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Richard Branson's South African hotel launches new wine joint-venture with English winemaking firm

Published:  19 March, 2015

Richard Branson's luxury hotel collection, Virgin Limited Edition, has joined forces with an English wine consultancy firm, Litmus Wines, to launch a new wine business.

The new joint-venture, Mont Rochelle Winery Ltd, will see Litmus Wines and VLE's work together to produce VLE's first wine brand, which will be available in its hotels and restaurants. It will also be sold internationally through the on-trade and specialist independent merchants.

The move follows VLE's acquisition last year of Mont Rochelle Hotel and wine estate, Mountain Vineyards, in South Africa's Western Cape, in the wine-producing region of Franschhoek.

Mont Rochelle Winery Ltd will produce three tiers of wines, an "accessible" entry level comprising a red and a wine blend that will replace Mont Rochelle's existing Artemis range; a premium Mont Rochelle range focussed on the terroir of Franschhoek and the ultra-premium Miko range of small parcel wines that will primarily be available in Mont Rochelle's two restaurants and across the VLE estate. 

It also has a "museum" range of previous vintages and will look to release some of these as reserve wines.

John Worontschak, founder and director of Litmus Wines said the joint-venture gave Litmus the opportunity to invest in an exciting new wine business as well as to produce high quality wines. He described the joint venture as a "back and front of house arrangement", whereby Litmus will oversee improvements to the wine cellars and manage ongoing winemaking and international wine sales.

"It is a thrill and a privilege to work with a group of people dedicated to the highest quality in all they do. We are looking forward to playing our part in the rejuvenation of this great mountain vineyard," he said. 

The Litmus Wine Team, Jon Worontschak, Mike Florence and winemaker Matthieu Elzinga

The Litmus Wine Team, Jon Worontschak, Mike Florence and winemaker Matthieu ElzingaThe Litmus Wine TeamThe Litmus Wine Team, general manager Mike Florence, founder and chief winemaker Jon Worontschak, and winemaker Matthieu Elzinga

The estate comprises 12 hectares of vineyards, and includes a mixture of vines, including cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot, and petit verdot. Around 5m rand has already been spend modernising the winery, Worontschak said. The winery has also employed former head winemaker Dustin Osborne, who left the estate in 2010. 

VLE's managing director Jon Brown said Litmus Wines's expertise in winemaking, wine business and international sales make them an excellent fit with the luxury LVE brand. 

Litmus Wines was founded in 2008 as a winemaking and consultancy business. Based in Dorking, it works with small wineries in the UK and around the world as a consultant on all aspects of winemaking, marketing and business development. It is the contract winemaker for English premium wine Denbies as well as producing its own brand of still wines. 

VLE operates Sir Richard Branson's collection of exclusive retreats and luxury hotels across the world, including Necker Island, The Lodge in Verbier, Mahali Mzuri in Kenya, and Ulusabah in South Africa.