by Sandy Mallinson
Back in 1998 Bruce started the highly acclaimed Flagstone Winery, which at the time was South Africa’s first winery without its own estate. More recently he bought The Drift, a farm that produces a complex and delicious Pinot Noir made from a single vineyard in a pocket of the Overberg that (until then) had gone unnoticed in the wine world.
Every step of his wine making process is carried out with great thought and care; the resulting successes blazing many a new trail in South Africa’s wine industry. Indeed each of his wines has a story to tell, which is hardly surprising since on meeting Bruce I soon discovered that he’s a fantastic story teller himself.
As our conversation wound from wine to Italian prisoners of war to the origin of the skull and crossbones (no, it’s not pirates); it was clear to me that Bruce gives his full attention to whichever subject interests him. And wine drinkers around the world can raise their glasses in celebration that the topic that most interests Bruce Jack is the creation of superbly crafted wines.
Let’s start with the journey that led up to Flagstone.
“After completing my degree at UCT I went on to study a Masters of Literature at St Andrew’s University in Scotland. My mom was a musician and journalist, but I soon realised that writing wasn’t my path.
“Instead I began working at a wine importing company in the UK, and when that sold it put me in the position to do a wine making course at the University of Adelaide in South Australia. At that time Adelaide was the pre-eminent English speaking wine making university in the world. There was a lot of money being poured into research and it was a really exciting time to be there.
“After graduating I did vineyard and cellar work all over the world before returning home in 1998 to start both a family and Flagstone.”
Not one for doing things by halves then. What was it like starting your own winery?
“We were making wine at the V&A Waterfront, using grapes sourced from around the country. My winery was in the V&A Waterfront and my wines seen as quirky and bucking the trend. Flagstone soon drew an audience of passionate, loyal buyers. However, producing high quality, distinctive wines is an expensive business so I’d say about 75% of my market was based in the UK.
“I didn’t set out to sell wine in the UK but I knew the journalists and buyers, and it simply worked out that way. And while South African wine was still relatively new over there, my style was Australian: more fruit driven, softer, more generous and technically correct. I was producing exactly the type of wine that was popular in the UK.”
Early morning looking out across The Drift hillside vineyards
Do you still own Flagstone?
“No, Flagstone flew the coop in 2008 when it was sold to Constellation Brands. Part of Constellation became Accolade in 2011, and I stayed on as Chief Winemaker for Accolade Wines South Africa. The Flagstone brand will always feel like one of my kids, and I’m still involved in the two most important parts of the process: the picking decisions at the beginning and blending of the wine at the end.”
So now you’ve turned your attention more to The Drift?
“Well, I work for Accolade about four days a week and go out to the Overberg once a week. I also try and spend at least one weekend a month out there with my family.”
It is really lovely out there. Can you tell me a bit about the farm?
“I originally bought The Drift as a vine nursery. It’s isolated, upstream of all other farming activity, and has a suitable soil and climate for the propagation of vines. The farm was certified fully organic in 2012, and we’re the biggest grower of organic onions in the Western Cape.
“Actually back in World War 2 many Italian prisoners of war were interned on farms as workers. After the war a lot of them stayed on the farms, including a guy on The Drift who started onion production. So we’ve returned to that tradition and also farm shallots, garlic and have olive groves from which we produce our olive oil. And then there are our vineyards.”
The Drift homestead with its mountain setting and rows of olive trees out front
I’ve tried your Rosé, Year of the Rooster, delicious! But the Overberg is not known as a wine growing region, is it?
“It is a great rosé, really dry and designed to age. My aim was produce a wine James Bond would drink – which in the case of Rosé is no easy feat! But you’re right, the Overberg is more or less virgin territory when it comes to wine making. We also grow Pinot Noir vines on a wind-torn, uncomfortably-steep slope; this is extreme viticulture, growing grapes on the edge of possibility.
“Then, once picked, our grapes are taken to the Cape Point Vineyards Winery, a small cellar that’s focused on doing things properly. Our wine making process is really hands-on, as we want to preserve some of the essence and complexity of this unique region.”
We’ve had fantastic feedback from all of our clients who’ve stayed on the farm.
“Thanks, we love it too! The Drift is booked exclusively and guests stay in the main homestead, so for a couple of days it’ll feel like you’re on your own farm tucked away in this magnificent region.
“When you arrive you’ll get a basket of foodie essentials such as milk, butter, fresh bread and farm eggs. You can pick your own vegetables from our organic garden, or if you don’t feel like spending holiday time in the kitchen then pre-prepared meals can be arranged.”
The main bedroom at The Drift has glass sliding doors opening onto a deck and neat lawns.
I always end off these chats with a few general travel questions.
What are your “must do” tips for visitors to Cape Town?
“Hire a wetsuit at the Lifestyle Surf Shop at Muizenberg and go for a surf lesson. Take a walk along the beach at Scarborough – it’s a small but has a nice vibe – and then go for lunch at the Foodbarn Restaurant in Noordhoek.
“The city centre has some great art galleries such as Salon 91 on Kloof Street, and for a bit of shopping the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront is excellent! Then for a decadent dinner I’d highly recommend Aubergine Restaurant; Chef Harold Bresselschmidt produces superb food, and I’d say that he’s the wine maker’s favourite restaurateur as his wine list is the best in town.”
Safari or beach holiday?
“I live on a farm, so beach. I grew up in Muizenberg because my dad was building Marina da Gama, and have been surfing there for about 40 years now.”
Which destination in Africa would you love to visit?
“We’re so lucky to live in a tourist destination; I struggle to understand why people travel overseas for holiday. I love the Eastern Cape: the Wild Coast, game viewing at Kwandwe Private Reserve, the wide open spaces on the Karoo.
“But for me the Overberg Region has a beauty which is mesmerising, so I would go to my farm. Down the road you have the seaside village of Arniston; there’s excellent surfing along the coast and fishing at the nearby De Mond estuary. You can eat mussels off the rocks and the have lunch at the Black Oystercatcher Restaurant.
“The Overberg also has some wonderful stories. Just to give you an example, up on the mountain slope at the back of The Drift there’s a stone wall that’s been aged at over 12,000 years old. That makes it older than Stonehenge, which is quite amazing!”
What is your favourite view?
“Sitting in the backline at Muizuenberg on a clear winter’s morning, and looking back across the bay to the distant Kogelberg mountains.”
I don’t travel without …
“My Muji slippers! They fold up into almost nothing and are great for plane as I can take off my shoes off without having to wander around in my socks.”
Travel Fact File:
The Drift located around an hour-and-a-half to a 2-hour drive from Cape Town (depending on traffic). Along with the 5-bedroom luxury homestead, there’s loft-style accommodation in the old converted barn which is great for kids. The farm has an excellent organic vegetable garden, a number of hiking and mountain biking trails, and lies within easy reach of the villages of Arniston and Stanford.
We recommend The Drift for a peaceful off-the-beaten-track escape in a beautiful region of the Cape.