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south african wine, part 6
Bruce Jack and Flagstone

Bruce Jack (above) is an interesting guy. There’s a bit of a pioneer spirit about him – he’s prepared to do things a bit differently, as his Flagstone venture shows. He’s also one of those wine industry figures who is known as an ‘opinion former’, because he’s bright, articulate and is prepared to speak out.

Bruce did a political science and English degree at the University of Cape Town, and then did a masters of literature at St Andrews University in Scotland in 1992. He then studied winemaking at Roseworthy in Australia – the first South African to do this —before working vintages here, there and everywhere. Eventually he came back to South Africa ready to do his own thing.

Timing is everything, and Bruce was quite lucky to be starting out at an exciting time for South African wine. The wave was there ready to be surfed. But when he returned home he didn’t have a nice family estate to come back to. Instead, he had to start from scratch. So he decided to create a virtual winery in the trendy Waterfront region in Cape Town.


Key to this operation was a huge chilling unit, which cost 500 000 Rand. This allowed Bruce to chill musts down to zero centigrade, to allow for prolonged cold soaks and lower levels of sulfur dioxide. The winery design also allowed for gravity flow, which reduces the need for mechanically stressful pumping. The first winery cost 2.6 million Rand.

‘We don’t buy grapes, we rent land,’ he explains, emphasizing the involvement Flagstone have in their growers’ viticultural management. When they started in 1999 it was very hard to get any grapes. ‘We had to beg, borrow and steal’, jokes Jack.  A number of the current ventures are actually joint projects with vineyard owners.

In 2002, the winery relocated from the Waterfront to an industrial estate in Somerset West. The AECI building where it is now located was part of Cecil John Rhodes’ empire, and was originally a dynamite factory. The building was erected in 1901 and was the last project he completed before his death. It was due for demolition, but Flagstone have saved it.

Some thought has gone into the design: it’s a large open space, and there’s a crane which means that gravity, rather than pumping, can be used for all the transfer operations. Jack’s quirkiness is evident in the way the place is decorated with coloured lighting tubes spelling out the words ‘seduce’, ‘succumb’, ‘sense’, ‘swirl’ and ‘serenade’.


What of the wines? This is a commercially astute line-up, but quality is the driving force, not just marketing. The profusion of wine offerings seems to be driven by passion, rather than necessarily the demands of the marketplace. Anyway, the notes speak for themselves.

Fish Hoek Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Robertson
Also contains a touch of Semillon from Elim. Very bright, fresh and grassy with nice fruitiness. The palate is bright and fresh with nice fruit and an appealing green hint. Very fresh. Very good+ 87/100

Jack & Knox Frostline Riesling 2005 Swartland
A collaborative venture with Graham Knox, this is made from a vineyard at 1200 m. It has a clean, delicately limey nose. The palate is crisp, tight and limey with good acid and some rounded character. It’s deliciously fresh and quite serious, but needs some time to open out. Very good+ 89/100

Berrio Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Elim
A joint venture with Elim farmer Francis Pratt. Lovely fine expressive nose with a nice crispness and a limey edge. It’s a nicely poised, expressive nose. The palate is concentrated with a hint of greenness and good acid backing up the smooth, rounded fruit. Delicious. Very good/excellent 91/100 (£9.99 Oddbins)

Jack & Knox Frostline Chardonnay 2004 Swartland
Barrel fermented at cool temperatures in 90% American oak (Bruce uses, overall, 95% American oak which he obtains from Barrel Associates in Napa Valley). Nice fresh nose with bright fruit and a nice tight vanilla and bready overlay. Very well made in a fresh style. Very good+ 89/100

Jack & Knox Green on Green Semillon 2004 Western Cape
The grapes for this wine come from the Wellington area, and a 25 year old leaf roll affected vineyard. Jack drops a lot of crop. The wine is barrel fermented and spends 6–7 months in barrel. Very crisp limey nose with some herbal depth and a hint of toasty oak. The palate has nice fruit freshness with some herbal character and some nice oak. Interesting.

Fish Hoek Rosé 2005
UK retail £5.99. Bright appealing rosé with an accessible nose of strawberry fruit. The palate is easy and fruity, but not too sweet. A delicious, assured rosé of great appeal. Very good+ 84/100


Mary Le Bow 2003 Western Cape
(£16.99 Wine Society, Morrisons) A blend of Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot, this is another joint venture. Smooth dark fruits here, with a sweet, subtly meaty edge. The palate is dark and savoury with sweet fruit. A very refined, elegant style with good concentration and nice structure. Very good/excellent 91/100

Flagstone Boxwood Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2003 Western Cape
Devigorating soils here, full of quartz, minerally and rich. Sweet, rich, brooding black fruits nose with some sweetness. The palate has generous smooth, sweet red fruits. Seamless, quite elegant, pure and fruit driven. Very good+ 89/100

Flagstone The Music Room 2003 Western Cape
(£14.99 Oddbins.) A blend of Cabernet (77%), Merlot (18%) and Shiraz (5%). Dark, smooth brooding blackcurrant fruit nose. The palate has lovely ripeness with sweet blackcurrant fruit and some tight structure, along with sophisticated oak. Delicious stuff. Very good/excellent 90/100

Flagstone Dark Horse 2003 Western Cape
This comes mostly from Tulbagh, with some contributions from Robertson and Swartland. Smooth ripe dark fruits nose. The palate is soft, concentrated and full with lovely seamless dark fruit and a spicy overlay. Nice oaking. A lovely big old wine. Very good/excellent 92/100

Wines tasted 12/05
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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