Ambeloui winemaking a family affair

Tucked away in the heart of Hout Bay valley, next to the Disa River is a vineyard. The half-hectare land has been there since 1995.

Passing through high walls is like stepping into a French wine region. The terracotta walls of the house are decorated with green shutters and ivy.

Entering is a mouth-watering experience as aromas wrap around me like tendrils. It is no wonder. Ann Christodoulou says she has been cooking all her life and is said to make better Greek food than Greek women.

She is preparing dishes for a photo shoot taking place the next day, the pictures to be used in a cookery book based on dishes served for family members over the years.

Husband Nick Christodoulou is Greek Cypriot and a retired financial banker who now enjoys spending time working on the electronics of a train set. Their children, Miranda and Alexis, are in charge of keeping the bubbles in the wine, the corks in the bottles, the multitude of forms filled in and everything else from picking, crushing, bottling, de-gorging to corking and labelling.

Twins Christo and Lisa help drink the product.

The family lived in Pretoria and purchased the land in the early 1990s, built the house and instead of planting a garden, planted chardonnay and pinot noir grapes – the grapes traditionally used for champagne, usually blended 50/50.

“They said making champagne is easy but they were wrong,” says Alexis.

His interest in winemaking began at age 12, making wine with his dad, who taught himself. Now 34 years old, he took over Ambeloui’s winemaking four years ago and now produces high quality Methode Cap Classique, or MCC (South Africa’s equivalent of French Champagne), made in the traditional French style.

At the heart of the home is the cellar.

Down a spiral staircase and guarded by a large Byzantine icon of St Nicholas is the cellar where corks are popping.

Their long-term staff are busy degorging, a French term referring to holding back sparkling wine from the original release for extended ageing on the yeast.

Ambeloui, which means little vineyard in Greek, is perfectly located, receiving cool maritime air flowing up the Hout Bay valley, creating a pseudo French climate and excellent for producing sparkling wine.

Alexis also has help from mentors such as Hermann Kirschbaum, the cellar master from Buitenverwachting. He also reads a lot and recently visited the home of Champagne, Epernay in France, the inspiration for this boutique wine farm, making world class MCC.

Their first vintage of 500 bottles was produced in 1997.

This has now increased to about 10 000 bottles each
year, with them buying in
grapes.

Each vintage is named after a family member, starting with Lisa, and the latest being Alexis’ brother-in-law Ashley, a 2015 pinot noir chardonnay matured on the lees for two years.

The family started by selling bottles word of mouth before releasing it annually on the first Saturday in November. Wine-lovers begin queuing from early morning down Valley Road to sample the new vintage which is carefully rationed, each case is much prized by locals.

“We want to stay small so
we can monitor the quality. At the end of the day it’s about creating a product that makes the family stick together, having a product to be proud of and a topic to talk about,” says Alexis.

Cheers to that.

* Ambeloui’s annual sale day is on Saturday November 4, doors open at 9am sharp.