As the director of wines at Kleine Zalze in Stellenbosch, RJ Botha not only has exceptional taste in wine. Like a golden thread, his great sense of humour also runs through every glass he pours as part of Food For Mzansi’s Faces of Summer campaign.
In conversation with Brian Mahanke, better known as The Black Sommelier, Botha breaks into laughter when he admits that he does not come from a winemaking family. In fact, it all started with a two-day trip to the Cape Winelands.
“Doing winemaking was a weird step for my family to get their heads around,” says Botha, who spent most of his childhood in the Eastern Cape and partially in the Free State.
It came as a big surprise when he opted to study towards a BScAgric in viticulture and oenology at Stellenbosch University. According to Botha, it was the chemistry of wine that fascinated him and, as they say in the movies, the rest is history.
“The whole chemistry and biology behind it [winemaking] were fascinating. So, I ended up doing a Bachelor’s in science with the idea [that] if things did not work out, I can fall back on medicine,” he says.
But things worked out well and today, Botha heads all of the wine production at Kleine Zalze. Since joining the estate in 2012, he has significantly contributed to the portfolio of wines for which the estate is globally known for.
Botha’s summer wine selection
According to wine.co.za, Botha’s dedication and meticulous attention to detail resulted in Kleine Zalze winning the top honours of Winery of the Year for the Platter’s Wine Guide 2021. He is supported by three winemakers and two viticulturists.
It goes without saying then that when it comes to summer wine picks, Botha is spoilt for choice. Food For Mzansi did catch him in awe, though, of Kleine Zalze Méthode Cap Classique Brut NV, which is described as an “unforgettable sparkling sensation”.
Botha says the sparkling wine was made with Chardonnay Pinot Noir, which is quite traditional in its characteristics, including other champagne grape varieties that are grown in Stellenbosch, outside Cape Town.
“The whole idea with this is also to be fun. It is bottle fermented, made very traditional. You can see the packaging. It is fun, open and inviting,” says Botha.
The traditional Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) shows elegance and complexity with a long finish. Furthermore, the aromas of strawberry and blackberry fruit flavours are beautifully complemented by classic biscuit bouquet richness.
He adds that though MCC was for the longest time known as a sparkling wine reserved for special celebrations, it has become an everyday game-changer in recent years.
Meanwhile, Botha picks Klein Zalze Vineyard Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2022 as his second Faces of Summer wine pick. It is also the first time that this specific wine is certified as coming from a “heritage vineyard”.
Great soils, great wines
“All of the grapes going into [the wine] have been certified [as] older than 35 years,” Botha says.
But not just that… The soils of decomposed granite and Table Mountain sandstone were very important for the sauvignon blanc. According to Botha, Stellenbosch would not have been the same town without the decomposed granite found in its soils.
“For a winemaker, this is absolutely amazing,” says Botha. “We really want to take what we find in the vineyards and our soils and we want to put that in our bottle. Every vineyard tells a little bit of a story.”
The Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2022 has intense flavours of gooseberries, kiwi and a slight herbal interest. The palate reveals layers of complexity with mineral structure and greener notes. It is often enjoyed with fresh fish and summer salads.
Botha credits the Kleine Zalze team for his incredible journey in wine. He says at this estate, the leadership is predominantly women. “I love working with them. It is quite a different dynamic. Their attention to detail is a lot better than mine. And that’s the truth. We have an amazing team, right across the whole portfolio,” he explains.
- As part of its popular Faces of Summer campaign, Food For Mzansi will feature some of South Africa’s finest winemakers and ambassadors. Next up we meet Wendy Petersen from the SA Wine Industry Transformation Unit.
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