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PGATour.com Explores Ernie Els Wines

PGATour.com is up with a great feature article on the founding, development and remarkable success of Ernie Els Wines.

The piece, by Mike McAllister, focuses on Louis Strydom, who was chosen by Ernie in 1999 to lead a new wine project after Ernie’s friend Jean Engelbrecht, of Rust en Vrede fame, had long encouraged Ernie to start his own label. As the piece explains, Ernie and Louis tasted together to determine what Ernie liked—which turned out to be “a classic Bordeaux-style blend with five varietals”—and then got to work. The first bottling was a huge success:

A year later, the Ernie Els Signature wine was introduced, utilizing those five varietals – 62 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Merlot, 5 percent Petit Verdot, 4 percent Cabernet Franc and 4 percent Malbec. It was an immediate success, akin to a golfer making his pro debut by winning The Open Championship. Wine Spectator gave it 93 out of 100 – no South African red wine had ever been rated that high.

Ernie wasn’t the first golfer to get into the wine business, and McAllister offers an observation on the golf-wine link as Ernie experienced it:

Els began seeing the connection between his sport and the sport of winemaking. Both are played outdoors, a genteel setting that belies that challenge of finding success. You have to figure out how to manage your way around a property, adjusting for the variances thrown at you by a change in elements.

Then there’s the balance between taking a technical approach and playing by feel. Honing your skills provides a better chance for success, but sometimes you must rely on your gut instinct. From this perspective, Els was not all that dissimilar from Strydom.

Photo by Mike McAllister/PGATour.com

Photo by Mike McAllister/PGATour.com

In the early days of Ernie Els Wines, Ernie’s input was fairly basic—he knew what he liked—but that’s changed, and the change can be seen in the winery’s production:

Early on, Els favored the French Bordeaux. Consequently, that influenced his early Cabernet Sauvignon wines, which offered a bolder, powerful, firm taste. Big Cabs.

But then Els began developing a more nuanced palate. He understood flavors more and began moving away from the traditional French taste, letting the subtleties of the grapes dictate his enjoyment. Where before he preferred wine with fruit scents, now he opened up to something more dry, more structured….

Els’ palate continues to evolve. Having lived in the United States for several years, he started drinking more wines from Napa Valley, favoring the Cabs from that region. He’s bringing a bit of the fruitier taste back into the mix, only now cloaked under a Napa perspective instead of a French one.

Consider the Ernie Els Proprietor’s Blend. Els thought the wine should taste a little sweeter, so a subtle change was made by Strydom to add more Shiraz to the blend of six varietals.

“I think he listened to me,” Els recalls. “Put a little bit more fruit in the wine. It feels a little bit more fresh.”

Nearly two decades after starting Ernie Els Wines, Ernie’s enthusiasm for wine and the business has only grown—and it’s clear that the ambitious, competitive spirit that made him a champion golfer is going to drive his winery to new heights:

At age 46 and in the latter stages of his pro golf career, Els will one day spend less time inside the ropes and more time inside the cellar. His hobby has turned into a business. Whether it’s a club in his hand or a long-stemmed glass, his expectations are high.

“Let’s see how close we can come to the perfect wine,” he says.

See the full article—plus photos, and video interviews with both Ernie and winemaker Louis Strydom—here on PGATour.com.

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