Paul Clüver and the Seven Flags

Rarely does a single family establish an entire wine-growing region. The Clüvers, who immigrated from Germany in 1857, succeeded in South Africa: Elgin today stands worldwide for elegant Cool Climate wines from the Cape of Good Hope. In June, I was able to get to know them at a lunch with Paul Clüver, especially his premium line Seven Flags.

3 mins read
Paul Clüver from the eponymous winery in South Africa

It’s actually amazing how long the wine industry has known the term Cool Climate. Oregon as early as the 1960s, Marlborough from 1973. In South Africa, the search for alternative sites began with Tim Hamilton Russell in Walker Bay in 1976, and the successes of these pioneers attracted a lot of attention. Also at Nederburg, one of South Africa’s leading wineries. In their search for suitable opportunities, they came across the “De Rust” farm in Elgin. The Clüver family had bought the estate, which covers a good 2,500 hectares, in 1896 and, following the first plantings of apple trees in 1948, had transformed it into a major fruit producer. In fact, there were also vines here, but they had no commercial importance. In any case, in the mid-eighties, a team from Nederburg approached Clüver and proposed a joint venture: Clüver would provide the land and cultivation; Nederburg would supply the planting material and viticultural expertise and guarantee the purchase of the harvest.

Cool Climate Burgundies

In 1987, after soil analysis, the first serious vines were planted, and in 1990 the first vintage was produced. After the business partners separated, the renowned neurosurgeon Clüver built his own wine cellar and produced his first independent wine in 1997. Since that year, these have been the responsibility of Andries Burger, who had come from Nederburg and also worked at Château Margaux – he is now the son-in-law of Paul Clüver Sr. As is so often the case, the first thought was to produce a Bordeaux blend. But the conditions of Elgin, with its high-altitude sites and cool climate determined by the Antarctic Benguela Current, suggested the cultivation of Burgundy varieties. That’s why Pinot Noir and Chardonnay dominate the portfolio, along with Sauvignon. As well as some Riesling, which makes the Paul Clüver winery the largest Riesling producer in Africa.

Even if you cannot compare the soil conditions with Burgundy – there essentially lime, here ancient sedimentary rock rich in few nutrients – French clones were already cultivated in Elgin at the end of the 1980s and the wines were vinified in small barrels from Burgundy. Unlike the French model region, by the way, Elgin is only slightly affected by climate change. Thus, the average temperature hardly increased in recent years and almost never exceeds 30 degrees. However, wind and rainfall have intensified, posing problems for local apple growing. Today, the Paul Clüver winery is run by Paul Clüver Jr. and is based on three lines. The simple “Village” line (not exported to Germany). The classic Estate line. As well as the premium Seven Flags series. The very limited The Wagon Trail Chardonnay and Auction Selection Pinot Noir, intended for the Cape Winemakers Guild auctions, are also not available in this country.

The Tasting

The tasting began with an Estate Sauvignon 2022, which was fermented on the lees for three months. In terms of character, the wine is said to be somewhere between Sancerre and Bordeaux. In fact, it also contains a bit of Sémillon, which helps its texture. The primary fruit, which gives it an unmistakable New World touch, certainly dominates (87 p.). Than came an Estate Chardonnay from 2019 that presents itself as surprisingly young. A massive wine in which expressive peach fruit and distinctive barrique notes fight for dominance. However, good acidity and noticeable saltiness also give it some depth (90 p.).

The freshly bottled Chardonnay Seven Flags 2021 is clearly more restrained and European in style. The still very young wine is multilayered and concentrated, less of the creamy than taut type and promises good aging (92 P.). With the Chardonnay Seven Flags 2014, Paul Clüver brought the maiden vintage to Berlin. It is also an icon of the younger South African winemaking. With 95 points, no other wine from his winery is rated higher in Robert Parker’s “Wine Advocate”. Perhaps the wine would have needed more air, but in Berlin it did not present itself optimally. Aged well in principle, but with a somewhat vegetal bouquet and slightly drying tannins (91P.?).

Comparable things can be said about the Pinot Noir Estate 2021 as about its counterpart as Chardonnay. Here, too, there is a very expressive fruit on the one hand. In this case, it is contrasted by a powerful tannin framework. For drama lovers, less for balance drinkers (89 p.). This then changes completely with the two Pinot Noirs Seven Flags. Already with the 2018: much more civilized, classic, with the wonderful transparency of a fine Pinot Noir (91 p.). And even more so with the 2009, the fourth vintage Seven Flags, which shows how finely it has aged with only very slight brick reflections. An elegant, almost ethereal wine – and an excellent plea for a cool-climate wine from South Africa (93. P.).


* I owe the account of the early days of the winery in part to the article “How a decades-old conversation put Elgin on the map” by Michael Fridjhon in the South African “Sunday Times” of July 21, 2021, following conversations with Paul Clüver Sr.


(c) Stefan Pegatzky / Time Tunnel Images

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