What I Drank Last Night
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De Trafford Cabernet Sauvignon vertical

Seamless.

Yesterday a tasting of the 1993, 1996 and 2000 through 2009 vintages of De Trafford Cabernet Sauvignon.

The winery is situated on Mont Fleur farm up against the slopes of the Helderberg mountains between Stellenbosch and Somerset West and though the property is 200ha in size, only 5ha is under vineyard.

When it comes to Cab, however, owner-winemaker David Trafford believes that it’s variety which “needs a bit of blending” in order to achieve best results and for the last while has bought in additional fruit from immediate neighbour Keermont and nearby Post House. In addition, he typically includes a dash of Merlot in the final wine.

The Trafford family acquired Mont Fleur in 1977 and a period of experimentation in winemaking lasted from 1984 to 1991. First commercial release was 1992 and the De Trafford has subsequently become one of South Africa’s boutique labels (total production: 3 500 cases).

Trafford’s approach in the cellar has remained largely unchanged over the years and typically involves spontaneous ferment, two weeks of skin contact, basket press into barrels, 40% new and maturation lasting around 22 months. “I don’t want to be dogmatic but I consider winemaking technique part of terroir. If your method makes you a little bit different to your neighbour, then you must retain it,” says Trafford

Stand-out wines from yesterday were the 2001, not exactly primary but moving along the maturation curve in stately fashion; the super-charged 2005, powerful and weighty but not at all crass; and the 2007, which was pure and focused and shows great promise.

The increase of alcohol levels in the modern era is a perennial issue but never more so when considering De Trafford wines – while the abv of  the 1993 Cab was a very modest 12.47%, this jumps to 15% in the case of the 2000 and subsequent vintages are all there or there abouts. Trafford is unapologetic about this: “I’m not trying to make wine to cover all bases. De Trafford Cab is a special occasion treat – you’re not supposed to mow through it,” he says. “I’m sure I could drop alcohol for the sake of appearances but then the wine would lose richness and appear more green and why would I want to do that?”

Comments

  1. Thanks, Christian. That’s often what I find to be the case, but sadly many modern day winemakers still choose to stay so fixated on avoiding “greenness” as if it’s the alfa and omega of winemaking where all other considerations compete for a distant second spot. If a winery’s wines never displayed unripe character (which nobody really likes) but balance, some semblance of elegance and perhaps even a sense of terroir at 13% alcohol, one might well lament the losses that came with the massive stylistic shift…

  2. Hi Kwispedoor, I found the 1993 at 12.47% abv to be a very impressive wine but at the other end of the stylistic spectrum to the 2000s: Lean rather than attenuated, savoury rather than sweet-fruited, classic rather than modern. The issue then not so much about “green” vs. “ripe” but rather “elegance” vs “power”…

  3. IMHO De Trafford has made some cracking wines over the years and seems to be one of the very few producers that manages to ‘absorb’ those high alcohols at times (Vergelegen is another that comes to mind, though many more claim this without merit). I’d love to ask you, Christian: were you bothered by any ‘green’ or unripe tannins on the wines in this flight that had 14% and lower alc?

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