From Independence, Missouri to the lush green, towering slopes of the Jonkershoek Valley is quite a move, one Jose Condé negotiated with great success. Around Independence was corn and cow country with America’s first registered viticultural area not far away, but wine was not part of the Condé family’s life. Jose’s father was Cuban, his mother from an Irish-American family. The international mix grew when Jose married Marie Schröder, whose father, Hans-Peter Schröder, is South African and mother, Midori, Japanese. Marie’s sister married a Spaniard, so the family’s a veritable United Nations of peoples!
To go back a few steps, Jose Condé’s interest in wine started when he went to New York after being awarded a scholarship to study art. There he began ‘to regularly trawl the neighbourhood wine shops’, never imagining one day he’d make wine.
That destination came one step closer when one of the Japanese clients of the design studio Jose worked for, asked him to move to Tokyo for a year to help with international projects. He met Marie Schröder on his first night in that city.
Marriage, two daughters and five years later, the Condés decided to move to South Africa to be closer to Marie’s parents. Jose’s intention was to open a design studio in Cape Town. After two weeks in Stellenbosch he had ‘an early and sudden mid-life crisis’, the attraction of making wine grabbing him. ‘It seemed so mysterious; alchemical almost. And everyone kept telling me how difficult it is. I couldn’t help myself!’
Rather than go back to ‘school’, an idea which had no appeal, Jose learnt winemaking skills from tasting and talking to small-scale winemakers, though there weren’t that many in the early 1990s. There were lessons Jose had to learn several times – the hard way: keep it simple, get the best grapes possible, pick them at the right time and don’t do much more.
All the advice paid dividends, when Jose’s first Cabernet, a 1998, was awarded Platter five stars; it was the first of many and regular accolades, both in South Africa and internationally, for what is now known as Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon, the said three pines standing guard above the Cabernet vineyard.
At the first function for media and friends Stark-Condé Wines has ever held (for some locals it was a first-time visit to this majestic setting!), Jose presented a vertical tasting of most vintages produced of this Cabernet spanning 2000 to 2014; the 2000 still going deliciously strong after 16 years.
Now Jose looks to have another winner with his white Field Blend, established on a mix of soils near the farm entrance. Jose’s love for Rhône white wines led him to plant Roussanne, Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Verdelho; the Chenin and Verdelho for fruit and acidity. Until 2016 all the varieties were harvested and co-fermented, mainly in oak; this year some of the grapes were harvested and vinified separately but co-fermented juice remains Jose’s favourite.
The Field Blend 2015 has already won an award, the trophy for white wine blends on 2016 Six Nations Wine Challenge.
Quite something for a self-trained winemaker from Independence, Missouri.