From a glimmer of potential spotted in 2002, Haskell Vineyards has built a track record of star-studded success over the past 20 years and the premium Stellenbosch winery is well-geared to build on its foundation over the next decades.
American property investor Preston Haskell IV snapped up Dombeya Farm on auction 20 years ago, seeing the potential of the land on the slopes of the Helderberg mountains in South Africa’s winemaking heartland of the Stellenbosch ‘Golden Triangle’ famed for premium Cabernet Sauvignon.
Haskell renamed the property Haskell Vineyards and from the small beginnings of a few vineyards, citrus orchards, a barn and coffee shop, the boutique winery has become a premier must-visit Stellenbosch destination to taste award-winning Haskell and Dombeya wines, dine at the Longtable Restaurant or escape for a luxury getaway – all with spectacular vineyard and mountain views.
“This place is truly paradise found,” says Haskell.
“Of all my investments, Haskell Vineyards is especially close to my heart. I had my eye on an investment in South Africa ever since first visiting as a teenager and when this farm came up for sale, I knew that this heavenly place had to be mine. In our 20th anniversary year, there is joy as we look over the majestic mountains and the well-tended vines – scenery to feed the soul – and pride in building up a portfolio of internationally recognised, award-winning wines,” he said.
From the outset, the central focus has been the creation of premium terroir-driven wines, expressive of the vintage and recognised as among the finest of their style, with an emphasis of quality over quantity. Approximately 10 000 cases are produced annually, with 60% exported throughout Africa, Europe, Asia and the USA.
Today, 14ha of the 23ha farm are planted to vineyards of classic grape varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Shiraz and Chardonnay; farming is in conversion for organic certification and extensive vineyard replanting is underway to strengthen focus and depth in Haskell’s wines.
The Haskell winery was built in 2005 and the bar was set high from the start, with the maiden vintage Haskell Pillars Syrah 2007 becoming the first South African wine to take the triple crown of Best Syrah, Best Red Wine and Wine of the Show at the 2009 Tri Nations Wine Challenge between South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Pillars 2007 was also rated five stars in the Platter’s South African Wine Guide and scored 96 points by Australian wine critic James Halliday, commenting that it was “a seriously good wine that fully deserved its win in the Tri Nations Challenge”.
Haskell Anvil Chardonnay has regularly received five-star ratings in the Platter’s guide and Anvil 2020 earned Double Gold at the Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards and 93 points in UK Master of Wine Tim Atkin’s respected South Africa Special Report.
Winemaker Rudolph Steenkamp said Haskell’s approach to creating true terroir expression, quality and depth in their wines started in the vineyards, by returning to the simplest viticultural methods and “farming the soil and not the vine”.
This has led Haskell to convert to organic farming, with the vineyards in the final year of conversion to achieve organic certification to EU and American standards from January 2023.
Meticulous vineyard management and hand-harvesting ensure optimal quality of the grapes coming into the cellar, where the focus is also organically motivated, allowing natural ferments and no additives, Steenkamp said.
“We use very little intervention, giving the grapes the opportunity to express themselves. We focus on the classical varieties proven to respond exceptionally well to our terroir,” he said.
The Dombeya range was introduced as a standalone brand, a foundation range that focuses on everyday appeal and overdelivering on quality for price. These include Dombeya Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Boulder Road Shiraz, the Fenix Bordeaux-style blend and the latest addition, Lily Rose, a Merlot Rosé.
For the Haskell range, Steenkamp selects the best barrels from the best vineyard blocks, focusing on ageability, elegance and concentration of fruit and wood aromas. Expressing typical cultivar characteristics and driven by Haskell’s Golden Triangle terroir, the range includes Haskell Anvil Chardonnay, Haskell Pillars Syrah, and two blends – the Haskell II Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz and Haskell IV Bordeaux-style blend.
Haskell wines are well-known for their superior ageability, and the winery’s online store includes a vintage library of wines dating back to the first 2007 vintage for sale.
“The quality of these older vintages highlights the overall quality of our wines, and their exceptional longevity,” Steenkamp said.
Along with organic certification, Haskell has also embarked on a programme of vineyard replanting to focus on the varieties that work best with the terroir, and particularly expanding Cabernet Sauvignon plantings as a core focus.
This will enable Haskell to produce an ultra-premium single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon on a constant basis, and add Cabernet Sauvignon to the lifestyle Dombeya range, Steenkamp said.
General manager Barbara Mackenzie said Haskell’s focus would remain on quality over quantity, producing premium wines for an ever-growing base of devoted customers as well as specialist wine stores and upmarket restaurants.
A visit to Haskell Vineyards is not only about premium wines, however, she said.
“Haskell has become known and loved by regular visitors for the overall experience, where beautiful surroundings and breath-taking views are the backdrop to warm hospitality and great service from our passionate, knowledgeable team. Along with excellent food and superb wines it is the people that make the experience memorable, and we are proud that our team consistently delivers on this.
“From tasting our wines to a meal at the Longtable restaurant where guests feel as if they are seated in the vineyards, to our supremely comfortable accommodation surrounded by vineyards and natural beauty, Haskell is a place to celebrate the moments that make life extraordinary, every day,” Mackenzie said.
Haskell’s relatively small size enabled the winery to respond swiftly to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and South Africa’s ban on alcohol sales.
“We were fortunate to already have an online shop in place and the past two years have seen exceptional growth for us in the online space. This is key to our market growth going forward, especially for the Dombeya brand, along with continuing to run online-exclusive special offers to grow our online customer base across South Africa,” Mackenzie said.
Haskell’s 20th anniversary celebrations include a series of winemaker’s dinners at the Longtable Restaurant, showcasing award-winning vintage wines and highlighting different terroirs and regions.