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Wine Industry Legend Ken Forrester “Mr Chenin” recognized for Visionary Leadership

08 February 2023

  • Ken Forrester receiving the 1659 Visionary Leadership Award at the Wine Harvest Commemorative Event in Cape Town (2023)

Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc pioneer, Ken Forrester, was the recipient of the 1659 Visionary Leadership Award, for his profound contribution towards the South African wine industry. This prestigious award was presented at the annual Wine Harvest Commemorative Event, hosted in Cape Town, on Thursday 2 February 2023.

Forrester has had a significant impact on the South African wine industry as a flag-bearer for Chenin Blanc. He has been devoted to this varietal since 1993, when he and his wife, Teresa, decided to buy a 50-ha run down Stellenbosch property at an auction. A massive renovation was undertaken, both in the vineyards (Ken) and the house (Teresa). Ken was advised to uproot an old Chenin vineyard and to rather plant with Pinotage or Chardonnay.  But something stopped him, saying “I wanted to give it a chance”.

A second chance: both for Forrester, who was at that stage a restaurateur in Johannesburg, and an old Chenin Blanc vineyard that was destined for the chopping block. With most of the vineyard planted to Chenin Blanc, it was decided to enlist the help of good friend and top winemaker, Martin Meinert, with the quest to produce Chenin Blanc that could rival any white wine in the world.

Since then, the wines have been poured at numerous grand events, including the opening of the Scottish Parliament, as well as the 85th birthday of South Africa’s own icon, former President Mandela.  Ken’s Chenin Blanc has received  considerable international acclaim, receiving literally hundreds of awards and accolades. Most recently, the Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2021 was recognized as the world’s top Chenin Blanc at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

South African Chenin Blancs are today acknowledged as among the world’s finest wines, with a group of visionary South African wine producers not only fast spreading the word, but also continually providing hard evidence by producing Chenin Blanc wines of increasingly remarkable quality.

An illustrious career that led Ken to Stellenbosch:

Zambian born to a miner of Scottish descent, Ken Forrester enjoyed the unfettered childhood in the bush, riding a bike to school through the veld - perhaps a forewarning of his charity ride 40 years ago from Johannesburg to Durban to Cape Town in 21 days! Here he visited the Winelands for the first time and felt an immediate longing to participate, to live the farm life and make wine.

It wasn’t going to be that simple!  Schooled in Gauteng he was accepted to the School of Hotel Management and hoped for a career on luxury liners, visiting the world on a working vacation. Alas, it wasn’t going to be that easy!  Sanctions took hold and the luxury liners - all those Union Castle ships, stopped coming to South Africa and he ended up working in hotels - specifically for Southern Sun Hotels on the Opening Management Team, headed directly by the late Visionary Sol Kerzner. This time was life-changing and opening three hotels in the space of a year was possibly the most exciting, toughest, most pressured time imaginable.

In Mafeking they opened the first SA casino hotel in 1976 scheduled to be ready for the inauguration of Bophuthatswana and Premier Lucas Mangope – South Africa’s first “Homeland”.

This was followed by a distinguished career as restaurateur, where Ken built a partnership with Marc Guebert - possibly the best chef ever to work on South Africa - and between them they had five Johannesburg restaurants. To add to his workload, Ken went on to be Chairman of the South African Restaurant Association and of Fedhasa, through whom he arranged a tour to the USA for a group of 30 restaurateurs in 1993. This group visited the National Restaurant Show in Chicago and spent time in New York and Charleston. From this trip at least 20 new restaurants were spawned in Johannesburg and Durban.

Shortly after this trip, Ken and Teresa attended a property auction in Stellenbosch, which was the start of his winemaking journey and a catalyst for the South African Chenin Blanc revolution.

96 Winery Road Restaurant

96 Winery Road Restaurant

Somerset West, Western Cape Country, Grills, International

96 Winery Road Restaurant opened its doors in May 1996 with the intention of providing sumptuous cuisine set in the rolling hills of the Helderberg in Somerset West. Our inspiration comes from our ...