Posted on 29 January 2012 by davidbiggs
As far as I can see, there are two main streams of thought when it comes to winemaking. The traditional way is to allow the grapes to develop into whatever Nature has in mind for them.
Then there’s the “scientific” route, in which the winemaker works to a formula, creating a wine to suit what he or she knows the market wants.
Most of the budget priced wines we make fall into the second category. The producers try, by clever cellar technology, to make the same wine year after year, altering the acidity and sweetness, the tannin structure and colour to match last year’s crop.
This has the advantage of consistency. Buyers of these wines like to know they’re getting the same wine they enjoyed last month and last year.
The famous wine producers of France claim to make wines by the first method, which is why they say certain vintages are greater than others – it all depends on the weather, the wind, the warmth and the time at which the rain fell – or didn’t fall.
Some might say this is a cop-out. When you produce a bad bunch of wines you blame it on the vintage. It’s the grapes’ fault.
Of course, whatever they may say, the vintners of France use all the modern technology they can lay their hands on to encourage the vintage to be closer to the perfection they aim for. Nobody can afford to be absolutely purist these days.
On the local front there are many winemakers who try to let the season dictate the wine’s character. The emphasis has moved from the laboratory to the vineyard. By the time the grapes reach the press they’ve already been guided toward that goal of perfection. Bunches have been removed to decrease the yield, leaves have been removed to allow sunlight to filter through, a little irrigation at exactly the right time encourages root – or foliage – growth.
One of the wineries where circumstances dictate the result is Waterkloof, high in the mountains near Somerset West.
In fact, they label one of their top wines Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc.
Owner Paul Boutinot says the 2009 vintage was then best ever for his grapes.
The grapes for the Circumstance were slow to ferment, but Boutinot was in no hurry. They were allowed to go their own way and eventually, after a marathon 12 months of waiting, the wine was ready for bottling.
The result is a crisp and clean wine with a core of minerality and some deliciously subtle notes of greengage plums and wafts of herbal fynbos.
This is a wine to enjoy with seafood (grilled rather than fried) or a rich asparagus quiche. Or simply on its own as an aperitif on a summer’s day.
It sells for around R90 a bottle at the cellar.
Talking of circumstances, I’ve been watching the vines at Cape Point Vineyards (just around the corner from my home) with great interest.
In normal years (if there is such a thing at the Cape) the vines are battered by violent winds and searing heat until only a small fraction of the grape crop survives.
This year conditions have been generous. The vines stand lush and green, with very few berries damaged by wind and sun.
Winemaker Duncan Savage has not seen a similar vintage in his years at Cape Point, and it will be interesting to see what these particular circumstance produce.
Posted on 26 October 2011 by davidbiggs
I like a wine with a story.
Interesting wines often come with their own story – how they were made, why they were given that name, why the label was designed that way. It all helps to make the wine memorable.
I love the range of hats on the Wijnskool Sauvignon Blanc 2011 that arrived on my desk.
It’s one of the first wines to be produced by the wine academy founded by Diners Club winemaker of the year, Bartho Eksteen at his old school, the Hoer Landbouskool Boland in Paarl.
Bartho decided he wanted to give something back to his alma mater, so he approached Diners Club and they established the academy in 2009 in an unused building on the school grounds.
Bartho approached several winemakers in the area for financial help and the academy now teaches the basics of winemaking to youngsters at the school.
May it grow from strength to strength. I am sure many of our future winemaking stars will have had their first experience of cellar practice at Bartho’s academy.
Incidentally, it’s a pretty good Sauvignon Blanc too. I don’t imagine there’s much of it around.
Talking of unusual labels, several of my wine friends have shuddered at the label of the Cape Point Vineyards Splattered Toad wines.
Pretty gruesome, I agree.
But the point of it is to bring awareness to the plight of the Cape Leaopard toad, an endangered species that lives in the Noordhoek Valley.
During the breeding season these rare amphibians are often seen crossing the road at night and many of them are killed by unwary motorists.
Part of the proceeds from the sale of Splattered Toad goes toward the preservation of the animals and raising awareness of their plight.
Photograph: courtesy Cape Point Vineyards
Posted on 29 September 2011 by davidbiggs
I sometimes think white wines are rather a mystery to most South African drinkers.
Until very recently they have been regarded as the “B team” of wines. We expect to pay less for whites than we do for reds, and we want to drink our white wines when they’re still “fresh and young,” while we assume red wines need to be laid down for a while to mature.
Nederburg winemaker Razvan Macici and David discussing the potential of aged white wines.
I chatted to Nederburg winemaker Razvan Macici after the recent auction of rare wines and he said he felt it was a pity South Africans didn’t appreciate older white wines.
We’re missing out on some of the real delights of the wine spectrum by drinking our white wine too young.
Do we really enjoy sipping battery acid?
A well aged white wine can be truly charming. Weisser Riesling (also known as Rhine Riesling here) certainly benefits from a couple of years in the bottle. Chardonnay (and particularly a wooded Chardonnay) gains complexity and softness as it ages.
I’ve been agreeably surprised by many older Sauvignon Blancs and Chenin Blancs.
For those who appreciate a well-aged white wine, Nederburg Auction produced some real bargains.
Nederburg’s 2009 Private Bin D215 Sauvignon Blanc was a real steal at R60 a bottle.
The 2005 De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc was knocked down for its reserve price of R900 a six-bottle case.
Many wine drinkers will shudder as think: “That’s R150 a bottle! For a white wine! Crazy!”
But they wouldn’t be too shocked at the thought of paying R150 a bottle for a six-year-old red wine. Why the discrimination?
I believe this conception is changing, even if the change is a slow one.
Winemakers like Vergelegen’s André van Rensburg are producing really serious white wines made specifically for ageing. Vergelegen’s 2009 White scored a full five stars in the 2011 edition of the Platter Guide – and deservedly so.
Duncan Savage of Cape Point Vineyards makes only Sauvignon Blanc wines and his award-winning Isliedh (also a Platter five-star wine) is designed for longevity. Given a couple of years in bottle it unfolds in amazing complexity.
Boschendal’s 2008 Sauvignon Blanc is still youthful in spirit and will reach its peak only in another year or two.
Hamilton Russell’s ’09 Chardonnay could stand another couple of years of maturation and De Wetshof’s ’09 Rhine Riesling will benefit from at least two more years in the bottle.
We produce serious white wines of a standard the rest of the world can only dream of, but they’re not fully appreciated here in their country of origin.
Let’s start a revolution. Tell the world old is good. It’s not always the youth that win the prizes.
Photographs: Paula Loe, Matt Stow
Posted on 14 September 2011 by davidbiggs
To my embarrassment I had never visited Cape Point Vineyards, although they’re situated in Noordhoek, about five minutes drive from my front door.
When I finally made it this week I was even crosser with myself for having waited so long for the experience.
Cape Point Vineyards is a relative newcomer to the Cape wine scene, having been established as recently as 1996, and their first wines were bottled in 2000.
Many wine farmers will tell you their vines are “cooled by the fresh sea breezes from False Bay” but here at Cape Point Vineyards it’s more than just promotional talk. The south-east wind that rips through the Fish Hoek valley strips off almost 50% of the farms potential production. What’s left takes ages to ripen on the chilly mountain slopes. Their grapes are usually not picked much before mid-March, long after most Cape wineries have pressed their last berries.
A unique feature of Cape Point Vineyards is their total focus on Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
“Most wineries seem to want to be one-stop shops,” says cellarmaster Duncan Savage. “We’ve realized there’s one thing we can do well, so we concentrate on just that.” He produces four different Sauvignon Blancs, each from a specific vineyard and each with its distinctive character.
And just for fun there’s an additional label – Splattered Toad – made mainly from grapes sourced elsewhere and sold partly in aid of the campaign to save the endangered western leopard toad. Splattered Toad Red is the farm’s only red wine and is a Shiraz-based blend, very drinkable at R52 a bottle.
Unlike most Cape white wines, Duncan’s Sauvignon Blancs are made for longevity. He recommends that his flagship wine, the Isliedh (pronounced “ilah”) be kept for at least three years before drinking. It’s delicious, so that’s not going to be easy.
These are serious, individual wines, all of which scored four stars and more in the recent Platter Guide.
But the biggest surprise is the farm itself. From the Noordoek main road it appears to be just a rather ordinary building situated on a mountainside. Go there and you’re rewarded with a spectacular panoramic view over the Noordhoek valley to Kommetijie and the sea.
They’re developing areas that will be used as venues for outdoor events, family picnics and concerts. If you’re lucky enough to be taken up the steep track to the top of the farm you’ll never forget the breathtaking view.
Don’t miss it. For more, visit firstname.lastname@example.org or log on to the website.
Photograph: David Biggs