Radford Dale marks 25th Anniversary with Launch of Four Wines from Certified Organic Estate in Elgin

Radford Dale

Premium independent wine producer Radford Dale has celebrated a quarter-century of ‘doing things differently’ with the launch of four maiden wines from their certified organic wine estate in Elgin.

‘We’ve come a long way,’ says UK-born co-founder Alex Dale, whose journey started even earlier, in 1989, when he started visiting the Cape winelands annually while living and working in Burgundy.

‘In 1994, I decided that if South Africa could pull off a peaceful transition to democracy, then I would make the Cape my home. I had no idea what I would do, exactly, but I felt a profound attachment to this country, its people and its beauty, and I wanted to be part of the future of its wine.’

In January 1995, Dale became a founding director at Stellenbosch estate Longridge, where he was joined two years later by Australian winemaker Ben Radford. In 1998, they decided to make their own wine – the first was a Helderberg Chardonnay picked on 8 February 1998 – and in May 1999 they made their first international sale – to UK retailer Oddbins. ‘It was (then) head buyer Steve Daniel who first suggested our brand name,’ reveals Dale.

In 2000 Radford Dale officially launched as a proprietary company. ‘Our first employee was Heather Whitman, who is now our head of operations and a managing partner, alongside Jacques de Klerk (head of viticulture and winemaking), Kathleen Krone (head of finance) and myself,’ says Dale.

Radford Dale’s other partners include ‘crazy’ French wine consultant Edouard Labeye (involved since day one), legendary UK-based wine merchant Cliff Roberson (Dale’s godfather), Robert Hill-Smith (the fifth-generation owner of Australia’s oldest winery, Yalumba), and erudite South African entrepreneur Andy Openshaw. Having repatriated to Australia in 2003, Ben Radford is no longer involved, but the team’s aim has remained the same over 25 years: ‘To produce wines of provenance and individuality; hand-crafted wines that that feel natural rather than contrived.’

More than a winery

In 2002 the team moved into a Helderberg cellar that remains their Stellenbosch base today, producing their Terroir SelectionVinum and Thirst ranges. ‘It was always more than just a winery,’ says Dale. ‘It was an alternative way of thinking, being and doing, where the aim was to make quality wine with a conscience.’

Radford Dale’s social conscience resulted in the establishment of Land of Hope, both a range of wines (from 2006 onwards) and an Educational Trust, whose sole beneficiaries are the children of Radford Dale’s previously disadvantaged employees. Their environmental conscience led to organic practices being initiated in 2012, culminating in their investment in Elgin’s only certified organic estate in 2021.

Radford Dale had long sourced grapes from cool-climate Elgin as well as from the Helderberg and Paardeberg for their site-expressive Terroir Selection wines, which have consistently garnered critical acclaim. The first of many 5 Star ratings from Platter’s by Diners Club South African Wine Guide came in 2006 for the Gravity 2005 (a Stellenbosch blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon). In 2017, Radford Dale was crowned Platter’s Red Wine Producer of the Year for their 2014 Black Rock, a blend of Rhone varieties grown in some of the Paardeberg’s oldest dryland vineyards.

Originally the name of a Chenin Blanc, first produced in 1999, Vinum is now a range that also includes a Chardonnay, Grenache, Pinotage, Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir. ‘Expanding the range has proved a major success,’ says Dale. ‘We use the same or similar vineyard sites and winegrowing practices as with our most premium wines, but here the aim is to offer unbelievable value.’

As for Gamay, Radford Dale has single-handedly championed the fresh, lighter-bodied variety since 2014, when they released their first bottling under the Thirst label. ‘There were hardly any Gamay vineyards left in South Africa, totalling less than 10 hectares, the majority of which we now own or manage. When we planted our first Gamay in 2017, it was the first to be planted in South Africa in over 20 years! We continue to plant more every year, using our own cuttings, to ensure the revival of this magic grape in the Cape. This includes the three parcels we have planted in Elgin over the past two winters – South Africa’s first organic Gamay.’

Home at last

When Radford Dale Organic Estate was established in 2021, it came complete with vines aged between 12 and 15 years old, now starting to produce the best grapes of their life cycle. ‘Investing in the estate was the next logical step in our journey towards purer expressions of land, and purer expressions of variety,’ says De Klerk.

Although South Africa’s first organic Gamay will only be harvested in 2026, Radford Dale Organic Estate’s maiden-vintage 2022 wines, the Touchstone Chardonnay, the Revelation Semillon, the Freedom Pinot Noir and the Higher Purpose Cabernet Franc were released at the estate on 30 September 2023, marking the 25th anniversary of Radford Dale.

‘After 25 years, we have fine-tuned the balance between idealism and financial viability,’ says Dale, ‘and our wines have never been better.’

For more information about Radford Dale, visit www.radforddale.com