A Vision for the future
Backsberg is first-and-foremost a wine producer but it also creates some brilliant brandies. Throughout his career on Backsberg, the late Sydney Back had the vision to produce an estate brandy. But it was only when South Africa’s liquor laws were amended to permit the making of brandy on wine estates that Sydney was afforded the chance. Essentially, Sydney wanted to find the best method to produce fine brandy that could be considered as an equivalent to the great Cognacs of France.
Even though Sydney wanted to find an equivalent, he would never be able to call his brandy a ‘Cognac’. For a brandy to bear the name ‘Cognac’, the production of the liquor needs to meet certain legal requirements but most importantly it needs to be produced within the six regions surrounding Cognac, in France. Thus, Sydney decided he would make his brandy in a ‘Cognac-like style’.
There are some things you need to know about a Cognac in order to distinguish it from a proto-typical brandy. First, Cognacs are made from wine whilst brandies are often made from either wine or fermented fruit juice. Second, with a Cognac the wine is distilled twice in a copper pot-still. Third, it is aged for at least two years in French oak barrels; and last, the wine used in its production is made from certain white grape varieties, many of which are not grown within the South African context.
Sydney’s brandy, therefore, needed to bear some similarity to its French Cognac cousins. As a result, the first thing Sydney did was purchase a pot-still straight from Cognac. He then fermented exclusively Chenin Blanc grapes to create his base. Whilst a white variety, Chenin is not normally used in the production of Cognacs, but Sydney believed this variety would be the perfect choice for his brandy. The wine, or base as it is known, was then double-distilled in the copper pot-still producing pure spirit. Next, the pure spirit was placed in oak barrels for a lengthy maturation period. In South Africa, by law, a pot-still brandy needs to be aged for a minimum of three years in French oak barrels and Sydney abided to the legislation in his attempt to create a truly spectacular brandy. Finally, he blended his brandy according to his own special recipe, bottled it, and shipped it.
Over the years, Sydney continued to improve on his recipe and by 1995, he had become a master distiller and brandy connoisseur. He even went on to win the Domecq Trophy at the London International Wine and Spirits Competition for Best Brandy in the World.
We currently hold the Sydney Back 10 Year, the Sydney Back 15 year, and the Sydney Back 1st Distillation, now a 25 year vintage, in our brandy collection and hope to continue to add to it in the next few years. Sydney Back Brandy is something truly special. It has heart, soul and a bit of punch, just like its namesake.