by Sandile Mkhwanazi
In the trendy Fork Restaurant on Long Street Cape Town, I get to meet and interview Cobus Joubert, 10th generation of Pierre Joubert in modern Cape Town today. A far cry from when his forefather arrived on board the ship China from Amsterdam in 1688, following the Edict of Fontainebleau which effectively revoked the Edict of Nantes. The brief is to get a little closer to the origin of South Africa’s most expensive and highest rated wine, the Jaubert Family Muscat.
Says Cobus – “South Africa’s first wine was produced from Hanepoot grapes in 1659. Hanepoot (Afrikaans from Dutch haan ‘cock’ + poot ‘foot’) has a pronounced sweet floral or ‘musky’ aroma, is the grapiest of all grapes and for that, are often grown as a table grape. A favourite of insects, the sugary sweetness offers longevity and by definition, is pure and perfect in its expression of fruit. It’s history is as rich and unique as the grape itself”.
After arriving in the Cape in August 1688, Pierre Joubert named his first farm in Franschhoek after the village of his birthplace in Provence, La Motte d’Aigues. Today, La Motte is no stranger to the production of fine wines. While the Huguenots brought with them their viticulture and winemaking experience, it was the integration among Dutch, German and French farmers that gave birth to a winemaking tradition that still plays a vital role in the South African wine industry. Farms owned and farmed by Pierre Joubert and his descendants include La Motte, Drakenstein, Olifantskop, Voor-Groenberg, Wagenmakers Vallei, Kruishof, Standvastigheid, Bartholomeusklip, Limietrivier, Twyfeling, Bovenvlei, Champagne and Goederust.
It was during the family’s farming stint in Wellington in the early 1800’s, that a single barrel of Muscat was produced under the guard of Pieter Gideon Joubert (born 1778) and son Jacobus Andreas Joubert (born 1813). Enjoyed at special family gatherings, small batches of the wine were used by the Wellington Dutch Reformed Church for libation. Topping up of the barrel with fresh Muscat in order to keep it full was a tradition passed on from generation to generation. A process that ultimately gave life to a wine that, according to international wine judge and one of South Africa’s leading wine writers Michael Fridjhon, perfectly resembles the sweet Constantia wines produced before phylloxera caused widespread devastation in 1886.
Schalk-Willem Joubert left Wellington for the cooler Tradouw Valley just outside Barrydale in 1937, where Meyer and his father Jacobus grow fruit, run a Jersey dairy and produce wine today. It was during this 1937 trek from Wellington, that the single 115L barrel of Muscat also changed address. Lying in an underground cellar for the past nearly 80 years, the barrel sees no more than two or three visitors per annum.
Jaubert Family Muscat
Cobus, current custodian of this rare wine, plans the annual bottling around the availability of his father, Jacobus Andreas Joubert (Snr). Says Cobus – “So personal and special an asset requires more than one hand. Sharing the bottling experience with my dad who’s taken care of the barrel for more than 50 years is priceless”.
It took several years of planning before the first Jaubert Muscat was actually bottled in its current format. I knew it was going to require a special effort in terms of packaging. The first people I contacted were the Prettejohn family of Ngwenya Glass in Swaziland. A very professional, family-run operation, Chas and his team took great care and nailed the brief remarkably quickly. Hand made and mouth-blown out of recycled glass, each bottle is a unique piece and reminds one of the bottles used centuries ago.
Recorded in a number of spellings including Jubert, Jubeau, Jubin, Jouberteix, Jobin, Joubert, and possibly others, Jaubert originates from the early pre seventh century. Where Joubert features on several wine labels in South Africa today, the older and lesser known spelling of Jaubert, was a natural choice.
Each bottle is 275ml, numbered and the labels marked with a red wax seal that resembles the special coins (a méreau) Protestants used to identify themselves with during persecution. The corks are waxed.
A wine made by people, for people
The satisfaction of sharing this wine with people who understand and appreciate its rarity, lead to several public pourings of the Muscat over the past seven years. The first public event was a wine event in Toronto, Canada in 2007, followed by the celebration of the 350th anniversary of South African wine industry at Groot Constantia in 2009, Vinexpo in Bordeaux in 2011, Cape Wine 2012 tasting with Mike Veseth, a charity auction event organised by WOSA in Macau in 2012 and poured at the release of the new Joubert-Tradauw wine labels in Cape Town in 2014.
Emile Joubert, upon tasting the Muscat at the Groot-Constantia event in 2011, wrote – “the sensation was akin to the one Adam experienced when Eve uncrossed her legs for the first time”.
Neal Martin of The Wine Advocate tasted the Jaubert Family Muscat at Vinexpo 2011 in Bordeaux and scored it at 99/100. The highest score for a South African wine to date, his notes read – Just twelve 250ml bottles of this incredibly rare and ancient Muscat d’Alexandrie are released from a 100-litre French oak barrel in Klein Karoo that is topped up each year. It has an iridescent clear amber hue with green tints on the rim. The nose is simply stellar: candied orange peel, toffee, apricot and almond soar from the glass and fix you to the spot. The palate is perfectly balanced and fresher than some South African wines two centuries younger! It has a Sauternes-like viscosity but is not cloying like a Tokaji Essenzia. There is a touch of sherbet at the tip of the tongue and then it fans out towards a kaleidoscope of spice, clove, candied fruits and a touch of honey. One can discern an oxidative tang towards the finish that has a touch of volatility. Very long and intense and yet somehow refined and elegant, this is an ethereal experience. Drink now – 2100+. Tasted June 2011.
Relationships and Trust
In December 2014, the Wine Cellar was allocated two 275ml bottles of the Jaubert Family Muscat. They sold very quickly for R50,000 a bottle. The first bottles sold on SA soil, it is the long standing relationship Wine Cellar’s director Roland Peens has with the Joubert’s that lead to the allocation. Says Roland – “We have one of the largest collections of fine wines in Africa. Our inventory and 500 private customer’s wines are kept in the right environment and at the right temperature at all times. There has been a surge in interest in South African wine of late, and our customers are now seeking out top wines from yesteryear. While many from the 80s and 90s haven’t aged well, there are a handful of vintage SA wines that are world-class. We have a special relationship with all our clients, which is based on trust and honesty”.
The buyer of the wine is invited to participate in the bottling of his/her wine. Each Jaubert Family Muscat bottle is numbered, shipped in an oak box and accompanied by a framed wine label and authentication certificate with a personal letter from the Joubert family.
In wine there is truth
Says Cobus about the wine – “Words fail to describe the sense of nostalgia when in the vicinity of the barrel or tasting it. Offering the magic created by a blend made up of a proud wine making tradition with rich and ripe Muscat flavours, the South African sun, water and earth, tasting it is a joyous and unforgettable affair”.
With Cobus responsible for the exports of several SA wine labels, older brother Meyer producing wines on the family farm under the Joubert-Tradauw label with his father Jacobus, oldest brother Schalk-Willem running Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons, sister Magriet Cherry a landscape artist in Grabouw, the love for soil and the vine runs deep in this Joubert family. Younger brother Andries is an industrial photographer.
Says Cobus – “May we always be thankful for the hard work and inventiveness of our forefathers.”