At the top of a winding dirt track in the resplendent Robertson Valley, with spectacular views over the Langeberg Mountains, stands the stoic yet elegant Cape Dutch manor house of the Bruwer family. Since 1869, the farm that is Mont Blois has been owned and run by this family, and now, six generations later, husband-and-wife team Nina-Mari and Ernst Bruwer have taken the reins.
He’s the farmer, she’s the winemaker and together, they are the duo behind the farm’s bountiful harvest and beautiful wines, the latter of which are true testaments to the unique and varied soil conditions of the Robertson Valley.
Mont Blois and the Bruwer Family
Mont Blois was named after the town of Blois (a hillside city on the Loire River in central France) from which the Bruwer family originated. In 1884, Mont Blois’ Wynlandgoed cellar was built, and roughly 120 years later, sixth generation owner Ernst Bruwer met the woman who would become his wife and the farm’s talented winemaker, Nina-Mari. It was this very enchantress who guided us through a tasting of her excellent repertoire of creations: a flight of whites, all single vineyard, all absolutely delicious, and all enjoyed on the charming stoep of the farm’s homestead.
Wine tasting on the stoep
Mont Blois would appear to be a small-scale operation – only producing about five barrels per wine – but in fact, Mont Blois labelled wine only represents a tiny fraction of the farm’s total production of grapes: 0.50% to be precise. The farm’s cellar master, who has worked for Mont Blois for 33 years, turns the remaining 95.5% into wine, which is then sold in bulk to other estates who bottle it under their own labels.
“The part we bottle as Mont Blois wines are about 0.5% of our farm’s total production. These wines I make – at the back of the cellar – old school. Ernst does the farming,” says Nina-Mari.
With the cellar master catering to the external market, the crafting of Mont Blois’ very own range of wines is left to the skill, ingenuity, and imagination of Nina-Mari Bruwer and the fruits of her labour, love, and – interestingly – experimentation is an utter delight to taste. Also: girl power!
All of the wines are made from single vineyard blocks and, with the farm sprawled out over such a varied landscape (the slopes of the Langeberg mountains and the rich soils of the Breede River Valley), each wine is a testament to the age of the vineyards and the terroir from which its grapes originate.
We began with the Kweekkamp Chardonnay 2016 (12-year-old single vineyard block) of which only five barrels were made – a travesty if you ask me. This elegant wine delivers subtle structure, defined citrus notes, and a crisp acidity that is beautifully balanced by fruit flavours of peaches and apricots.
Next up was the Hoog en Laag Chardonnay 2016 (13-year-old single vineyard block, four barrels made – another travesty). This was my favourite: a well-balanced, full-bodied wine with well-integrated oak on the palate and a complex bouquet of grapefruit, citrus blossoms, and toasted hazelnuts. This chardonnay’s devilishly moreish body, texture, and finish could quite easily seduce one into consuming an entire bottle without realising one’s excess. Having said that, I could think of far worse ways to spend a lazy afternoon.
The third Mont Blois wine we tasted was the Groot Steen Chenin Blanc 2016, another single vineyard wine, this time from 30-year-old vines, which is in keeping with one of the Bruwer family’s oldest farming philosophies, notably of Grandfather Ernst Bruwer Senior, who believed in sustainable farming and that older vineyards should be cared for.
Made from vines flourishing in the alluvial soils along the banks of the Breede River, Mont Blois’ Groot Steen Chenin Blanc is a sumptuous, full-bodied white that delivers complex layers of spiced citrus (think marmalade) and apple pie laced with cinnamon, pistachio, pecan nut, and almond.
I couldn’t imagine any of these three gorgeous wines getting any better, but apparently, they have a fabulous ageing potential of six to ten years, which is definitely more than I can say for myself.
We concluded our flight of whites with the rich, ripe, and opulently syrupy single vineyard Pomphuis Muscadel 2016, which was produced from 26-year-old vines. With this as our concluding wine, who needs dessert?
Of course, it didn’t end there. We (easily) convinced Nina-Mari to open another bottle of the Kweekkamp Chardonnay – an older vintage if memory serves correct – and we whittled away an hour sipping on this exceptional white, while admiring the sweeping vistas of the Langeberg mountains and the farm’s garden, ablaze with the kaleidoscopic colours of blooming flowers.
A fascinating component of the wine-tasting experience on the stoep of Mont Blois’ homestead is the smidge of science Nina-Mari injects into her presentation, explaining how the different soil conditions affect the grapes and, subsequently, the wines. The Kweekkamp Chardonnay vineyards grow in well-drained limestone soil, while the Hoog en Laag Chardonnay vineyards grow in red Karoo clay soils.
The vines are of similar age and, of course, the grapes are the same cultivar yet the two deliver distinctly different flavour profiles, structures, and bouquets. It was simply fascinating – she even had glass vases filled with the soils of the two sites so that we could appreciate the difference.
“We are passionate about making site-specific quality wines,” says Nina-Mari.
This is something that is beautifully reflected in the names of the wines, their structure, flavour, aroma, and loving presentation.
Arranging a tasting experience at Mont Blois
Currently, Mont Blois doesn’t have a tasting room, although they are in the throes of turning the charming old silo that lies a stone’s throw from the homestead into one. “Probably in the next year,” says Nina-Mari.
In the meantime, if you want to experience Mont Blois’ exceptional range of white wines (reds are in the works), you can and should make an appointment to visit the farm (details below). Anyone can go, tastings are free, and honestly, there’s no better way to enjoy wine than on the stoep of a beautiful Cape Dutch homestead while the winemaker enchants you with tales of oenology and family history. And let’s not forget the friendly family cat that took up residence on the far end of the table, watching us grow increasingly merry.
If you can’t make it to Robertson, Mont Blois sells its wines through a number of wine shops in Cape Town, including Wine Concepts on Kloof, Caroline’s Fine Wine Cellar (Strand Street and Newlands), and Wine at the Mill (Old Biscuit Mill).
There’s but one final thing to say, and that’s what a pleasure it is to see female winemakers such as Nina-Mari not only become established in a male-dominated industry but excel at the craft far beyond most. We need more of that.
Mont Blois Wine Estate