David Trafford – de Trafford Wines & Sijnn

We don’t often see South African winemakers in this country. They seem to have forgotten about us or possibly we have neglected them. I brought this up with winemaker David Trafford, one of the leading lights of South African winemaking. I think we agreed to share the blame equally. But as Trafford says, ‘we do have quite a complicated story to tell and we should embrace that. Argentina is beautiful, but the whole country tells pretty much the same story. Our wines are much more individual depending on where they are grown.’ He has a point; the climates and soils of the Cape are very diverse, and are suited to a number of different grape varieties. Even one grape, such as Syrah, can produce a wide range of styles, varying from lean and elegant to rich and full-bodied. As outlined in the Irish Times some time ago, Dr. Eilís Cryan of Kinnegar Wines seems to be on a one-woman mission to bring us the finest that South Africa produces, including the Trafford wines.


I really enjoyed the Trafford tasting; not only were the wines excellent and full of character, but David Trafford was an interesting and very open speaker. For instance he argues that the importance of older vines is overdone. ‘Some varieties need vine age more than others. Mourvèdre is one; but you can get great Shiraz after three years – remember that the first Côte Rotie La Turque in the 1970’s was made from three year old vines. Cabernet needs a few years, but it is already quite a concentrated grape, and the very old ones are not always the best.’ Not something you often hear from a producer.


The two Trafford houses are de Trafford and Sijnn (pronounced ‘sane’). De Trafford is the family estate, on the hillside looking down on the heart of Stellenbosch. Trafford trained as an architect before moving to London in 1984 to avoid conscription into the South African army. He became interested in wine, and worked the 1989 vintage in St. Emilion. It was there he realised he says ‘that winemaking is not that difficult if you have good vineyards and look after them’. They had always made hobby wine on the family farm, so on his return he set out to become a red wine producer. The first vines were Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Following a trip to the Loire, they added a Chenin Blanc to the range, but sourced it from neighbour’s vineyards – ‘there are so many older vineyards in Stellenbosch there was no point in planting’ says Trafford. ‘There is more competition now, but it is still easy to access very good quality grapes.’

The second estate, Sijnn, was founded in 2000. ‘We are 40 kilometres from the next vineyard. There is a great diversity of terroir in the rolling mountains – both soil and climate. We are 15 kilometres from the coast, at 400 metres, giving a cooler climate with moderate rainfall, rolled stones over shale with good water-holding capacity. Most of the grapes go into two wines, a red blend and a white. The white is mainly Chenin, with around 15% Viognier (there is Roussanne, Marsanne, Verdelho and Assyrtiko to come). The red is an eclectic blend of roughly 40% Syrah with 25% Touriga Nacional, 20% Mourvèdre, 12% Trincadeira, and a little Cabernet. Trafford brought along tank samples of each variety from the 2013 vintage for us to taste as well as the final blend. This was a fascinating exercise; it is rare to be able to do a tasting like this, particularly with such unusual grapes. The Trincadeira was fresh and floral, the Mourvèdre more structured, the Touriga perfumed concentrated and elegant. The Syrah was the star for me, beautifully savoury and meaty with tobacco and dark fruits, while retaining a real elegance. The assemblage was proof, if needed, that blending can produce a wine that is greater than the constituent parts.

The winemaking appears straightforward. They have only ever used wild yeasts, they have never filtered; fermentation and maturation is done in a mixture of 400 – 700 litre barrels. The wines were quite amazing in their ability to combine relatively high alcohol with a real freshness and elegance. This was evident in the wines of both estates; we tried the Elevation 393, perfectly balanced with an alcohol level of 15.53%!


De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2012


Nicely textured, medium-bodied wine with real interest: lightly floral with citrus aromas; plump melons and honey, with some toasty oak on the palate, underpinned by good acidity.

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Sijnn White 2012

84% Chenin Blanc, 16% Viognier


An incredibly seductive wine with creamy rich ripe peach fruits and custard, subtle toasted nuts and a good finish. There is a good clean mineral acidity to keep it from straying into to far into lush territory. A delicious and complex wine.

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Sijnn Red 2010

(41% Syrah, 27% Tourgia Nacional, 18% Mourvèdre, 10% Trincadeira, 4% Cabernet.



Wild dark fruits on nose and palate; perfectly ripe with a strong mineral element. Refreshing smooth and powerful with very good dry length. A very impressive wine that evolves in the glass.

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Sijnn Syrah 2011


Elegant dark fruits on the nose, showing through again on the palate with a lean refinement. Some spicy oak showing through a little, but the overall impression is of a beautiful complex elegant wine.


De Trafford Blueprint 2012



Made from a neighbour’s vineyard, this is a very impressive wine. Sleek hugely concentrated loganberry fruits overlaid with mint, herbs and pepper. Amazingly for a wine of this power, it retains a lovely clean refreshing acidity. This is Platter’s wine of the year in 2015.

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De Trafford Elevation 393 2010



A richly fruity nose leads on to a broad palate of blackcurrants and forest fruits, with good firm tannins on a lingering finish. I could not believe this wine had an alcohol level of over 15%; it drinks like 13.5%!

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