Last week, I had the privilege of traveling to Toronto, Canada to take part in an initiative to further understand South African wines and learn about the PIWOSA group (Premium Independant Wineries of South Africa). What a treat it was to meet these 9 gentlemen (and 1 lady) who represented not only their wineries, but their country as well, with fabulous (and not full of band-aid Brett) wines!
De Grendel Wines – owner and managing director De Villiers Graaff was on hand to share wine from his winery outside of Cape Town. Land bought by his grandfather in 1891, this area would be considered one of the most continental with high diurnal shifts in temperature. Typically lots of rain too, although drought has been a very real thing to manage this year. Specializing in sauvignon blanc, merlot and shiraz, his chardonnay was nothing to sneeze at, and in fact all of his wines were outstanding with the pinot noir being featured for trade in the morning. I was particularly impressed with the Shiraz, as it exhibited “Rhone-like” qualities with huge violets and pepper but all well balanced with acid and tannins. The pinot had a full nose of red pomegranate, strawberries and blueberries with just that hint of smoke and dried herbs on both the nose and palate. I hope one day I can sell these wines in the store. The quality was unbelievable.
The Drift – Bruce Jack, owner and winemaker comes from the most southerly and easterly vineyard of the ten, with weird and wacky blends that actually work! Bonfire Hill has a blend of shiraz/malbec/pinot noir/barbera/cinsault, while the Moveable Feast has an even wackier blend of shiraz/tannat/touriga nacional/malbec and pinot noir! Talk about represent! Bruce has experience making wine in many parts of the world in both hemispheres, giving him reason to feature all of these grapes! The monovarietal wine Gift Horse is made with 100% Barbera and was super savoury with lots of salami, pepper, balsamic with undertones of cardamom and slight cassis. A truly unique wine and winery!
Glenelly – Nicolas Bureau comes from a line of Bordeaux wine producing families, his grandmother being born in left bank Bordeaux, so being in the wine industry comes very naturally to Nicolas. His grandmother bought the estate in 2003 specifically to grow the varieties of Bordeaux, as it was found the alluvial soils were familiar to that of Bordeaux. These, along with chardonnay, make their home in Stellenbosch. The chardonnay was very pretty and quite classic with a full mouth feel and flavours of stone fruits, citrus, with vanilla and apple pie undertones. Fairly new to the South African wine industry, Glenelly is certainly making their mark.
Jordan Estate – Gary & Kathy Jordan own and make wine at the estate, and no, the wines in North America do NOT have a spelling error! Due to proprietary rights on another Canadian wine, in North America, they are known as Jardin. Gary is a geologist and Kathy is an economist, and between the two of them, they also make outstanding wine! Also located in Stellenbosch, they have a little bit of the main red varieties, but the main focus is chardonnay. And it’s no wonder as they offer three distinct styles: the completely stainless steel unoaked version, the regular oaked in 228l French barrique, and the one tasted, the Nine Yards chardonnay, (because they put the whole nine yards in there!); with the fruit coming from their best eastern facing vineyard that have well drained soils of old granite and white quartz surface gravels. This wine is fermented in barrel and spends 12 months ageing there also, not with battonage, but a full turning of the barrel from one end to the other, to ensure the lees covers all surface area of the wines. What a great chardonnay with great complexity and full flavours!
Journey’s End – if anything, Michael Dawson, Winemaker and Tom Hanson-Smith, Branch Development Manager, were super fun to be around! Always smiling, laughing or talking! Some great youth here to drive the brand, with the Destination Chardonnay, their flagship wine, showing incredible character and complexity, one of the highlight wines of the show for sure. For oaked chardonnay, I couldn’t help but wish my boss were on hand, as he would have completely LOVED all these South African chards, especially Destination, which showed huge complexity and depth. Not bad for Mike’s first vintage as winemaker to Journey’s End…I was more than impressed.
Ken Forrester – imagine my surprise when I returned from Toronto, to read my schedule and find out that it was the SAME Ken Forrester, whom I had just met coming to visit me in the store! My rep was even more surprised to discover that I had already tasted many of Ken’s wine! Ken is, in many ways, the captain of the PIWOSA ship, encouraging the alliance and traveling together, spreading the ‘gospel’ of the quality of South African wine. Ken’s philosophy about chenin blanc, is that it needed to be shaken out of its mold and start shining on its own. He has certainly done that with levels of chenin from entry level Petit right through to the stunner FMC. I decided to go middle-of-the-road with the Old Vine Reserve that had laser sharp acidity, complemented by flavours of peaches and cream, vanilla, toast and hints of cinnamon with a finish of brioche and baked apples. That two months in barrel makes a world of difference!
Klein Constantia – from the oldest wine region in South Africa, we were able to taste the famed Vin de Constance, a sweet wine made in an old Danish style bottle with the Muscat di Frontignan grape (aka Muscat Blanc a Petit Grain). Beautiful deep golden in colour with lots of dried apricots, marmalade, ginger and ripe peach, with a full bodied, unctuous mouth feel, but with the leveling out of high acidity to keep it from being cloying. With between 150-165 g/L RS you need that high acidity! Interesting little wine with ageing done in combination of French/Hungarian/acacia barrels, not botrytised grapes, but rather passilerage grapes (raisining on the vine rather than noble rot). Hans Astrom, managing director and partner of Klein Constantia, firmly believes the Vin de Constance can rival some of the best sweet wines in the world, at a fraction of the price.
Paul Cluver – Paul has his winery in Elgin, one of the coolest wine regions in the whole Cape, as it is surrounded by three mountain ranges. Mostly known for apple production, it is Paul’s family who has been instrumental in bringing the wine region of Elgin to a fine wine producing region. Known for aromatic whites, his winery is the largest producer of riesling in South Africa. No word of a lie, it was one of the best reislings I’ve ever tasted from anywhere in the world. For you wine geeks out there, there is 9.9 TA and 18 g/L RS in this wine. High, high, searing acidity that is enamel stripping, but oh so good, if you’re a fan of high acid wines as I am! Lime zest, green apple, stainless steel minerality and hints of honeysuckle and petrol, this riesling was everything I thought it should be, could be and was. Ultra yum.
Raats – Bruwer Raats has a similar terroir to Napa in his Stellenbosch location, and is a specialist in chenin blanc and cabernet franc. I love that. Grow what you know does well for the terroir. That’s what every smart winemaker should do! Bruwer considers chenin a “thoroughbred”; meaning that if you treat it like a winning race horse, it will be! Making chenin both in stainless steel and oak, he is creating pure expressions of chenin blanc. His “Original” chenin had a fruity nose of peaches and pears and even hints of pineapple! Great wet stone minerality with more peach pear and pineapple on the palate. I found this to be very “chablis” like, which should be taken as a complement…
Radford Dale – last but certainly not least, from The Winery of Good Hope, Alex Dale featured wines from the Radford Dale property. Not only that, as co-founder and director of PIWOSA, Alex is passionate about the wines of South Africa and tirelessly travels the globe, convincing folks like us, that the wine producing capabilities in South Africa are huge, and let’s give them a fair shake shall we? Focusing on Rhone style wine, the featured wine Black Rock was a blend of syrah, carignan, cinsault, grenache, mouvedre and a pinch of viognier to create a smokey, meaty, chewy wine with loads of dry herbs, red fruits and balsamic notes. Great body and texture with tart red fruits of cranberry and currant, but well balanced with tannins and acidity. Such a cool wine.
I was honoured to have been invited to this event, and to meet all of these incredible ambassadors for South Africa. Owners, directors, winemakers, marketers and exporters, their goal is clear: present to the world the quality and potential of South African wines! One day I’ll get there and see for myself. Until then, cheers!