Posted on 30 August 2012 by davidbiggs
I love a wine label that tells a story because every wine has a story to tell. It’s not a factory-made product like beer or fizzy cola. Wine is the product of one particular set of vines, one particular season and the imagination of one particular winemaker.
When this story is reflected on the label I am always happy to spend time reading it.
I love the story of the changing season that surround Waterkloof’s Circle of Life wines, for example, and I enjoy finding hidden secrets on Adi Badenhorst’s AA Badenhorst Family wines. (Why’s that little jackal sneaking off to one side?)
I have enjoyed reading the new label they’ve put on Zonnebloem’s flagship red blend, the 2010 Laureat. It’s been made from the classic Bordeaux grape varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, picked from various vineyards in the Stellenbosch region and matured for at least 14 months in a selection of French, Hungarian and American oak barrels. All under the watchful eye of winemaker Bonny van Niekerk.
This is a big, bold wine packed with dark fruit flavours underpinned by some very elegant oak notes, some dark chocolate hints and even a whiff of rich cigar tobacco. It would be a pity to glug it down while watching rugby on TV. Laureat deserves our full attention.
It’s drinking very well already, even though it’s only two years old, but I believe it will reward a few more years of maturation. It could be wonderful in 10 years, if you have the patience. I don’t.
When you have the right occasion, serve it with a big, hearty meat dish – venison or an ox-tail casserole would match it well.
Back to the label: the designers have combined elements of the family crests of the Malherbe and De villiers families, both involved in the history of Zonnebloem. The first Malherbe, Petrus, gave the name Zonnebloem to his farm back in the late 1600s. The lion was part of his family crest.
Later the farm was owned by the De Villiers family, whose lamb and upraised scimitar can be seen on the label, together with their family motto: “La Main La L’Oeuvre”, which I am told means “the hand that works”.
Tucked away on the edges of the design you can also see the ornate gable of the original Zonnebloem farmhouse, as well as a very fancy trophy won by the wine. There have been many of them down the years.
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 31 August 2010 by davidbiggs
Can wine drinkers save the planet?
Some wine producers certainly seem to believe this is so.
The pamphlet that came with my order of Obikwa wines proclaimed: “Save the Planet. Drink Obikwa.”
And the way the Obikwa people plan to save the planet is by reducing the glass content of their bottles. The new Obikwa bottle weighs 100g less than a standard wine bottle. This, the producers claim, means a saving in packaging materials and a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. For every 1000 bottles of Obikwa we drink, we save 109kg of carbon dioxide emissions.
At Backsberg they’ve taken a different route toward planet saving, by putting their “Tread Lightly” range of wines in lightweight PET plastic bottles.
Backsberg takes its planet saving very seriously and became the first South African wine farm to be declared “carbon neutral”.
This means they reduce carbon emissions by the same amount they produce.
Backsberg’s PET bottles weigh a whole lot less than even the Obikwa bottle and come in at a mere 50g each.
And they bounce if you drop them.
They say the reduced diameter of the bottle allows up to 36% more wine to be packed into the same space as used for conventional bottles.
All these reductions in weight and volume mean that less energy is required to transport the wine from place to place.
It’s good to see that our wine companies are making an effort to be more planet-friendly, but the final impact on the planet rests with us consumers.
There’s not much point in saving a gram or two of carbon dioxide emission if we drive our big 4×4 urban tractor all the way to Backsberg from Sea Point in order to collect a case of Tread Lightly Sauvignon Blanc, is there?
I suppose part of the answer is to buy your wines as close to home as possible. Even if your local wine shop sells Obikwa or Tread Lightly at 50cents a bottle more than the hypermarket five km away, you’ll be helping by making the shorter journey and paying the few cents extra.
Your planet will thank you for it.
I often bang on about the joys of drinking dry rosé wines in our South Africa climate. They seem to me to provide the perfect accompaniment to casual, but elegant outdoor living.
The latest of these to come my way was the Circumstance Cape Coral 2010, produced by Waterkloof, near Somerset West.
The Cape Coral is made from Mourvedre grapes and has the palest pink colour imaginable. It has delightfully zesty red-berry flavours and a fresh, dry finish, making it the perfect accompaniment to summer meals of smoked salmon, gypsy ham or a traditional Cape pickled fish.
I find the idea of naming a wine range “Circumstance” rather charming. Estate owner Paul Boutinot explained to me that the wines would probably differ from vintage to vintage, but each was made to the very highest standards the circumstances of the season would allow.
As far as reducing their own carbon emissions is concerned, Waterkloof has bought a team of elegant Percheron horses to work the vineyards, rather than rely solely on emission-producing tractors.
Apart from anything else, they certainly do look grand as they move sedately among the vine rows.
Incidentally, the farm’s restaurant and tasting facilities at the top of a steep mountain slope provide one of the most spectacular views of False Bay possible. It’s worth a visit for that alone. To get there, drive through the Sir Lowry’ Pass Village from Somerset West and watch for the turn-off.
Photo: Courtesy of Backsberg Estate Cellar