The Alvi's Drift Story: A Winery Steeped in Heritage and Passion
Alvi's Drift winery, situated in the Scherpenheuwel wine ward in the Worcester district of the Breede River Valley boasts a rich and storied history.
The story of Alvi’s Drift begins in 1928, when our family patriarch, Albertus Viljoen van der Merwe decided to acquire a piece of fertile Boland farmland on the banks of the Breede River.
Situated in the southern reaches of the Western Cape’s lush Breede River Valley, this was prime agricultural land and ideal for our patriarch’s vision of farming lucerne, apricots, peaches, onions, and cultivating vineyards from which to produce wine.
Oupa (grandfather) Alvi, as we still fondly refer to him, was born in 1909 and grew up in the town of Rawsonville on the family farm, Merwida. A promising rugby player throughout his teenage years, in 1928, young Alvi’s sporting prowess saw him selected as flank for the Springboks, South Africa’s national rugby team.
Oupa Alvi Makes Rugby History
In 1928, New Zealand’s All Black rugby team (known as The Invincibles) was considered unconquerable. After completing an undefeated tour of the British colonies and France, the Kiwi rugby team arrived on South African shores, expecting to continue their siege.
However, the rugby world was rocked when young, unknown 19-year-old Albertus Viljoen van der Merwe, “Alvi” to his friends, made rugby history by scoring the first try ever against the All Blacks on African soil. Gripping the rugby world’s imagination with his remarkable effort at Newlands Rugby Stadium in Cape Town, our charismatic founder went on to be selected as the 221st player to play for the Springboks, South Africa’s national rugby team.
With Alvi in their ranks, the 1928 Springbok team went on to tour Europe and the UK undefeated, turning the tide on “The Invincibles” – the 1924-25 New Zealand national rugby team which toured the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and Canada.
Winemaking at Alvi’s Drift – The Early Years
In 1933, our founder married Emmarentia Naudé and went on to have three sons and two daughters. Among Alvi and Emmarentia’s children was Albertus Viljoen van der Merwe II (or Bertie, as they called him), the son who would one day take over farming and winemaking from Oupa Alvi after his retirement.
In 1930, to allow local residents easier access to both sides of the farm, Oupa Alvi commissioned the building of a low-water bridge across the Breede River running through the property. Locals soon named this little bridge Alvi’s Drift, after Oupa Alvi, who was instrumental in having it built. Today, the bridge is still known by the same name.
Whilst winding down his rugby career, Oupa Alvi continued with farming and wine production on the family farm. In 1932, our patriarch and his team of workers started construction on the farm’s wine cellar, building the kuipe (open-top concrete fermentation tanks) that are still used in the production of some of Alvi’s Drift’s award-winning red wines today.
At the time, Oupa Alvi focused mainly on cultivating cinsaut, chenin blanc, muscat blanc à petits grains, hanepoot, and palomino grapes, all destined for bulk wine production after being delivered to large winemaking co-operatives in the area. Our founder also cultivated seedless Sultana grapes as well as blackcurrants, primarily for the dried fruit market.
“I remember my grandfather as a man who was always impeccably dressed,” says Alvi’s Drift winemaker Alvi van der Merwe. “On holiday in Hermanus, he took us grandchildren for a swim in the ocean every morning and every evening. Oupa Alvi always had a smile on his face. And he had a deep appreciation for good wine.”
Winemaking at Alvi’s Drift – Oom Bertie Takes the Reins
In 1959, Oupa Alvi’s son and namesake, Albertus Viljoen van der Merwe II, by then affectionately known as Oom (uncle) Bertie by everyone who knew him, took over the management of farming activities and wine production on the family farm.
Among other agricultural endeavours, Oom Bertie continued to cultivate grapes from the estate’s bountiful vineyards, producing white muscadel, colombar, chenin blanc, and cinsaut wines for the local bulk wine production market.
Bertie and his wife Muberna had five children, three sons and two daughters. One of their sons, Johan, qualified as a lawyer, while Albertus Viljoen van der Merwe III (also known as Alvi, like his grandfather) studied medicine, first working abroad as a medical doctor both in the UK and Canada, before establishing a practice as general practitioner in the town of Worcester in 1999.
A former vice chairman of the KWV and several fruit boards, as well as chairman of the South African Brandy Foundation, Oom Bertie was inducted as a Legend of the SA Wine Industry in 2010.
A New Era at Alvi’s Drift – A Dream Begins To Take Shape
While enjoying a successful medical career abroad, the Alvi’s Drift winemaker always yearned to return home, and fulfil his dream of creating world-class wines from the family farm’s vineyards. “I worked abroad for many years, but it was always my dream to come home,” remembers Alvi. “One day, in Canada, I went for a run and stepped on a small bush. I remember thinking ‘that smells like the veld’. I resigned that same day and moved back home soon after.”
In 1999, after returning from abroad, Alvi’s dream began to take shape. Back home in Worcester, he continued practising medicine while assisting his father part-time on the family farm.
During this time, Alvi helped Bertie manage the family farm’s citrus orchards as well as the 410 hectares planted under vines. Alvi also lent a hand to assist with his father’s bulk wine production enterprise, while his brother Johan stepped in to take over the management of the family farm’s livestock herds and commercial dairy operation.
Alvi’s dream of creating world-class wines from the family farm’s vineyards persisted. In 2003, with his father’s blessing, Alvi made his first bottled wines under the Rondebosch label, producing small quantities of chardonnay and muscat de frontignan (known today as muscat blanc à petits grains), both of which went on to win several local and international wine awards. Inspired by the recognition of his early success, Alvi determinedly pursued his passion for winemaking, with more wines soon following after.
Scherpenheuwel – A Cooler Wine Ward in a Warm Wine Region
“Our wine ward, Scherpenheuwel, has a special, slightly drier, Mediterranean microclimate. The Atlantic Ocean breeze cools our night-time temperatures, and we are blessed with a variety of soils, topography and, thanks to the Breede River, an abundance of water.”
While planning the farm’s citrus orchards, Bertie and his sons commissioned a climate study. They were delighted with the results, which confirmed their observation that, due to the diurnal swing (difference between day- and night-time temperatures), Scherpenheuwel was, on average, about one-and-a-half degrees cooler than the Stellenbosch wine region.
This cooler climate has since led to the Scherpenheuwel wine ward being classified as Winkler Summation II, placing it in the same cooler-climate category as France’s Bordeaux region.
Armed with the confirmation of Scherpenheuwel’s cooler microclimate, more award-winning Alvi’s Drift wines soon followed, including superb cooler-climate wines such as sauvignon blanc, merlot, chardonnay and pinot noir, the latter two being the cornerstone of Alvi’s Drift’s award-winning Cap Classique sparkling wine portfolio.
A Remarkable Terroir in a Valley of Plenty
While Alvi’s winemaking talents are by now widely recognised, the quality of the grapes grown in the Alvi’s Drift vineyards is owed in no small part to the region’s remarkable terroir – the natural environment in which a wine is produced.
Scherpenheuwel’s terroir includes the area’s unique, cooler microclimate, varied topography, abundant water from the life-giving Breede River and the fertile Breede River Valley’s rich soil diversity, which includes decomposed granite, red Karoo soil, shale, limestone, black slate as well as sandy loam and alluvial soils. The area also boasts the hard, red calcareous soil, also known as dorbank, which this important South African wine region is so renowned for.
Alvi’s Drift Winery Is Born
“Our cellar is where I get to experiment, innovate and live out my passion for winemaking. To be creative in one’s work is an incredible privilege. Producing a product that enhances peoples’ enjoyment of life is truly a blessing.”
In 2005, following five years of passionately pursuing his winemaking dream as a hobby, our winemaker decided it was time to market the winery’s increasingly popular, award-winning wines under its own trademark.
Alvi chose to honour his grandfather’s legacy by naming his wines after Alvi’s Drift, the little low-water bridge commissioned by Oupa Alvi almost a century ago.
In December 2018 Alvi and celebrated wine expert and Cape Wine Master Junel van der Merwe married, joining their considerable talents and wine-making expertise to form a formidable partnership.
Together with their highly skilled and dedicated winemaking team, their passion for creating world-class South African red, white, rosé, sparkling and Cap Classique sparkling wines has seen the brand enjoying incredible growth on both the local and international wine market in a relatively short period of time.
While his perfectionism and enthusiasm for crafting world-class wines in the Alvi’s Drift cellar are widely known, it is out in nature where our winemaker is happiest and most at home.
“Alvi's greatest passion is being out in the veld,” says Junel. “With Buksie, his Jack Russel by his side, Alvi covers about 200 kilometres on his motorbike every day. Together, the two of them patrol the vineyards, checking that the soil is healthy, inspecting vines and rootstocks, tasting fruit, pulling out weeds.”
A Unique Winemaking Journey
Come harvest time, the grapes destined to become Alvi’s Drift wines are carefully inspected before being hand-harvested, ensuring that only the healthiest bunches are selected at optimal ripeness.
Once in the Alvi’s Drift cellar, each wine follows a unique journey, with many of the wines that make up our red and white wine blends vinified separately, according to the method best suited to bringing out the unique characteristics of each varietal.
To date, Alvi’s Drift wines have been honoured with numerous local and international wine awards, and the momentum shows no sign of slowing down. And, while the recognition is appreciated, awards are not what drive our winemaker and his team to create their exceptional wines.
“We’re fortunate to have received many wine awards,” says Alvi. “Yet, as a family, our greatest reward has simply been the growth of our brand. We strive to repay the loyalty of the people who love our wines by offering them not just great wines, but also great value.”
Enhancing Enjoyment of What’s Real
Perhaps most of all, through their wines, the Alvi’s Drift winemaking team is inspired to keep enhancing the lives of those who enjoy their wines – a true labour of the love for their craft.
“Our winemaking philosophy is simple,” says Junel. “Everything we do is underscored by a deep commitment to enriching people’s enjoyment of what truly matters: an authentic life, well-lived in the pursuit of what’s real.”
At Alvi’s Drift, we celebrate life as a matter of choice, not chance. That’s why you’ll never find us doing what's expected. We’re too busy doing what we love.
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