man holding grapes

The Don

6 May 2021

Donovan Rall is one of a handful of small-scale producers helping to put this top-class South African wine region on the map.

Mark Dearing

Despite Cape Town being 6,000 miles from London (plus another 300 miles from Edinburgh!), and travel between the two cities clearly being a challenge for a little while yet, we were nevertheless graced by the presence of Donovan Rall in our living rooms just a few weeks ago.

Through the auspices of Zoom technology (once again) we were thrilled to host forty-five on and off-trade clients spanning the length and breadth of the UK, and encompassing all sorts of hotels, restaurants and retailers, not to mention a few of the world’s most famous fine dining establishments, for a Rall Wines masterclass in advance of the trade’s emergence from what has been a thoroughly miserable third lockdown since December. With things looking up, and spring supposedly just around the corner, we relished the opportunity to taste the lighter, fresher wines in the Rall portfolio, and bring together (virtually) a cohort of people who might enjoy them. So it was, that the fine-boned, vibrant Grenache Blanc and juicy, attractive Cinsault made many new friends, whilst the ever-impressive Rall White and Red strutted their confident stuff. Donovan’s dulcet Afrikaner tones provided invaluable insight into the origins and philosophy behind each wine.

Moreover, it speaks to the UK trade’s ongoing excitement around the best of South Africa that this proved to be our fastest ever “sell-out” masterclass; helped perhaps in part by the fact that Donovan himself is a bit of an enigma, preferring to remain off grid; eschewing social media entirely and owning a website that has been “under construction” for an impressively long time. Preferring to spend his time flitting between vineyards in a pick-up truck and tasting Syrah from the barrel, we were thrilled to catch up with him and at least get a sense of the euphoria that greets winemakers at the end of the harvest.

The following day saw a repeat of sorts, this time with some of the UK’s leading wine journalists – two sightings of the lesser-spotted Rall in as many days!

Jamie Goode, for one, was suitably impressed – posting his own tasting notes and commentary on the Rall White 2019 (in our view the best White made to date) and the highly acclaimed Rall Ava Syrah 2019 to his 33,000 Instagram followers.

Screenshots of social media posts

But perhaps the most impressive piece of the last year comes courtesy of the profile published just this week by Club Oenologique. Written by New York-based Jim Clarke, author of the 2020 book The Wines of South Africa [Infinite Ideas Limited], Clarke is one of America’s leading experts on South African wine. That this is a producer who continues to push the boundaries, taste widely, and never rest on his laurels, is clear. To read the full Club Oenologique article click here.

What is even more pleasing though is that despite a global pandemic, which conspired, along with government regulations both in the UK and South Africa, to make for the worst possible start to a burgeoning new and exclusive relationship (our first shipment landed in the UK in February 2020), the light that emanates from these beautiful South African wines evidently remains undimmed. Off to a slow start, that a whole cohort of the country’s top restaurants, retailers and private collectors are poised to buy and drink these wines with confidence is hugely encouraging and reinforces (or perhaps supports?) a litany of critical acclaim received over the past year (Platter’s Editor’s Winery of the Year, Grenache Blanc of the Year and Joint Top Scoring Syrah, plus glowing reviews from Tim Atkin, Jancis Robinson and Neal Martin).

Speaking for myself, neither Old World nor New World, South Africa is often the source of the most exciting and, crucially, accessible wines I encounter. Neal Martin sums it up best when he stated in a 2019 Vinous report that “as someone privileged with more than his fair share of rare and expensive Grand Cru Burgundy and First Growths, I can unhesitatingly state that the best of South Africa punches at the same weight.”

Even in the midst of a global pandemic that has hit South African producers especially hard, it speaks to the determined, garagista spirit of Donovan Rall, that, as Jim Clarke says, “the search for great vineyards continues…”

To view our range of Donovan Rall's wines click here.