Between two continents, a story of trees, Syrah and destiny

What links Domaine Gayda in the south-west of France and the mythical winery of Boekenhoutskloof in the far off land of South Africa? Let’s figure it out by discovering how two unique wine producers from two different continents connected over their love of Syrah.

Once upon a time, a rest stop for travellers where horses were refreshed and changed is built in 1749 in Brugairolles, a little village twenty-five kilometres south-west of the medieval city of Carcassonne, in the Languedoc-Roussillon. A pine planted at this time will grow to be enormous and a few centuries later will become a beacon point for the Aeropostale pioneers (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry being one of them). The gigantic tree will become known as “L’Arbre de Moscou”.

Meanwhile, halfway across the globe, a farm is established in 1776, located in the furthest corner of the beautiful Franschhoek valley in South Africa. Its name, Boekenhoutskloof means the “Ravine of Boekenhout” (pronounced Book-n-Howed), an indigenous Cape Beech tree, greatly prized for furniture making.

Like Marty and Doc, we hurtle forward into the future aboard the iconic DeLorean time machine and will find Marc Kent, born in 1971, a true free spirit and pioneering figure in South African wine industry. Though the farm of Boekenhoutskloof dates back to the 18th century, winemaking was only introduced there in the mid nineties. In 1993, the farm and homestead are bought and restored, and a new vineyard planting program is commenced. Marck, who trained to be a winemaker at Elsenburg Agricultural College, is a Syrah lover and will become a specialist in it. The first wine is produced in 1996. But if South African Syrah owes its modern day popularity to anyone, it’s thanks to Marc and his legendary 1997 vintage, recognised as one of the best of the world!

Back to France, the young Vincent Chansault, born in the Loire in 1980,  graduated from Cognac University with a degree in Viticulture and Oenology, starts to tour vineyards in France and then around the world. Inspired by new-wave modern winemakers, he will meet him and work for Marc in the beautiful area of Franschhoek.

It’s here where will begin to change. Both winemakers have a passion for vineyards firmly rooted in tradition and terroir, but with more innovation found in the winery. In The Cape, Vincent will meet Tim Ford (British horticulturalist) and Anthony Record (South African OBE) who will persuade him to leave his post at Marc’s winery to return home and create something special in the South of France.

For Vincent, the “El Dorado” of the vigneron is right there, in Pays d’Oc, close to Carcassonne. With diverse soils and exceptional climatic conditions, he can choose the grape varieties that he particularly loves. And, like his mentor Marc, he is partial to Syrah, that will develop its personality according to the soils in which it is grown. Vincent and his two investors will build winery, restaurant and a boutique on the famous “l’Arbre de Moscou” site. Domaine Gayda is founded in 2003.

Despite Marc’s numerous commitments and projects, the connection between him and Vincent remain strong, and he is still working as a consultant for Domaine Gayda. You could taste and enjoy the blending skills of the South African master in the brilliant wine from the French Domaine called Chemin de Moscou. And if you would like to reach an expression of Syrah at its apotheosis, you should definitely open a bottle of Porseleinberg (meaning mountain of porcelain) from a 4-hectare vineyard rugged and windswept hillside in the Swartland.

It is always beautiful to see paths converging unexpectedly and a shared passion for winemaking igniting a spark between men, transcending language and culture. Through the exchange of techniques and tradition, fuelled by a deep respect for the land and a commitment to excellence, Domaine Gayda and Boekenhoutskloof prove that the art of winemaking knows no boundaries.