3 Smart Wine-Buying Tricks, from Friend of Tria Ken Forrester
A vacant, derelict farm in Stellenbosch, South Africa, complete with a Cape Dutch farmhouse built in 1694. An ambitious young winemaker and his family. A public auction. And the start of something beautiful.
Winemaker Ken Forrester and his wife, Teresa, took a leap of faith when they purchased what would become one of the world’s most iconic vineyard-wineries in 1993. Since then, they have undertaken a massive and loving restoration of the property, and 26 years later, it’s an international sensation, turning out wines that have been poured for the opening of Scottish Parliament (which Ken attended in a tartan kilt, a nod to his family’s Scottish history) and the 85th birthday of South African civil rights icon Nelson Mandela. They’ve also enjoyed a place on our menus at Tria since we opened in 2004.
Recently, Ken took the time to chat with Tria partner and wine director Michael McCaulley about his desert-island wine, his favorite wine-buying tips, and the one time he’ll break his own rules. Read on to learn a little more about this world-renowned winemaker and long-time Friend of Tria…
Michael McCaulley: When did your family first come to South Africa? What brought them there?
Ken Forrester: My grandparents on both sides departed Scotland around the same time, and arrived here during the war. One was a surveyor, and the other a boilermaker; they both ended up working on the same gold mine, which is where my parents first met.
MM: What inspired you to start a winery back in 1993?
KF: Wine was always a passion of mine. It had been at the heart of my five restaurants, with walk-in wine cellars and really eclectic collections of interesting wines.
MM: What are the greatest grapes of the Cape (white & red) in your opinion?
KF: I’m severely biased, so that’s got to be Chenin Blanc and Grenache Noir [two of the varietals for which he is best known; in wine circles, Ken is frequently referred to as “Mr. Chenin”].
MM: What is some simple advice you’d give to a Tria guest who wants to learn more about South African wine in general?
KF: Never buy a wine under $10. Never buy a wine with a critter on the label. (Note: More on that in a minute!) And always confirm that the producer is also the grower.
MM: What is your desert island wine, and why? (You can only pick one!)
KF: Sadly, it’s almost certainly not affordable…but I’d want a beeeeg bottle (ideally, the same height as me: 6’1”!) of Chateau Rayas. Hey, a guy can dream…!
MM: Tell us about a new project or wine we should all know about at Ken Forrester?
KF: We’ve had the most fun honing our bottle-fermented sparkling wine from 100% Chenin, aged in bottle for 18 months on the lees. It’s brightly packaged, with a fun name: “Sparklehorse,” with a colorful label that evokes a really happy fairground, complete with a carousel pony in full colour. (Note: Now that’s a label critter we can all get behind. You can read more about the creative collaboration that yielded Sparklehorse’s distinctive label here. And be sure to check out our wine menus; whenever it’s available in Pennsylvania, we try to pour this bubbly beauty!)
MM: If you could have done one thing differently, what would it be?
KF: I’d have been born into a sixth-generation wine-making family! Actually, I just love what I do, and I hope they never find out that I don’t really work. This is fun!
* This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.