It feels a little like I’m walking into the lion’s den as I push open the door to Achim von Arnim’s study and art studio. Achim has a reputation that precedes him. Larger than life, sure. Eccentric, definitely. Visionary? Absolutely.
Achim is the erstwhile cellarmaster and founder of famed Franschhoek wine estate, Haute Cabrière. The cellar is carved into the side of a mountain—pushed to the very rocky edge of what’s possible, it’s extreme. But then everything Achim does is. There’s no middleground. That would be too boring.
South African born Achim followed his German roots by studying at Geisenheim. (The von Arnims can trace their Germanic lineage all the way to the 12th century.) There he became great friends with local chardonnay legend Danie de Wet. “Danie studied hard, and I played hard. Luckily I’ve forgotten most of the things I got up to!”
In the 1970s Achim landed the pivotal job as cellarmaster at Boschendal “I took the job on the condition that no one would come and bother me in the cellar.” It’s just as well he was left alone; it was here he developed the first Blanc de Noir in South Africa. He soon saw the potential for making Champagne style sparkling wines in Franschhoek, and so he purchased a piece of land in the early 1980s, then called Clos Cabrière.
Here he developed the region’s first MCC—in an area that is now so awash in bubbly it has an official Cap Classique route. The iconic MCC is called Pierre Jourdan and was named for the farm’s original owner, a French Huguenot. Pierre christened the farm, which dates back to 1694, for his hometown Cabrière.
A first for a first. Achim was the first to plant pinot noir in Franschhoek for the production of Pierre Jourdan Brut: a classic blend of chardonnay and pinot noir. The chardonnay he sourced from his friend, Danie de Wet.
At that time Cabriére was the first South African winery to be devoted entirely to the production of MCCs, but has since, of course expanded its portfolio with a few other firsts, namely the staggeringly successful Haute Cabriére Chardonnay Pinot Noir. A still wine blend, which was also the first of its kind.