David Trafford grew up surrounded by a dream his parents cherished. After qualifying as an architect, he returned to their Stellenbosch farm to realise that dream and turn the family property into a producer of celebrated wines.
WRITTEN BY RUSSEL WASSERFALL
IMAGES COURTESY DE TRAFFORD
David Trafford has taken a dream cherished in childhood and created a wine farm whose wines are recognized worldwide.
When he was still in junior school in the east coast city of Durban, South African winemaker David Trafford’s parents bought a farm in Stellenbosch. They had a thriving business right where they were, but the lure of a simpler life, closer to nature, lured them Westward to the Cape Province.
The Traffords bought a property called Mont Fleur on the slopes of the mountains that flank Stellenbosch. They had all sorts of plans to plant out vines, make fine wines and share their new home with visiting tourists and wine lovers. Somewhere in the mad rush of planning, dreaming and moving, no one thought to tell the family that their new farm did not have a grape production quota.
Back then, in 1970s South Africa, the burgeoning wine industry like many other pursuits based on agriculture, was controlled by a system of quotas. If you didn’t have a grape quota (or maize, citrus, apple, etc.) for your land, you were not allowed to produce. With no grapes, there could be no wine, so the treasured dream had to be carefully wrapped and tucked away on a shelf.
The dream began when the Trafford family bought a small Stellenbosch farm high on the slopes of Helderberg Mountain.
Undeterred, and imbued with the entrepreneurial spirit that had created a successful business in Durban, David’s parents implemented a ‘Plan B’. They started growing root stock to supply the viticulture industry. Basically, they grew grapevines from which to supply sturdy, virus-free root material that could be used to graft wine varietals to for propagating vines for vineyards.
The business did well, and they also opened a Conference Centre that David’s sister still runs, but it wasn’t wine farming. Still nurturing that dream, David’s father planted a tiny vineyard on the farm. David helped him with the work, and they started making wine for home consumption in 1984. That’s where the bug bit.
Making wine became an absorbing hobby for David Trafford, even while he was studying architecture at the University of Cape Town where he graduated in 1988. In the 1989 season, he worked on an estate in St Emilion, Bordeaux and has since visited most of the classic wine regions, gradually learning from several winemakers.
These experiences, coupled with the fact that he qualified as an architect rather than formally studying the vintner’s art, have created a fascinating winemaker in David Trafford. He has a fresh approach to things and is prepared to take risks. Many of the conventions taught to young winemakers as they learn their craft passed him by. He had to learn by doing things, trying approaches that were new to him.
Total production from De Trafford is below 3,000 cases, so they can be hard to find.
When he first started making wine with his father, they did it in a small, handcrafted learning as they went. Their approach was through using mostly traditional French techniques like natural yeast fermentation, malolactic fermentation in barrel, bottling without filtration and egg white finings, but each stage had a distinctly ‘Trafford’ twist to it.
De Trafford’s small vineyard is high up on the slopes of the Helderberg mountain and was planted in 1994. It was planted after quota restrictions were lifted in 1991, and is situated on the family farm, Mont Fleur, at the top of a dramatic valley at an elevation of 380 m. Varieties, clones, rootstocks, vine densities and trellis systems were carefully chosen to suit the subtle variations in soil and microclimate.
From the beginning, the aim was to produce high quality red wines which convey the personality and uniqueness of this mountain site to the full. Our tiny production of under 3,000 cases means we can pay attention to every detail, David explains.
In addition to their own grapes, De Trafford sources from three other vineyards in the Helderberg and Stellenbosch Mountain area. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chenin Blanc grapes come from sites where David has complete control over all vineyard management.
The architect-turned-vintner has tended these vines since he was a teenager. De Trafford wines are now sold in twelve countries, but it is best to enjoy them at source, in the cellar where they are crafted.
They produce grapes with highly concentrated, balanced flavour from naturally low yielding vines. Certain rows of vines are selected from various blocks to be monitored throughout the growing season to ensure the best possible quality fruit. This results in wines with distinctive personality.
De Trafford wines are intensely flavoured and finely structured with great length and finesse. These naturally made, living wines will deposit a sediment – the healthy sign of a hand-crafted of superior provenance.
On honour of his dedication to the craft, David Trafford became a member of the Cape Winemakers Guild in January 2000. His beautiful wines are highly regarded by winemakers in his native South African and abroad, and the De Trafford label is enjoyed globally, selling in twelve countries worldwide.
It’s been a long, long journey from growing root stock for other wine producers, but David Trafford has more than achieved the dreams which filled his head as a boy. The ambition of his parents to become wine producers on a small farm in Stellenbosch took hold in the aspirations of a young man who today produces wines that are some of the finest from the region.