If ever there were an example of what can happen when imagination meets determination, Fryer’s Cove Vineyards would be it. Located about 300km from Cape Town up the West Coast, this is a vineyard that never should have been. Why? Well, because pretty much everything counted against it. For starters, it’s incredibly small – as in only four hectares currently under vine, with the option of expanding to just six. An international rugby field is about a hectare, so that’s how small we’re talking here. There is practically no rain – as in only 50mm a year on average. Consider that a teacup is 250mm and you’re starting to get the picture.
And because that’s not enough of a challenge, the area also gets hammered by the elements – as in pervasive southwesterly winds year round. And then there’s its proximity to the ocean – as in a mere 500m from where the cold Atlantic throws its breakers against a rocky shore, sending sea mist and spray onto the vines. And yet, in spite of all these challenges, Fryer’s Cove has emerged as one of South Africa’s top premium Sauvignon Blanc producers, producing small-yield wines of staggering quality.
The story of Fryer’s Cove started way back in 1985 when Elsenburg student and aspirant winemaker, Wynand Hamman, visited the Strandfontein area. Fast forward through 14 years of dreaming and planning to 1999, which saw the first vines being planted. But Wynand and his fellow adventurers (and now in-laws), Jan and Ponk van Zyl, knew they needed more land if this were to work. They got it the following year, when they managed to secure 10 hectares from the Laubscher brothers (who’d been farming in the area for generations) in exchange for shares in their venture.
Ground water was too salty for irrigation and desalination prohibitive. But, typically, this challenge too was not too big to overcome. Jan simply built a pipeline across three farms (with permission of course) to bring water all the way from Vredendal – a mere 30km away… The cellar was established in what used to be a fish processing plant before the bottom dropped out of the West Coast crayfish industry in the 1970s. It’s arguably the cellar closest to the sea anywhere in the world! They decided to make it work for them, cleverly opting to pipe the icy cold water of the Atlantic through their tanks to keep their wine cool. And so Fryer’s Cove was born.
I love stories like these. Adversity, grit, passion – all the good stuff – and I think you can taste it in their wines. I had the privilege of a paired tasting of all the new release Fryer’s Cove wines a while ago and what a treat it was.