With wine having played a profound role in the culinary journey which led to his becoming South Africa’s first Michelin-starred chef, Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen has launched his first wines under his own label. Both white and red wines, named after his award-winning restaurant JAN which is based in Nice, France, are blended from grape varieties grown on one of South Africa’s leading organic wine farms, Org de Rac in the Swartland region.
“For me, the relationship between food and wine is unquestioningly symbiotic and it is impossible to think of the one without the other,” says Jan Hendrik. “I began to understand this as a young trainee chef in Stellenbosch, and since moving to France the importance of wine as a partner to gastronomy was further instilled, as here it is of almost religious importance.”
Since opening JAN in Nice, not only has the menu included enticing plays on South African traditional cuisine, but Jan Hendrik has made a point of placing wines from this homeland on the wine-list.
“In France, this might initially have been seen as taking coal to Newcastle, but I am a committed believer in South African wine as being able to be recognised on a par of quality with the best in the world,” he says. “JAN’s dishes showing a bit of South African boere-flair truly come to their own when paired with a local wine, and our clients from France and other European countries recognise this and really love it.”
The decision to release two wines under his own label was inspired by the quality and variety of terroir-driven grapes grown on Org de Rac, which lies just before the Swartland town of Piketberg. “I believe in the concept of organically grown grapes – as chefs we want the finest ingredients farmed in natural conditions, so why should it be any different when it comes to wine?” says Jan Hendrik. “Combine this with the Swartland region’s unique climate and soils, and one has a very special quality of grape to work with.”
Both the JAN white and red are inspired by Mediterranean wine styles, which he has grown to love since living in the South of France.
JAN white is a blend of Chenin Blanc, Roussanne and Verdelho. The red expresses Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Verdelho. Working in tandem with Org de Rac cellarmaster Frank Meaker, Jan Hendrik was closely involved in creating the various blends.
“Knowing that the raw materials were of such a high standard, it was very exciting to sit down with Frank before the various wine components to create the white and red blends for the two JAN wines,” he says. “It was a bit daunting – the bottle bears my name and therefore the contents must match the standards of excellence and the superior quality for which the restaurant is known.”
Not unfamiliar with comparing and analysing flavours, Jan Hendrik said the process turned into a lot of fun as the blending of the different components got underway.
“Like tasting a sauce and adding more of this and less of that until it is just right for the chef’s palate, so the wines were constructed,” he says. “And I am really pleased the way the wines have turned out. Both have fruit-forward flavour components, but it is the complexity and depth of flavours that a chef looks for. For my palate, at least, I am happy to report that both wines met the criteria I was looking for. I look forward to introducing them to the wine-loving public in South Africa and Europe and, of course, to my clients at JAN. And I hope they play a role in helping the world to discover the magic of South African wines.”