What I Drank Last Night
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Cape of Good Hope Terroir Specific Wines

Lauren of Meridian Wine Merchants pours Cape of Good Hope Laing Semillon 2010.

Yesterday the culmination of a systematic search begun in 2006 and authorised by businessman and owner of Franschhoek property L’Ormarins Johann Rupert to list all South Africa’s old vineyards. Chairman of Swiss-based luxury goods company Richemont, he drew a comparison between wine and fashion. “At Richemont, we don’t tolerate super-star designers. Our intellectual capital is in the safe. We’re not going to have [watch designer] Louis Cartier come back to deliver anti-gay, anti-Semitic rants like Galliano did which so compromised the Dior business. Just as it’s the maison that’s ultimately important when it comes to fashion, it’s vineyards not winemakers that are key in wine”.

Rupert, who smoked throughout a two-hour presentation and wine tasting, was in full cry. “As a wine producing country, we need to differentiate ourselves in the global market or accept [ruinous] price cutting. One way of ensuring a unique offering is to retain these old vineyards”.

Wines from these old vineyards are necessarily going to sell at a premium because yields per hectare are low. “If the consumer is not prepared to pay R100 to R120 a bottle, then the economics don’t work. Producer and media must jointly accept the challenge of influencing consumers to accept that they are getting something special,” he said.

He identified excessive alcohol levels and the debilitating effects of leaf-roll on quality virus are the major challenges for South African wine going forward, and again old vineyards were identified as vital towards an improved product on account of being so well adapted to local conditions.

Viticulturist Rosa Kruger and high-profile winemaker Eben “Surferboy” Sadie (as he was dubbed by Rupert on the night) were tasked with scouring the length and breadth of the Cape in search of these old vines and now a list of 97 vineyards older than 40 years exists.

“Why do old vineyards typically makes wines of such great distinction?” was Kruger’s rhetorical question. “I think it’s because they are in balance with their environment. They have all the variations of wind, rain, drought and heat wave embedded in their memory banks and they have deep, well-developed root systems. All of this must deliver wines with more of a sense of terroir than variety.

Until recently, the produce of these old vines have mainly been blended away or sold off. Anthonij Rupert Wines has now entered into partnerships with specific owners of old vineyards to bring a limited series of wines to market under the Cape of Good Hope label, and various other leading winemakers were invited to the launch function in the hope that they would strike up similar partnerships with such growers.

The Cape of Good Hope series consists of:
Van Lill & Visser Chenin Blanc 2010 (from properties on Skurfberg near Lamberts Bay)
Laing Semillon 2010 (from a property between Lamberts Bay and Clanwilliam)
Serruria Chardonnay 2010 (from Elandskloof near Villiersdorp)
Basson Pinotage 2007 (from a property in the Paardeberg)
Parel Vallei Farmstead Merlot 2007 (from Johann Rupert’s own Somerset West property)

The Semillon is the most immediately appealing of the five wines bursting with fruit but balanced by tangy acidity; the Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay both come across as more reserved in comparison, these wines about structure rather than aromatics and fruit expression and requiring more application on the part of the drinker to obtain full enjoyment although this is not at all to their detriment. The reds I found appealing but not quite as accomplished as the whites: the Pinotage shows plenty of sweet, juicy fruit and rather soft tannins, the Merlot is inoffensive but a bit plain.

Comments

  1. Winemaker says:

    @ Karen: Demand/supply? Apparently comes from 0,5 hct vineyard producing +/- 1000 bottles and sold out

  2. Dear Karen
    The Merlot comes from half a hectare in the middle of Somerset West “Proprietor of Anthonij Rupert Wines, Johann Rupert has taken a personal interest in this parcel of fruit – since it is planted literally in his backyard!”
    We get a mere 1000 bottles a year from this vineyard and feel that the site gives us a distinctive character to this wine and it has therefore been included in the Cape of Good Hope range.
    Trust this sheds a little more light.
    Tracey

  3. Why is Mr. Rupert’s 10 year old Merlot the most expensive?

  4. Chris, I’m writing about it on WOSA’s blog – I’m sure either Tim or Melvyn will cover it, though I suspect as both have newspaper columns, it wll end up in one of those first.

  5. Chris Alheit says:

    HI Angela. Thanks for elaborating, I’m glad we’re on the same page. it’s defininitley a worthy cause. When is one of you at Grape gong to post something then? Stay well. Chris

  6. Winemaker and Chris, I agree that Johann invited the winemakers to encourage them to be practically involved in this project; I was merely repeating what one – actually older – winemaker said to me. For the record, I’m not at all cynical about it; Ithink it’s an excellent idea and a worthy cause, especially as the area these old vineyards cover – +- 250ha – is a drop in the ocean of the entire Cape vineyard. I do hope the initiative turns up more.

  7. Kwispedoor says:

    Hi, Grant. It goes without saying that ANY wine that’s really good at its price is worthwhile. Reading the available info just doesn’t inspire me to thinking I would buy it. Competing with it in the R150+ category, is a host of awesome wines across many cultivars. Not having tasted it, of course I could be wrong (but I’m available for a blind tasting of “Best SA Merlots” or “SA Reds Over R200).

  8. Kwisp,

    What if the wine is really good? 

  9. Kwispedoor says:

    R235 for ANY Merlot from SA is a bit ambitious. I haven’t tasted the wine, but “… inoffensive but a bit plain” SA Merlot from 10-year old vineyards with arguably not much of a track record doesn’t get me excited. The Semillon does. Would these wines be/become available in Gauteng?

  10. Christian says:

    Price per bottle of the wines in the Cape of Good Hope series are as follows:

    Van Lill & Visser Chenin Blanc 2010: R95
    Laing Semillon 2010: R125
    Serruria Chardonnay 2010: R140
    Basson Pinotage 2007: R190
    Parel Vallei Farmstead Merlot 2007: R235

    It also bears mentioning that not all the vineyards are that old but rather have been selected on their potential to make outstanding wine. Ages are as follows:

    Van Lill vineyard: 28 years old
    Visser vineyard: 36 years old
    Laing vineyard: 50 years old
    Serruria vineyard: 8 years old
    Basson vineyard: 40 years old
    Parel Vallei vineyard: 10 years old

  11. Winemaker says:

    @Angela: Cannot understand your posting. You and I were both there. Why write “One winemaker I spoke to is now worried that Johann R will snap up all the old vine stuff he can find, including what this winemaker already vinifies, and do so at a price that few other winemakers can afford”?  Johann and Rosa already knew where all the sites are – and still invited the farmers to meet the other winemakers.
    This is typical of the “tasters/writers” in our wine industry – be cynical and critical without thinking.

  12. Chris Alheit says:

    Hello All. Firstly well done to L’Ormarins. I thought it was an incredibly slick event and, from a young producer’s point of view, one of the most significant steps forward in a largley stagnated game.
    I think its brilliant that a person with such substantial recources has the savvy and conviction to preserve these old treasures. Of course Mike, old vines don’t equal good wines. However, old vines on great sites (which may or may not have survived for the reasons that you’ve offered) yield wines that are not only effortlessly good and profoundly expressive of place, but also serve as a valuable cultural artifact. We should hold on to these for dear life. Angela, I think the concerns voiced by the young winemaker that you spoke to are unfounded. For what other possible reason would a small army of the Cape’s young winemaking folk (including my wife and I) have been invited, and then supplied with a list of these treasures complete with contact details if not to further the cause? We are personally already working with a handful of the farmers on Rosa’s list, and believe me the fruit price is not the issue. You still pay less for a ton of unreal old vine Chenin or Semillion fruit than you would for a ton of so called good Sauvignon blanc cropped at 10 tons/ha. It’s only my opinion, but the former fruit makes an infinitely more intruiging wine that the latter. Let’s hope this situation changes for the ske of the farmers holding on to these old vines. Certainly as demand increases, which it will, the fruit prices will rise accordingly. Holding on to old vines will only then start to make real sense for the farmer. So for goodness sake lets wake up the public. Thanks kindly, Chris Alheit

  13. Hi Mike, I do not think that idea is in any way different to what was expressed last night. I did not get the impression that it is all old vines for old vines sake. 

    What was interesting was the notion that over time, with vineyards experiencing season after season, the vines produce grapes with a more solid sense of their origins. 

    As Prof. Deloire said, it “does not mean that the wines will be better, but they will be different.” That difference is local, that difference is what makes them South African.  

  14. Here’s my theory:

    Old vines do not produce better wines because they are old!

    They are ‘old vines’ because they were never uprooted. They were never uprooted because they were always producing good quality fruit and survived multiple decisions on their suitability for a particular terroir.

    Therefore logic would insist that the best ‘old vine’ vineyards always produced excellent fruit – not just when they became old.

  15. Christian, as much as most of us know who the chairman of Richemont is, I think it would be helpful to those not aware to insert Johann Rupert’s name and not keep others guessing!
    Harry, the trouble with getting the younger or even other older winemakers on board is a) money – as Johann R indicatd the necessary nuture doesn’t come cheap. One winemaker I spoke to is now worried that Johann R will snap up all the old vine stuff he can find, including what this winemaker already vinifies, and do so at a price that few other winemakers can afford.

  16. Damn. That was quick. Going to have to find a different angle. Didn’t sleep in a car, so I cant use that one. 

    I agree with Roland, great to see money being channeled into this sort of effort. I also hope that the younger wine makers who were there started relationships with some of the farmers. I thought that a very important part of the event. Wonder if it worked? 

  17. I new you weren’t taking a picture of the bottle! It was great to hear Rupert is putting money into old vines in SA; it felt like a benchmark moment in SA wine.

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