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The Path to Something Great


7 March 2017  -  Tshepang Molisana

Four roads diverged in a vineyard, and I attempted to take the clay paths less travelled by. The path lead me to Asara wine Estate in Stellenbosch, it lead me to Nederburg’s new vines in Paarl, to Bouchard Finlayson in Hermanus and to Lourensford in Somerset West.

During a chandelier-lit tasting in Asara Wine Estate’s voluminous cellar, Asara’s winemaker, Danielle le Roux imparted, “we winemakers want to make something great”.

Beneath the classically beautiful chandeliers of Asara’s romantic cellar, we tasted an unusual Cabernet Sauvignon – The White Cab (2016). What makes The White Cab an atypical Cabernet Sauvignon is its golden, rather than burgundy colour.

Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the world's best-loved red wine varieties has its roots in a white wine of similar distinction. DNA profiling at Davis University in 1997 demonstrated conclusively that Cabernet Sauvignon was a cross between two Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.

Asara set aside a vineyard of optimal quality on their picturesque Estate. The winemaking team sought an east facing vineyard with conditions known to enable extended ripening and produced the first white Cabernet Sauvignon that South Africa had seen. At present, 2012-2016 vintages are available.

The grapes are picked early at low sugar with the colour development being very low and the Cabernet is fermented as a white wine. The resultant white wine is less aggressive and buxom than its red wine counterpart. The bouquet is pleasantly floral with whiffs of peach on the nose.

Tatsing this unique wine lead me to wonder what other unique varietals and winemaking methods were explored in 2016.

Late last year, I had the privilege of joining Nederburg’s assistant farm manager, Zelda Claasen for a special planting to celebrate their Paarl farm’s 225 Year Legacy.

Under the inescapable glare of Paarl’s summer sun, novice farmers and Nederburg’s team planted a row of Chambourcin - an interspecific French-American hybrid grape. Among Chambourcin’s charming qualities, is its ability to withstand pests, diseases and extreme weather conditions. The block upon which Nederburg has planted their Chambourcin, has been given leave to rest for three years in order to improve the quality of the hard-working granite soil, and was previously home to a block of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Likewise, Bouchard Finlayson’s winemaker, Chris Albrecht has risen to the ‘something great’ challenge at the Hermanus estate upon which he makes wine. As an integral part of the winemaking team for the past five years, he has been a fundamental part of the Estate’s impressive success. The Bouchard Finlayson legacy has been imparted to steady hands.

At a blind tasting in Cape Town, Albrecht shared a 1997 Galpin Peak Pinot Noir that achieved a round of ‘oohs-and-ah’s’ from guests. In addition, the wine estate’s recent awards from the South African Wine Index, is indicative of the dexterous hands in which Galpin Peak has been placed.

Lourensford Cellarmaster, Hannes Nel is another South African winemaker who has harvested fine fruit in 2016. Lourensford Limited Release Winemakers Selection Chardonnay 2015, White Blend 2012 and Viognier 2012 were among a handful of wines from the Estate that bore enviable awards for the Somerset West Estate. Only 80 out of 8750 wines from 50 countries achieved a Grand Gold Medal at Councours de Mondiall de Bruxelles. Lourensford Limited Release Chardonnay 2015, was one of the awards that achieved this honour.

Vinpro Day, held in January 2017 revealed that 2016 served a breadth of challenges. Some of the difficulties faced by many in the South African wine industry in 2016 included low rainfall, a weakened rand and global political uncertainty.

Despite the challenges of 2016, South Africa’s winemaking fraternity has rose to the occasion. By planting unique grapes, and excelling at making world-renowned varietals, South African winemakers are forging the path to create “something great” in 2017.