published on: Tuesday, 15 September 2015
If you want to move forward in the wine world, you are going to have to shift boundaries. De Wet Lategan, owner and winemaker of Bergsig Estate, says that this challenge to question the status quo lies behind the Breedekloof Wine Valley Chenin Blanc Initiative, of which he is one of the dynamic nine members treading a new path through the valley’s wine offering.
“All the farmers and winemakers in the Breedekloof have been working with Chenin Blanc for decades, as did our forefathers,” says De Wet. “But we came to a crossroad: do we just continue producing attractive Chenin Blanc wines that are put into the market every year without causing any real kind of ripple. Or do we take what we have been good at for so long – Chenin – and head off on a new path in a rocking-the-boat manner.”
When it came to deciding, the Breedekloof Wine Valley chose the latter, and its resulting Chenin Blanc Initiative is arguably the most dynamic development in this region to date.
Says Ferdi Visser, winemaker at Deetlefs Estate, another member of the Chenin Blanc Initiative: “It was time to bring out the sexiness in Chenin,” he says. “Time for us as winemakers to stand still and caress all elements of the grape to put an artisanal, personal style of wine on the table, one made by a variety that is South Africa’s calling card.
The Bergsig Chenin Blanc Reserve 2014 and the Deetlefs Estate Reserve Chenin Blanc 2014 are two wines proudly showing the diverse geography of the Breedekloof Wine Valley.
Bergsig lies on its upper reaches averaging 300m above sea-level with rainfall of around 1000mm a year.
“If you want to find out how cold the Breedekloof can be in winter, you are welcome to visit Bergsig in July,” says De Wet. “The mountain peaks are often capped with snow, and the vines love the icy air during their slumber.”
Whereas other Cape regions harvest their Chenin Blanc at the beginning of the season, things are slower in the Breedekloof. “We only start picking in the second half of February, and the season goes on into April. More time on the vine, more character in the fruit.”
Bergsig Reserve Chenin Blanc 2014 was fermented and matured for 12 months in small 300l barrels, a combination of French and American oak.
“I am also a huge fan of Chardonnay, and this has taught me to take great care in my approach to using wood in Chenin Blanc,” says De Wet. “The full ripeness of the grapes give me a lot of primary flavours to work with, and I believe in complementing this with some edgy spice from the barrel.”
Ripe citrus notes characterise this wine’s aroma, with a gorgeous detailed spectrum of fruit and spice flavours on the palate.
Deetlefs Estate, the 2nd oldest wine estate in South Africa with a history dating back to 1822, where Ferdi crafts his Chenin Blanc lies on the valley-floor on the edge of the town of Rawsonville, with the Smalblaar River forming the one border. Here the terroir is totally different from that of his Chenin Blanc Initiative partner De Wet.
“Our rainfall is slightly lower than that of the upper edges, says Ferdi. “Here the soil is loamy and alluvial, with a large amount of smooth river pebbles.”
The Deetlefs Estate Reserve Chenin Blanc 2014 was made from 27 year-old vines. “One thing about Chenin Blanc is that a winemaker wants it ripe,” says Ferdi. “Therefore we open-up the vine’s canopies during the growing season to ensure the grapes are exposed to lots of nourishing sunshine.”
Fermentation was started in stainless steel tanks and continued in barrels of French and Hungarian oak, the components being 70% new and 30% second fill.
“I like to expose the wine to the lees, as this is where flavour, complexity and mouthfeel lie,” says Ferdi. “This Reserve Chenin Blanc spent 10 months in the barrel, on lees, and by giving it this kind of attention I discovered quite a few new edges of complexity and finer nuances about Chenin Blanc. That is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a winemaker – you are always finding something new.”
Complexity, concentration and balance are characteristic of the Deetlefs Estate Reserve Chenin Blanc, with gorgeous flavours of apricot and granadilla. “Perfect with a grilled trout from the Smalblaar River!” says Ferdi.
Just be sure to also catch the Breedekloof Chenin Blanc Initiative at Cape Wine 2015.