Published on February 3, 2008
A recent visitor to Thailand has extended this synergy by making wine and olive oil part of her business life. Reni Hildenbrand parlayed her 1980s purchase of a run-down but salvageable vineyard in the heart of South Africa's Cape wine region into a multipurpose enterprise.
German native Hildenbrand's choice of South Africa for her vineyard ventures was prescient, as attested by the number of internationally established wineries that have subsequently invested there.
Hubert de Bouard, owner of Bordeaux property Chateau Angelus, extolled the potential of the region when in Bangkok last week. "Not only is the entire area absolutely beautiful, the soil and climate conditions are as near perfect as one could ask," he declared.
He and Bruno Prats, former owner of second-growth property Chateau Cos d'Estournel, acquired Anwilka winery there in 2004 in partnership with Stellenbosch's Klein Constantia wines.
Hildenbrand's entry into the competitive world of wine wasn't easy. Old buildings had to be refurbished, including a guesthouse as an income earner while the winery was in its infancy. Following several tough years of upgrading vineyards and investing in new equipment, Hildenbrand brought her dream of becoming a winemaker to fruition with the release of her first products.
Olive trees, some a century old, were also integrated into the business plan in the form of premium olive oil. Twenty years on she has been winning awards for her wines, olive oils and agricultural skills, crowned by being named top female farmer for both 2000 and 2001.
A Landmark Hotel wine dinner last week, co-hosted by Hildenbrand and her distributor Reinhard Murer, paired five of her wines with a creative menu ranging from escargot to grain-fed Australian rib-eye beef.
A slightly tart shiraz rose started things off perfectly with amuse bouche, followed by a subtly oaked, medium-bodied '04 chardonnay well suited to a mushroom tatin tart. An earthy, moderately tannic '00 cabernet with hints of black pepper had the backbone to show well with grilled medallions of foie gras.
Hildenbrand uses Hungarian oak along with French, saying its tight grain gives her wines milder touches of oak tannins and vanillins. Her '05 shiraz, bountiful in black cherry, red berry fruit and modest tannins, held up to the rib-eye beef and its almost overpowering braised oxtail sauce.
Throughout the meal, guests savoured fresh-baked bread with Hildenbrand's complex, free-run extra-virgin olive oil - a bonus to an evening of agricultural excellence from a talented and dedicated woman.
Hildenbrand's products are available from Foodcom Thailand at (02) 330 8592 and FoodcomThailand.com. For reservations at the Landmark call (02) 254 0404.
JC Eversole is a consultant to various companies in the wine industry and is employed by Bangkok Beer & Beverages.