VINE TIME | ‘Unsuitable soil’ produces globally competitive wines

Baccō marketing manager Anita de Oliveira and estate owner Nathan Jankelowitz recently debuted their wines in Gqeberha
ITALIAN CONNECTION: Baccō marketing manager Anita de Oliveira and estate owner Nathan Jankelowitz recently debuted their wines in Gqeberha

Remember your parents or teachers telling you: “There’s no such thing as can’t” or “Never say never”?

Nathan Jankelowitz must have been paying attention, because when he was told that geotechnical reports indicated “you’ll never make premium wine here”, on a farm in the Simonsberg-Paarl area, he sought a second opinion and then forged ahead.

And from a first harvest just five years ago, the wines from Italian-influenced Baccō estate, named for the Roman god of wine, have quickly gathered some impressive accolades — reflecting an intention from the outset to make premium, globally competitive wine, and proving any naysayers wrong.

When the soil technical analysis came back with a “no”, Jankelowitz, a quantity surveyor by profession, considered the vineyards just across the road, producing the grapes for the ultra-premium, luxury wines of Vilafonté — with a devoted global following and prices starting at R1,200 a bottle — and was not going to allow himself to be put off his quest that easily.

He consulted world-renowned viticulturist Dr Phil Freese, a co-founder of Vilafonté and creator of its “different by design” vineyards and also designer of the vineyards for Californian cult wine Opus One.

“Phil laughed at the technical opinion. He said we would grow fruit of great intensity.”

With that endorsement, Jankelowitz forged ahead, securing the services of Vilafonté’s founding winemaker, Martin Smith, now doing his own thing with Paserene and Atlas Swift, on a part-time basis (he is now consulting cellarmaster, with Julia Blaine the full-time winemaker).

The first vineyards were planted in 2016 and on Smith’s insistence they made their first wine in 2019, despite conventional thinking that vines need to be in the ground at least about five years before considering making wine.

Those first two wines, a red blend and a syrah, were dispatched to leading wine judge and commentator Michael Fridjhon for blind tasting and he returned with scores of 91 and 90, respectively.

“That was when we knew we were on the right playing field and in the right league!”

Then came the news in December that the flagship Baccō Estate Red Blend 2020, in only its second vintage, had scooped the Bordeaux Blend Trophy at the 2023 Global Fine Wine Challenge — contested by just 120 wines, 30 each from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US invited by a leading wine critic from each country.

Hot on those heels, the wine was one of just 14 to score a Platter’s 5* rating in the Cape Bordeaux category, along with 4* ratings for the rest of the range — and, as Jankelowitz says, those achievements have “set the benchmark for how we intend to go forward”.

The Estate Blend 2020 (R360) of cabernet sauvignon and Malbec had 22 months in oak and a further two years maturing in bottle before release — an approach to maturation on all Baccō wines similar to the “Super Tuscans” that Jankelowitz loves, allowing time to do its work slowly and releasing wines which are ready to enjoy, and ageable too.

And it’s a magnificent, intense and bold wine.

Bucking the SA winelands trend of celebrating French or Dutch influences, Baccō has an Italian flair in the stylish Tuscan-inspired buildings hosting the warm sociable spaces of tasting lounge and restaurant opened in December.

In keeping with the Italian direction, they’ve added a small planting of Vermentino, and can’t keep up with demand for this aromatic, crisp and super-flavourful white wine (R180) — the first 2023 vintage is sold out and they’re taking orders for the 2024, the same as for their excellent chardonnay.

Brand new to the line-up is Baccō Rosé 2023 (R180), made with Malbec and touches of Italian Sangiovese and Vermentino, delicately pink, fragrant and generous with florals and fresh red fruit, silky and savoury — just delicious.

Baccō is a story of starting as you mean to continue, and not taking “no” for an answer.

A story worth exploring — visit them on your next winelands trip, order at, or press your local wine store to stock them.



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