-old Burgundy or St Emilion estate, rarely do we see this in the New World, and in South Africa, almost never. However, Trafford is far more than a small Entre-Deux-Mers producer. His ambition, inventiveness and flair have shone through almost every style of wine that he set his mind to produce.

The central virtue of Trafford’s small estate is that every vine has to fight for its place. Through meticulous soil analysis he has tightened up his planting as if it were a Formula One racing car. And all is done through natural farming and a natural winemaking process. At his De Trafford Estate, the highly priced icon wines have super-refined into single plot wines, single tiny vineyard or plot terroir responses to the soils and microclimates. He also produces two rather dazzling winemaker-driven creations: his outrageously beautiful and unique Straw Wine, a South Africa Vin de Paille, or Vin Santo-like creation, and his De Trafford, barrel-aged chenin blanc (of which I have made it a personal mission to track down and buy every vulnerable bottle I see).

In addition to these wines, Trafford produces his second estate wines in a new estate called Sijnn (pronounced Sane), situated well beyond the current wine regions.

We are about 40km from anyone, from any vineyard. We really have found the exact soils we are looking for – complex shales with an alluvial covering – beautiful soils for vineyards. It is dry, bone dry. These are the poor, low vigour soils that have been the key in European winemaking for centuries.

The Sijnn vineyards are in Swellendam, an almost unknown area that provokes little interest globally. The valley end of the region overlooks the Indian Ocean. The wines produced here are labelled Malgas from the 2010 vintage onwards.

Malgas has the potential to be the Next Big Thing in world wine. Trafford is producing astonishing touriga nacional and syrah here, which indicates just how different this wine story is from the traditional view of South Africa as the home to rubbery pinotage and bland white Steen wines.

Future location, location, location

Today, South Africa is the eighth largest wine producing nation and a long way behind France, Spain, Chile, Australia or even California. This is its greatest asset. As with Chile, its real potential is not just a movement for better quality, but an opening up of new wine regions. Freed from the need to be close to passing ships of the colonial trading companies, and from the stunting actions of the KWV, South Africa’s ambitious and engaged winemakers are exploring entirely new regions across the country. Trafford is just one of many and, thanks to our intrepid Galway importer, we Irish wine lovers can taste a glimmer of an exciting and intellectually enthralling future for South Africa and its fine wines.

The small, the curious and the new


  • Sijnn, Red Cuvée, Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Mourvedre, Trincadeira and Cabernet Sauvignon Blend, Malgas, South Africa 2010, €27.90 (93)
  • Sijnn, Touriga Nacional, Malgas, South Africa 2012, Not Yet Available (93)
  • Sijnn, Syrah, Malgas, South Africa 2011, not yet available (91)
  • Sijnn, White Cuvée, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, South Africa 2012, €24.90 (92)


  • De Trafford, Straw Wine – Vin de Paille, Stellenbosch 2006, €29.50 (94)
  • De Trafford, Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch 2012, €23.50 (93)
  • De Trafford, Elevation 393, Merlot-Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Fleur Vineyard Stellenbosch 2012 €45 (95)
  • De Trafford, Blueprint Syrah, Stellenbosch 2013 €28.50 (95)

Available from selected independent off-licences and wine shops and from Kinnegar Wines, Blackrock, Galway, online nationwide at kinnegar.com

E-mail: wine@sbpost.ie

Twitter: @tomasclancy

03:55, 24 May 2015 by Tomas Clancy

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