Growing Old in South Africa: The Old Vines Project

By John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

“The mission is to keep the old vines in the ground”, André Morgenthal tells me with more than a twinge of emotion as he pours an extraordinary wine made from century-old chenin blanc vines into glasses at the Oude Werf hotel in Stellenbosch where he has come to meet me. The bottle, Eben Sadie’s Mev. Kirsten from Stellenbosch, makes a compelling argument to be sure. With its marvelously rich texture and haunting flavor echoing like a profound cavern, it eloquently justifies, without words, the mission to preserve South Africa’s priceless resource of old vines.

The mission, I learn, has been taken on by “The Old Vines Project”, a small, privately funded group of crusaders launched by former lawyer-turned-viticulturalist Rosa Kruger. Kruger, the great-great-granddaughter of Paul Kruger, president of South Africa from 1883-1900, arrived at the realization that old vines not only had advantages on a viticultural level, but also produced better wine, during travels around the world and tastings of many old vine wines.

Rosa Kruger, South Africa's Mother of Old Vines-7741

Rosa Kruger, South Africa’s Mother of Old Vines

I meet Kruger later on at the winery of Adi Badenhorst in the foothills of the Paardeberg in the southern Swartland, a couple of hours north by car from Stellenbosch. Many of Badenhorst’s vines are over half a century old, including the oldest grenache in the country planted in the early 1950s. Kruger walks between the rugged bush vines like a mother around her children, proud, loving. The vineyard is teeming with life, with birds and insects whizzing everywhere. It’s a good sign. “The more insects you have, the cleaner your vineyard will be”, she says plainly. “That’s a fact.”

Kruger is quick to declare that she’s a viticulturalist, not a winemaker, and that while she enjoys wine, her deepest love is reserved for the vines themselves. The affection is evident as she gently examines Badenhorst’s precious old vines. “You’ve done well Adi!”, she declares in a playfully chiding tone. “The vines look much happier than they did on my last visit.”

Adi Badenhorst in SA's oldest grenache vines, planted early 1950s-7756

Adi Badenhorst in SA’s oldest grenache vines, planted early 1950s

Kruger relates how on her return to South Africa, inspired by her experiences abroad, she set off to find and catalogue the country’s old and often neglected vines. At the time she was working at South African billionaire Johann Rupert’s prestige winery L’Ormarins, and was able to gain his support for the mission. She set up a registry listing the size, location and cultivars planted in each of the vineyards she came across on the website, and set about connecting farmers with winemakers interested in securing grapes from old vines. Eben Sadie was among the first to recognize the value of these parcels, and quickly set up contracts with the growers. He would go on to create the wildly successful “Die Ouwingerdreeks”, The Old Vine Series, from many of the vineyards Kruger had discovered, some of South Africa’s most sought after bottles.

But there was a great deal more work to be done and not enough time, so Kruger sought proper seed funding from the Rupert Foundation to create a task force to pursue the mission in a more concerted way. She brought on Morgenthal, former communications manager for Wines of South Africa, and viticulturist Jaco Engelbrecht at the beginning of this year, and The Old Vine Project was officially launched.

André Morgenthal in the Mev. Kirsten vineyard, with 100+ year old chenin blanc vines-7670

André Morgenthal in the Mev. Kirsten vineyard, with 100+ year old chenin blanc vines

And it was not a moment too soon. The mission has become urgent.

Back at the hotel, Morgenthal tells me that the majority of South Africa’s estimated 2600 hectares of old vines (35 years is the arbitrary threshold established by Kruger), some 80% hectares or so, fall under the control of cooperative wineries. Small farmers supply grapes under contract to the cooperatives, where they end up in anonymous, inexpensive, large volume blends. Considering that most old vines are bush-trained and pitifully low-yielding, in addition to being more labour intensive to prune, spray and harvest, and that most co-ops do not pay a premium for old vine grapes, there’s no incentive to maintain them. Indeed it’s more profitable for farmers to rip them out and replant more productive young vines. Many vineyards have already been lost.

The problem is compounded by the fact that many cooperatives impose penalties on growers who attempt to sell their grapes outside of the cooperative structure, making it difficult to seek outside buyers. In the end, the hard reality is that old vines can be financially ruinous to a marginal grape farmer.

And that’s where the Old Vine Project comes in. “We’re trying to convince the cooperatives to pay more to keep these farmers in business,” says Morgenthal, “or eliminate the penalties”. Some are already on board, but the work continues.

The other strategy, as Kruger had initiated already, is to connect farmers with high profile winemakers who are both willing and able to pay a viable price – up to five times more than the average, for old vine grapes. Fortunately, the list of winemakers with the skills and commercial wherewithal to sell premium-priced wine on foreign and domestic markets is growing rapidly. And many, to Morgenthal’s delight, are now contacting him directly to secure parcels of precious old vines.

In this way, Kruger, Morgenthal and Engelbrecht believe they will be able to conserve an important part of South Africa’s viticultural heritage, including priceless genetic diversity among cultivars that can be re-propagated through massale selections. Already operations such as Lelienfontein, the largest vine nursery in Africa run by the Bosman family (who also make wine in Wellington) have begun taking cuttings from old vineyards and cleaning them up from viruses for re-propagation and eventual planting. The advantages of planting new vineyards from old vine material, perfectly adapted to South Africa’s unique climate and soils, are clear.

Yet realistically, Morgenthal expects to be able to save only about a third of the 2,600 hectares scattered across the Cape. “One third is probably not worth saving – not all old vines produce great wine”, he acknowledges. “But we’ll probably lose another third because we simply can’t find them in time, or convince the farmers that they are worth preserving.”

But even with only a 33% success rate, the mission is worth pursuing. Once you’ve tasted the wines, you’ll understand why. The Old Vine Project will surely help to increase the critical mass of top quality South African wines. This in turn will raise the country’s image overall, and have a ripple down effect throughout the wine industry. That’s good news for everyone.

The ultimate aim of The Old Vines Project is to become the number one old vine resource in the world, including a registry of old vines and the wines they produce, not just in South Africa, but internationally as well, and a research hub and publisher with an archive of papers and articles on the subject.

The Project’s new website,, will be up and running as early as next week.

What’s The Fuss About Old Vines?

There’s More “Terroir” In Your Wine

Old vines, it’s widely acknowledged, produce more consistent, naturally balanced wines, albeit in smaller quantity than more spritely young vines. Referring to La Colline vineyard in Franschhoek planted to Semillon in 1936, Chris Alheit of Alheit Vineyards reflects that, “at this age, the vines are very settled, giving a dependable crop of perfect little yellow and pink pearls of flavour. The wine it produces has a remarkable depth and mouthfeel.”

Most winemakers will also tell you that wine made from old vines is a more genuine and authentic representation of a place, with less varietal and more site-derived flavor. “The cultivar expression diminishes as the vine root system becomes more established”, declares Adi Badenhorst, who makes several bottlings from old vines on his property.

Adi Badenhorst

Adi Badenhorst

Taking the notion of old vines and vineyard expression even further, Morgenthal speculates that plants actually adapt to the conditions of a specific site on an even deeper, more cellular level: “Old vines “declone” themselves”, he says. “We think the actual DNA of the vines changes with time. After 30 years or more, it becomes a different vine from what was originally planted. The result is more purity of site expression, born of the endurance of living in the same spot for a long time.”

The tempting hypothesis is yet to be verified. But beyond conserving old vines, The Project plans to conduct research into the advantages and disadvantages of old vines, such as Morgenthal’s speculation on DNA change, and publish it on their website.

And Practical Advantages

Beyond better site expression or simply better tasting wine, on a more practical level it’s understood that the deep root systems developed over time are a buffer against extreme weather, compared to young vines with more superficial root systems. In the case of generally hot, sunny and drought-prone South Africa, this means that grapes reach full ripeness at lower alcohol and higher natural acid levels, a clear advantage in the winery if your winemaking goal is to do as little as possible.

Another significant advantage, Rosa Kruger tells me, is that old vines don’t suffer from leaf roll virus to the same degree as younger vines. Leaf roll is one of the biggest problems in South Africa, and once a vineyard is infected, although not fatal, there’s a significant decline in fruit quality and quantity, the results of delayed and uneven fruit maturation and reduced sugar content and color. “It flattens the wine, and takes out the mid-palate” Kruger observes.

Without exaggeration, she speculates that the quality of South African wine in general could be upped by 40% if leaf roll virus could be eliminated altogether. But although many old vines have the virus, they seem it manage it better, and exhibit less of a drop in wine quality and quantity than young vines. Old vines also appear to be more resistant to the wood disease called eutypa, a fungus that first cripples, then eventually kills a grapevine.

Taste South Africa!

Care to discover some top South Africa wines? Get your tickets to the Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa tasting taking place in Toronto tonight!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Cathedral Church of St. James, 65 Church Street, Toronto

Walk-around: 6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

$75 per person: Buy now

Participating Wineries:

  • De Grendel
  • The Winery of Good Hope
  • Jordan (Jardin)
  • Ken Forrester
  • Journey’s End
  • Klein Constantia
  • Paul Cluver
  • Raats
  • The Drift
  • Glenelly

South African Buyer’s Guide: Old Vine Wines

97 2015 Eben Sadie Mev. Kirsten, Stellenbosch

Pure Chenin, oldest parcel planted in 1905, youngest in 1920, just outside of Stellenbosch town. The first of Eben Sadie’s Old Vines series. Sadie discovered this vineyard in 2006, being next door to a friend’s farm who mad biodynamic preparations. Went and knocked on Ms. Kirsten’s door, made a deal to buy the fruit from the entire vineyard, less than two hectares. 2-3 bunches per vine from the oldest vines. Sandy, decomposed granite over deep red clay. The wine that comes from this vineyard is “like a dog that doesn’t want an owner”, according to Sadie. Does what it wants. Flavour profile changes constantly takes 12 months to settle in the cellar before bottling. Just a few hundred cases produced. It’s slightly volatile but well within the bounds. But this is all about the texture, rich, almost unctuous, amazingly dense, impression of sweetness from sheer weight. Autumnal orchard fruit. 13.5%. Superb length, and a mineral depth and saltiness.  Tasted April 2017.

The Mev. Kirsten vineyard, with 100 year old chenin blanc vines-7663

The Mev. Kirsten vineyard, with 100 year old chenin blanc vines

95 2015 Boekenhootskloof Semillon, Franschhoek

This is Franschhoek-leading winemaker Mark Kent’s most iconic bottling, and it’s spectacular, and relatively well priced (c. $35CAD), all things considered. 2015 is the first vintage to includes a small percentage of muscat planted in Franschhoek in 1904, to go along with century+ old semillon vinified in concrete egg and in new wood. No sulphur and no battonnage. Lovely nose, perfumed and fruity, complex and classy, not significantly marked by the muscat component (about 6-7%). The palate has fine density and richness, palpable tannic texture, lightly botanical, great length and freshness. Superb and classy white wine, with beautifully integrated oak. Picked early to retain acid and avoid botrytis; no acid is added. Malo repressed by cold cellar, 4-5 degrees, also to allow slower /lower wood integration. Tasted April 2017.

Boekenhootskloof's Mark Kent and his concrete fermenters-7710

Boekenhootskloof’s Mark Kent and his concrete fermenters

95 2015 Eben Sadie Skerpioen, Swartland

This vineyard is on the west coast of the Swartland, just 2-3 kms from the coast, planted in 1958-1967. Cool and humid mornings, fog banks roll in all of the time. Sand over chalk – looks like a white sand beach. Field blend of palomino and chenin blanc; effort is made to pick together but fermentations are separate. Palomino ripens first. Really pretty nose, floral and elegant, fresh, green apple, citrus, almond blossom. Terrific salinity and freshness. Fermented in 2000l litre old foudres. What terrific length, classy, sophisticated, tangy. Gently flinty. There’s an annual fight over who gets to harvest this vineyard to get out of the heat. Tasted April 2017.

The wild west- barren Swartland in the drought of 2016

The wild west- barren Swartland in the drought of 2016

94 2016 A.A. Badenhorst Raaigras Grenache, Swartland

From the oldest grenache vines in SA, planted in the early 1950s, 70% whole bunch. This has crispness and freshness, great grip, great length. It’s extracted very lightly, yet still has amazing depth and tannic backbone. Mouthfilling but not heavy. Moderate alcohol, Delicate but deep, firm yet pliant. Adi’s favourite vineyard. Tasted April 2017.

94 2015 Alheit Vineyards Cartology, Western Cape

Minimum 30 year old vines, up to 90 year old semillon, from nine different parcels. Whole cluster press, no additions, old wood only. Extraordinary perfume, honeyed-floral. There’s a “microbial disco” going on, says Alheit, but I find this clean. Dense, rich, full, tannic even, with amazing density and flavour concentration, great length and depth. Tasted April 2017.

93 2015 Botanica (The Mary Delany Collection in North America), Citrusdal Mountain

2009 was the first commercial vintage for Botanica. This is made from mainly chenin grown at 400+ meters, but there are other varieties inter-planted; the original vines were planted in the mid-fifties, dead vines replanted with unknown varieties, some own-rooted vines. Very sandy soils derived from sandstone. Lovely fresh nose, herbal-citrus-botanical, like a tonic in the best way. The palate is lively, notably saline, with great tension and freshness, richness and depth, complexity. This is excellent, and should also age well. Great length, too.  50% in 400l barrels, other half in tank. Inoculated, 9 months ageing. 14% alc. Tasted April 2017.

93 2015 Eben Sadie Skurfberg Chenin Blanc, Swartland

From the Olifants River, a warm region in general, but the elevation of the Skurfberg makes for lower average temperatures than, say, in Malmesbury in the Swartland. Vines planted in the 1940s-1950s on decomposed Table Mountain sandstone. Harvested a month later than Sadie’s Skerpioen, also a bit riper. This is dense, ripe, textural and rich, with an impression of sweetness, though less than 2 grams RS. Big, generous, more imposing style. Gentle and plush. Excellent length. Tasted April 2017.

Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain-7648

Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain

93 2015 Mullineux White Old Vines, Swartland

A blend of five varieties, mostly chenin, with clairette, semillon gris, grenache blanc and viognier. Great nose here, all old wood ferments, 500l. This is terrific on the palate, succulent, salty, sapid, with a light blond caramel finish and great length. Superb complexity. Superb vintage. Tasted April 2017.

93 2016 A.A. Badenhorst The Golden Slopes Steen (Chenin Blanc), Swartland

From an old vine parcel on the property, given old barrel fermentation with SO2 only after the first racking. Malo goes through. Perfect level of VA, plus a touch of RS (4 grams), balanced by superb acids and palpable phenolics (it’s pressed hard:  “we need the f*(&#ng juice man, the vineyard yields only 2 tons/hectare” explains Badenhorst). The palate is fleshy, with high extract. Yellow fruit, light botanicals, quince and lemongrass. Terrific length. Tasted April 2017.

92 2016 Radford Dale Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch

A single vineyard of old bush vines (c. 40 years old) on Polkadraii Road, a particularly steep slope, made of decomposed granite with big pieces of quartz. Harvested in three passes, starting with the top section, spanning about two weeks. Wild ferment in wood, no malo, short skin contact. I like the tension and freshness here, lightly phenolic, very saline, floral, citrus fruit, not in the tropical spectrum yet. This is nicely balanced, crunchy and lively. Gives a desire for additional sips. Tasted April 2017.

92 2016 Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc, Coastal Region

Sourced from several northwestern coastal vineyards, all 45 year old vines or more (“the acidity comes from Durbanville, structure from Swartland, and linearity/length from the Bottelary hills” explains winemaker Niel Groenewald). It’s wild fermented in individually temperature-controlled barrels. Fullish, rich, wood spice notable, sweet spice. Fine density and weight, concentrated, fleshy white fruit, apple (green and yellow), pear. Very fine, especially considering the quantity produced (c. 90k litres). Tasted April 2017.

92 2016 Blank Bottle “Kortad Kaaptoe”, Western Cape

“When I started BLANKbottle, my goal was to create an honest wine brand that had no limitations when it came to style, vintage, area or cultivars in order to break down any preconceived expectations”, writes Blank Bottle founder and winemaker Pieter Walser. “Having no indication of cultivar on the bottle makes this possible. Not only does it demand complete honesty when it comes to quality, but it allows me the opportunity to introduce once-off limited runs of interesting wines.” And interesting wines these are to be sure, born from an irrepressibly creative spirit, and from a mind-bending range of vineyards across the Cape. Walser drives 13,000 kilometers each harvest. “Kortad Kaaptoe” means “The short cut to Cape Town”, though in this case passing through a remote vineyard planted to pure Fernão Pires, 45 year old bush vines, with no irrigation. Walser takes the entire harvest, some 3 tons or so, a tiny amount. The wine is lovely and aromatic with ripe fruit, heading to tropical, but also very botanical, smoky – this is really spectacular, great length. Totally unique. Tasted April 2017.

91 2016 Beaumont Chenin Blanc Hope Marguerite ‘Thirty One Barrels’, Bot River, Walker Bay

A wine made “in the image of my grandmother”, says Sebastien Beaumont, which is to say “elegant”. It’s wild fermented in mostly old barrels. 2016 had no botrytis, unlike some other vintages of Hope. There’s density and richness here, very Furmint-like. Bone dry. Wood still sticks out – this will need another 2-3 years. Slightly phenolic. From the two oldest vineyards on the property, planted in 1974 on shale and sandy gravelly shale. Tasted April 2017.

91 2016 Reyneke Chenin Blanc Old vines

Biodynamic farmer Johann Reyneke makes some of the finest wines in Stellenbosch. He’s a true winegrower’s grower, having begun his wine career as a farm labourer. “I had long dreds and couldn’t even get a job at the dodgiest restaurant in town”, he recalls. In the winery he does very little, and most of his bottlings would qualify as ‘natural’. These low yielding old Chenin blanc vines planted in the 1960s produce grapes at full ripeness but also with freshness, requiring virtually no intervention in the winery in any case. Some foudre ageing is applied, as well as a small percentage in concrete eggs, which tends to go quite oxidative. Superb texture here, bright and balanced, genuinely salty. Fine length, too. Alcohol is really well balanced. Tasted April 2017.

Johan Reyneke's biodynamic, old chenin blanc vineyard, Stellenbosch-7693

Johan Reyneke’s biodynamic, old chenin blanc vineyard, Stellenbosch

90 2016 Alheit Vineyards Radio Lazarus Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch (Bottelary)

From 2015 on, Radio Lazarus has been made from two vineyards in the Bottelary hills, near the top of the hill on stony, shale soils, planted in 1978 and 1971. The parcels are farmed by the Alheits, and indeed this was the first site they found in their search for old, interesting vineyards. Yields are mercilessly low at just 600-700 kilos hectare, though Chris Alheit considers this “a hot spot” for chenin in South Africa. There’s ample freshness here, high acid, high alcohol. More tightly wound than and less expressive than the Cartology bottling, and will need additional time to emerge. Tasted April 2017.

90 2016 Mother Rock Wines ‘White’, Swartland

A unique blend of chenin, viognier, semillon, grenache blanc and harslevelu, from 34 to 50 year old vines, dry farmed and bush-trained. Each lot is fermented separately in 500l old wood. There’s a touch of VA, but it lifts the palate. It’s lean and sharp, savoury, almost fino sherry like, with some sotolone on the back end (curry, maple syrup). Good to very good length. ultimately quite stable, if an unusual expression. This bottle is a bit cloudy – the lot is racked from barrel directly into bottle without filtration, “and this was the bottom part of the barrel”, winemaker Johan Meyer explains, so expect some bottle variation. Succulent and salty-savoury finish, very tasty. Tasted April 2017.

90 2016 A.A. Badenhorst ‘Soot van die Aarde’ Palomino, Swartland

“Salt from the Earth”, a pure old vine palomino. Discreet aromatics, delicate, citrus-led but not particularly fruity, and quite saline on the palate. Great acids, too, a sensation of freshness runs through the wine. The vineyard is 4kms from the sea up the north coast (same farmer as Sadie’s Skerpioen), bathed in heavy ocean mist. “The grapes smell like kelp when they come into the cellar”.  Tasted April 2017.

90 2016 Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch

From one block of 37 year old vines, given 9 months ageing, one component in wood and the other in steel. Aromatics are modest for now, but will surely develop. There’s a fine mix of tart citrus fruit on the palate, ranging right up to tropical pineapple notes, as well as palpable phenolics, and plenty of concentration.  This is a little bit harder than previous vintages – a result of the struggling heat of 2016, and not quite together. Give it another year or so to resolve. Tasted April 2017.

South African Buyer’s Guide: Top Values Under $25 (Estimated)

92 2016 JH Meyer Chardonnay Palmiet Vineyard, Elgin

2016 marks the 6th vintage of this wine, and it is outstanding. From a terrifically engaging nose, to a beautiful salty, firm palate, this is classic ‘cool’ climate chardonnay with great length. There’s a perfectly measured amount of flinty-reduction to keep the mineralophiles happy, too.  All 500l barrels for one year, malo done, almost no sulphur; c. 18 year old vines. Tasted April 2017.

91 2016 Mother Rock Wines (JH Meyer) Force Majeure Chenin Blanc, Swartland

100% chenin, planted in 1984 on the Paardeberg, organically farmed, all whole bunch pressed, concrete fermented, 10% spent 9 weeks on skins in smaller concrete egg. Really interesting nose here, that oxi side, like orange pekoe tea, but Meyer is not looking for funky orange quality, but site specificity. The palate is pure, salty, fresh, lovely. Great salty character, a touch of reduction also adds a flinty dimension. Great length. This is excellent value. 20k bottles made. Tasted April 2017.

91 2016 De Wetshof Chardonnay Bon Vallon, Robertson

The Bon Vallon parcel offers notably rocky-slate soils on the lower slopes, producing the more generally restrained chardonnay on the estate, but 2016 was a hot year that resulted in a little more fruit character than normal. CO2 still evident and this is still very sharp and bright on the palate, lovely fresh citrus-dominated, with little evolution noted. I like the precision and cut. A terrific value all in all. Unoaked. Tasted April 2017.

90 2016 Boekenhootskloof Porcupine Ridge Syrah, Swartland

Fresh, fruity, simple but engaging; this has a bit of a Dão-touriga florality, peppery in the stylish sense, light wood sheen. Wood in fact has been pulled back considerably compared to previous vintages, now only 1/3 aged in old barrel, and it gets better and better. This also has considerable grip and texture, a firm and honest wine. Terrific value. Includes some young vines from the Porseleinberg in the Swartland, a spectacular site (see separate entry). Tasted April 2017.

90 2015 Lammershhoek Syrah Reserve, Swartland

From 40 year old vines on decomposed granite with big pieces of rock. Really fresh and nice – some whole berry fermentation here – with pure violet perfume and fresh black fruit, happy, easy fun, but with a little more structure than the average. Solid length. A very pleasing style, for drinkers, hipsters and consumers alike. Fine value. Tasted April 2017.

90 2016 Mullineux Kloofstreet Chenin Blanc, Swartland

Chenin from two sites, the Kasteelberg on slate, and the Paardeberg on deep sandy decomposed granite soils. The 2016 is very ripe, edging into the dried fruit spectrum, like peach and apricots in syrup, reminiscent of late harvest Loire chenin. It’s dense and ripe on the palate, offering lots of flesh, and indeed happiness. Clean and honest – there’s no sugar, wood or acid added, just grapes. Tasted April 2017.

90 2014 A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Shiraz-Cinsault-Grenache, Swartland

Badenhorst’ excellent entry-level red blend (which also includes a splash of mourvèdre and even chenin) is appealingly leafy, fresh and peppery, with modest but dusty tannins, sapid and succulent, juicy acids. I love the fresh black fruit and resinous herb flavours. Good to very good length. Superb value in an open, honest, bone dry red. Tasted April 2017.

89 2016 False Bay (Waterkloof) ‘Slow’ Chenin Blanc, Coastal Region

This Chenin, the entry level range made by Waterkloof (see separate entry) is sourced entirely from the Swartland, 25-45 year old bush vines, and took about 6 months to finish fermentation (wild), hence the “Slow”. Yet it’s clean and precise, if with a touch of flinty reduction, also full of yellow fruit, fleshy and ripe, fresh, rich and soft, with appealing floral notes. The palate offers some nice grip as well. Awesome value. Ridiculous, really. Tasted April 2017.

Beautiful South Africa

Beautiful South Africa

89 2016 False Bay (Waterkloof) Old School Syrah, Coastal Region

All Stellenbosch fruit, aged in large 9000l foudres. Some whole bunch – 5-10% makes it into the fermenter. This is nicely perfumed, fresh and floral, with red and black fruit, lightly spicy. There’s some genuine grip, happily no oak flavour, no residual sugar. A touch of herbal-garrigue flavour adds interest. Juicy, sapid and highly drinkable. Another terrific value from Waterkloof. Tasted April 2017.

89 2016 Bellingham The Homestead Chenin Blanc “Orchards”, Paarl

From dry-farmed bush vines, average 25 years old, grown on “dirty” sandstone and shale in Paarl. Wild fermented, old barrel ageing, no malo (each barrel is fitted with a cooling plate to prevent malo). Very pretty nose, pure crisp white fruit, apple, pear. Very good concentration on the palate, and bright, sharp acids, malic indeed, all natural, but certainly not hard. This was harvested before the last heat wave came through – in the very hot 2016 vintage. Very good length. Superb value. 3 grams rs. Tasted April 2017.

Bellingham Estate-7701

Bellingham Estate

89 2016 De Morgenzon DMZ Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch

Formerly a multi-regional blend, DeMorgenzon’s DMZ chenin is now entirely from Stellenbosch. This entry-level wine is designed for, and delivers, everyday drinking pleasure in a fresh apple, citrus and floral-inflected style – very floral indeed. The palate is clean, pure, very rich and round, textural. White flower and almond blossom linger. Lovely value. Tasted April 2017.

89 2016 Vinum Africa (The Winery of Good Hope) Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch

This wine hails from the home farm in Stellenbosch, opposite the Helderberg, from bush vines an average 25 years old but put on trellis. 70% is tank fermented (on lees 9 months, minimal stirring), 30% in barrel (of which 20% new wood), all natural ferments. I must say this seems fresher than previous vintages, a positive development, moving into the tropical fruit spectrum with minimal wood influence. This is flavourful and very solid value – there’s loads of wine here for the money. Tasted April 2017.

89 2017 A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Rosé, Swartland

A delicious bone-dry rosé, mainly cinsault, with lovely, fresh red fruit, rosewater, fresh herbs and more. Delicious. I could drink this all day. Tasted April 2017.

89 2016 A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin, Swartland

40% purchased fruit from “the neighbourhood”, nearby in the southern Swartland, 28 different vineyards. This is surely a top value at under $20 in Canadian markets, very clean, pretty, floral, full of white flowers and almond blossoms. It’s in the appealingly leaner, sharp, bone dry style. Chill and crack. Bottled in different lots, 4 times a year – the last is best.  Tasted April 2017.

89 2016 Mulderbosch Steen Op Hout, Western Cape

Mulderbosch sources the fruit for this wine from many vineyards but all with quite high average vine age, which “allows you to do fairly basic winemaking”, according to winemaker Adam mason. Its given 10% barrel fermentation (“chenin doesn’t handle oak very well”). The result is somewhere between the simple and fresh and the more developed style, of SA chenin, delivering solid complexity for the price range, and lovely texture (just a tiny amount of RS) and exceptional length as well. Tasted April 2017.

88 2016 Excelsior Chardonnay, Robertson

Simple, clean, botanical-herbal aromatics dominate; the 20% aged in barrel goes mostly unnoticed (old wood). A vague impression of sweetness rounds out the palate, with nice stony, restrained fruit. This has genuine concentration and length. Fine value. Firm. Tasted April 2017.

89 2015 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon, Robertson

A perfectly serviceable, balanced, fresh, firm but not tannic cabernet, with fruit and spice. Marvellous balance. Tough to beat this for value. Honest. Tasted April 2017.

88 2013 De Morgenzon DMZ Syrah, Stellenbosch

This is fine and peppery, light and floral, with no obvious wood. The palate is mid-weight, fresh, fine. Perfectly correct; drink slightly chilled. Tasted April 2017.

88 2015 Lammershhoek “The Innocent” Pinotage, Swartland

This is a fun and fruity, Beaujolais style pinotage, which seems to suit the variety better than many over ripe, overoaked examples. There’s some carbonic  in the process (3 cuves: one whole bunch, one half, one fully destemmed), and generally low extraction. CO2 added at bottle to liven it up further. Fun. Easy drinking. A new take on the grape, at a nice price. Tasted April 2017.

88 2015 Mullineux Klooftstreet Rouge, Swartland

The Mullineuxs’ entry range, the Kloofstreet red is a Mediterranean-style blend, 20% whole cluster, aged in old wood. It’s lovely full and fruity, nicely structured, even lightly little reductive at this stage (likely from the syrah component). Far from being  simple and easy drinking, there’s some genuine substance and tight texture, a little more demanding than the immediately appealing (also excellent) Kloofstreet white. Give this another year or two in the cellar. Tasted April 2017.

87 2016 Ken Forrester Petit Chenin, Western Cape

Forrester’s entry chenin is made in a clean, fresh, unoaked, crisp, simple, green apple style, with some enlivening CO2 on the palate. Chill and crack; simple but tasty white.  “Make sure you have three on ice”, he recommends. Tasted April 2017.

87 2016 Essay (MAN Vintners) Chenin Blanc-Viognier-Roussanne, Western Cape

72% chenin, 24% viognier, 4% roussanne. Viognier really marks the nose, lending a very peachy-apricot-floral profile, while the palate is mid weight, fat and sharp at the same time. Delivers the necessary at the price – a tasty aromatic white.  Tasted April 2017.

86 2016 Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc, Robertson

Clean and fresh with plenty of ripe, yellow fruit. 4-5 grams of rs round out and softens the palate. Admittedly remarkable for under $10, and made in staggeringly large volumes – 1.8m litres! Tasted April 2017.

South African Buyer’s Guide: Other Top Wines By Region

Coastal Region

91 2016 Bellingham The Bernard Series Bush Vines Pinotage

Made from two parcels: one in Durbanville and one in Stellenbosch. This is ripe but still fresh, driven by red and black cherry fruit, cherry pie, fleshy and fullish on the palate but bright and sharp at the same time. I like the fine-grained acids. This is very good pinotage, clean, complete, nicely structured. Tasted April 2017.

91 2015 Bellingham The Bernard Series Barrel Fermented “SMV”

A blend of shiraz (85%, bone structure), mourvèdre (flesh and spice), and viognier (2%). I like the perfume here, very shiraz-driven, violet, pepper spice, floral. Fine-grained, powdery tannins. Very good length. Well balanced.  Tasted April 2017.


91 2015 Paul Cluver Chardonnay

Wild ferments, malo not encouraged (though with wild ferments, usually about 20% will go through though). Quality nose here; complexity is high. The palate, too, is balanced and firm-fresh, saline, Very tasty. Fine length. A regional paradigm. Tasted April 2017.

90 2014 Kershaw Elgin Syrah

Slightly turbid. Solid flavour intensity and depth, an honest wine, no makeup. Firm, properly structured and tannic. Nice resinous-herbal range of aromatics. Long finish. Well done, even if not a general crowd pleaser. Tasted April 2017.

90 2015 Iona One Man Band White

Sauvignon-Semillon (40-60), barrel fermented. This is a fine basil-tarragon-scented white, with gentle barrel influence (fermented naturally in 500l wood). I like the overall complexity, the appealing green fruit-herbal flavours, and the genuine density and weight, not to mention the saltiness here – natural malic acid? Great length. Original. Tasted April 2017.

90 2015 Beaumont Dangerfield Shiraz

A fine and savoury shiraz, more syrah-like, made with a small percentage of whole bunch and wild fermented. I like the freshness and texture here, a real tannic freshness, firm, for the table. Not an easy-drinking wine. Cedary, sandalwood flavours emerge, but not from the oak, rather the stems. Very good length. An uncompromising style. Tasted April 2017.

90 2015 Kershaw Elgin Chardonnay

4 clones of chardonnay. Quite a lot of density, weight, intensity, clearly concentrated. Wood well managed, integrated. Long finish. Quite impressive indeed. Tasted April 2017.


95 2015 Boekenhootskloof The Journeyman

90% cabernet franc, 10% merlot, all from estate fruit in Franschhoek, barrel fermented, never sees a pump. This is the 5th vintage made. Really pretty nose, spiced red, black and blue fruit with distinctive herbal, resinous character. Very fine detail, and impressive, refined tannic structure, excellent, no, outstanding length. This is a very fine wine indeed. Curiously Boekenhootskloof has never sold this wine, always been given to important clients/importers/distributers, though that may change with this vintage. Should be about $100. Tasted April 2017.

92 2015 Boekenhootskloof Cabernet Sauvignon

22 months in 100% new wood, fruit all from the property, with 10% cabernet franc. Designed to be more austere in style than the Stellenbosch cabernet, and it’s the case; wood is marked but not excessive. Densely packed tannins, grippy, chewy, excellent length. Dark and sumptuous but also serious. Tuck in the cellar for 3-4 years minimum. Tasted April 2017.

Hemel-en-Aarde (Walker Bay)

92 2016 Crystallum Clay Shales Chardonnay

Crystallum is a tiny family operation in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (Walker Bay region), with Andre and Peter-Allan Finlayson running the show. . Vineyard expression is the maniacal focus. “Burgundy is a major influence”, Peter tells me without compunction. The Clay Shales Chardonnay is a single vineyard wine, the name of which reflects the Bokkeveld shale and clay soils of the parcel. A cooler, south facing slope further shaded by Babylon’s Toren Mountain, combined with high altitude and proximity to the sea, makes this a particularly suitable site for top quality, refined chardonnay. This 2016 is indeed very good, salty, firm, very pure and dense, with the extra flavour dimension of top wines. Tasted April 2017.

90 2015 Alheit Vineyards Hemelrand Vine Garden

The Hemelrand Vine Garden is a single site field blend of roussanne, chardonnay, chenin and verdelho with a touch of muscat, which shows on the nose – quite floral. Like a late harvest style white, with almost pinot gris-like terpenes, full, dense rich, tannic, unfined like all Alheit wines. It’s solid and rustic, not an easy-drinking wine and indeed rather hard and tannic for now. But would love to see this in a few years. Tasted April 2017.

The _Zoo Biscuiters_- (L toR) John Seccombe, Thorne and Daughters, Marelise Niemann of Momento, Thinus Kruger, Fram Wines, Peter-Allan Finlayson, Crystallum, and Ch

The _Zoo Biscuiters_- (L toR) John Seccombe, Thorne and Daughters, Marelise Niemann of Momento, Thinus Kruger, Fram Wines, Peter-Allan Finlayson, Crystallum, and Chris Alheit, Alheit Vineyards

92 2016 Crystallum Cinema

Composed of a selection of barrels from the “Cinema” vineyard in the Hemel-en-Aarde ward (Scenes from a movie based on the life of Napoleon were shot on this site the year before vineyards were introduced), planted to high density Dijon clones. This has lovely perfume, classy, and refined, succulent and with great length on the palate. Beautifully poised, neither over nor under ripe. Lovely stuff. Tasted April 2017.


91 2012 Geneviève MCC Blanc de Blancs Zero Dosage

Sparkling specialist Melissa Genevieve Nelsen is the woman behind this top notch operation in the Bot River region of Overberg. This first zero dosage release is particularly compelling, some really elegant bubbles, dry but not hard, fleshy, rich. Picked at 18.5 balling mostly, quite ripe for sparkling in other words, so that it “requires less intervention in the cellar”, she says. It’s properly toasty-autolytic, thanks to  4 years on the lees. Great length. Very solid.  Tasted April 2017.


93 2015 Tierhoek Block One Chenin Blanc

Tierhoek was a new, happy discovery for me on this most recent trip to SA, from the remote, high-elevation Piekenierskloof region. 2003 was the first bottled vintage. Vineyards lie at 800m asl, 30km from the Atlantic, and Tierhoek is the only physical winery based in the region, even if many source grapes up here. “A cool climate in a hot area”. Decomposed granite soils dominate, and the oldest vines were planted in 1976, more recent plantings in 2007. This is a single vineyard bottling called “Block One”, 100% old barrel fermented, but it doesn’t show much – just light caramel and autolytic character, a distant relative to champagne without the bubbles. Acids are sharp indeed, and will need some additional bottle age to fully integrated, as will the lees influence. But the acid backbone is impressive, as is the salty character. For champagne drinkers. Great length. A totally unique expression. Tasted April 2017.

91 2015 Tierhoek Chenin Blanc

This chenin is 85% tank fermented, the rest in 225 litre wood, with wild yeast. I really like the nose here, fresh and expressive, with citrus and fresh green herbs, tonic, orange peel. Textural palate, lots of flavour development from long hang time. A little leesy on the palate, creamy. This is really lovely. Comfortably fresh with great length and lots of fruit development.  Grows fresher in the glass, more fruity and herbal. Tasted April 2017.


93 2010 Springfield Estate The Work of Time

Robertson-leading Springfield Estate has produced a terrific Bordeaux-style blend (40% merlot, 23 Cabernet Franc, 21 Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Petit Verdot) called The Work of Time, offering here in 2010 a beautifully evolved nose (that can only develop with time), just shifting into tertiary pot pourri notes but still quite fruity, with ripe red and black berry, also appealingly resinous and herbal, reminiscent of the local fynbos (wild scrub). The palate is perfectly mid-weight, firm, and dusty, even if alcohol seems a little high (14% declared), yet this could be called elegant. Wild ferment, destemmed but not crushed. Drink or hold mid-term. Tasted April 2017.

92 2015 De Wetshof The Site Chardonnay

The Site is from a single 2.6 ha site facing south (cooler). It’s nicely complete, fullish, fruity chardonnay, with well integrated wood and solid depth and density, the top in the De Wetshof range in my view. No malo, 12 months new French wood, blond toast, and it wears it perfectly.  Tasted April 2017.

91 2016 Springfield Estate Wild Yeast Chardonnay

Nicely restrained nose, no evident wood, (fermented and aged in concrete tanks) lightly flinty, minerally, some vaguely pineapple fruit, apple, ripe lemon. The palate is fullish, fresh, sapid and succulent, like everything off of this farm. This parcel is planted in a huge deposit of chalk. and takes up to nine months to ferment, always a struggle. It remains on Lees for over a year, spontaneous malo. Tasted April 2017.

90 2016 Springfield Estate Life From Stone Sauvignon Blanc

Rocky, quartzite soil. Very perfumed, aromatic ripe but not overly. The palate is full, firm, tension-filled, vibrant. Lots of flavour here. Nettly. Nice textural element. 3 months at zero degrees to settle the lees. Excellent length. Sapid, succulent. Tasted April 2017.

89 2017 De Wetshof Chardonnay Limestone Hill

Limestone-rich clay soil, gives more depth and richness. This is freshly bottled, so still very primary, mid-weight, unoaked. Coming to Vintage. Superb value. Plump, but fresh, lots of ripe apple and orchard fruit. Well balanced. Tasted April 2017.


95 NV De Trafford Straw Wine ‘3V’

Really pretty nose here, floral, pineapple, apricot. I might have guessed botrytis with the saffron and honey character, but I’m told there’s none. Lovely balance, gorgeous texture. Really fine. Long finish. Outstanding sweet wine. From three vintages, naturally dried grapes, 12% alcohol 220 grams of rs. Tasted April 2017.

94 2011 De Trafford Elevation 393

Hot, rich, powerful vintage. A particularly blend of mostly cabernet sauvignon, with a bit of syrah and merlot, very tapenade and garrigue-driven, black fruit. The palate is fullish, very fleshy, very serious density. Farmed with love. Great velvety texture, plush but not soft nor alcoholic. Real great depth and length here. Almost chewable. Not yet released, and I can see why.  Tasted April 2017.

94 2015 Mulderbosch Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc Block W

When Adam Mason joined Mulderbosch in 2012, he went searching for quality in each of the purchased parcel. 6 lots stood out, 3 rose above for similar vine age (planted mid-eighties), but different soils, all from Stellenbosch. The idea behind the eventual three single vineyard series chenins was to rule out winemaking and explore soils. Whole bunch, no SO2, racked overnight – all identically made, except for the harvest date. sulphured after fermentation, 10 months in barrels, no rack, no stirring, light filtration into bottle. Block W is planted to bush vines, massale selections, with no irrigation. “Steeliness and linearity” is the goal. The vineyard is just 4 kms from False Bay, and the wires vibrate on really windy days. Soils are composed of friable granite boulders that decomposed into dust with clay, cold and water retentive, and notable acid yielding wine with intensity and austerity. Of the estate’s three single vineyard wines, I find this the most refined and stony, citrusy, tension-filled, with a gorgeous nose. The palate is lean and tightly wound, quivering, like liquid sand. Delicate yet powerful, excellent length. Love the refinement here, even more than the Block A. This wears wood extremely well, more or less invisible. The most subtlety complex. Tasted April 2017.

94 2014 Reyneke Syrah Reserve

This has classic cold smoke, syrah character, white pepper, ripe black fruit. This is elegant, very fine grained and linear, nicely chiselled, terrific length. Top notch. Tasted April 2017.

92 2014 De Trafford Blueprint Syrah

2014 was a lighter vintage. This shows the pretty side of syrah, very blue-fruited and violet perfumed, almost mencía or Dão touriga nacional-like. A comforting, natural but clean approach. No new wood used here. Silky, refined texture. Vines just under 20 years old. Tasted April 2017.

92 2014 De Trafford Syrah 393

393 refers to the elevation of the house, which is more or less at the mid-point of the vineyard. A more smoky, stony, concentrated, firmly tannic expression, still very tightly wound. This needs time, but is nicely composed. Sophisticated and aristocratic. Tasted April 2017.

92 2015 Boekenhootskloof Cabernet Sauvignon

From three vineyards on the Helderberg, the “Médoc” of Stellenbosch, says Mark Kent. Savoury-herbal, very spicy, slightly oxidative, with bruised black berry fruit. The palate picks it up considerably, with firm tannins, firm acids, still aggressive as this stage, but should resolve in time, 2-3 years. Great length. Love the rustic detailing. A little more “contemporary”, but St. Estèphe, if from the Médoc. 18 months in wood, 60% new.  Tasted April 2017.

92 2014 Reyneke Cornerstone Bordeaux blend

(CS, CF equal parts plus 10% merlot). Lovely aromatics here with a touch of herbal-resinous-green. Texture is nicely developed now, softening though still firm. Juicy and succulent. This is delicious. Tasted April 2017.

Johan Reyneke-7687

Johan Reyneke

92 2016 Raats Family Wines “Original” Chenin Blanc

Bruwer and his cousin Gavin Raats are a Chenin and cabernet franc specialists, sourcing specific soil types and old low-yielding vineyards in Stellenbosch, Paarl, Durbanville Hills and Paardeberg. Vines are on average 25 years old, grown 250m above sea level. The 2016 “Original” old vines Chenin offers fabulous aromatics, dripping with ripe citrus, melon and apple fruit, with excellent length and depth and appealing sapidity.

91 2011 Tamboerskloof John Spicer

100% syrah, a single vineyard site with very meticulous farming practices, and lot of touches in the vineyard are evident. Maturing. Slight dried/jammy fruit character, but very fine tannins, much softer. Lovely and silky, maturing nicely now. Fine length. This is tidy. 14% alcohol declared;  c. 2000 bottles made. Tasted April 2017.

91 2015 De Morgenzon Maestro White

A Mediterranean white blend: 29% roussanne, 23% chardonnay, 22% chenin, 18% grenache, plus viognier. No wood evident (aged in a mix of old, large wood and stainless steel, cement and foudres); subtle, floral, white flowers, white fruit, pear. Delicate and elegant, light autolysis – fresh almonds. I like the finesse. Tasted April 2017.

91 2015 Mulderbosch Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc Block S2

Bush vines, massale selections.  Malmesbury shales, very rocky, scree slopes. higher pH than the mean – conferring “roundness and wholeness”, from the Bottlerary, a lower hill, exposed to Atlantic winds, and a higher elevation, cooler site, despite being north facing and quite hot in general. More botanical-herbal, full and cool, more phenolic grip here, cooler acids, also excellent length. Generous and fullish. Tasted April 2017.

90 2015 Mulderbosch Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc Block A

This site has Koffeeklip soils – lots of texture, well aerated, perfectly drained, also planted to the more citrusy Montpellier clone. This is appealingly high toned, with fresh aromatics – there’s a lightness of being here, succulent and sapid, fine grained, great length. Wood is just a minor influence. great length. Really like the liveliness and the delicacy. Reverberates. Tasted April 2017.

90 2016 Waterkloof Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc

From the windiest part of the property. 18-25 hl/ha, (and an extremely windy property in general). Very small berries. Fermented in 600l old barrels. Nice light, fragrant, cool climate to be sure, more citrus and restrained, yet without grassiness. There’s some genuine flesh on the bones thanks to long hang time, stony, rides the line between fruity and stony. Zero wood influence, bone dry. Bottled very recently. This should age well over the next 2-3 years. Tasted April 2017.

90 2015 Waterkloof Circumstance Syrah

12.5% alc. Open top fermented, 100% whole bunch, 2 years in 600l barrels. On granite. Great nose, so perfumed, floral, but ripe, fruit meets freshness. Fine, grippy, powdery tannins. A delicate, feminine style, lovely. Juicy and sapid. Tight but not hard. Fine length; not a blockbuster, but delicious. Tasted April 2017.

90 2016 Reyneke Sauvignon Blanc

A happily atypical wine here, not the usual reductive, green, high acid style, but rather more oxidative, old wood aged, textural, rich, salty, yet still has great acids. Fully ripened, just a hint of resinous-herbal-botanical character. Excellent length. Whole bunch pressed, settled overnight, but dirty ferments, 2,3,4th fill barrels with wild fermentation. Nothing added except a touch of SO2 at bottling. Tasted April 2017.

89 2015 De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc Reserve

From an old parcel planted in 1972, the only vineyard not replanted on the property when purchased by the current owners in 2002. 11 months in oak, 300l, foudres and cement eggs. Wood noted. Still very fresh underneath, bright, high acids. A little lean. Needs time to settle. Decent length,  not extraordinary, but very good. Wood is a little heavy and needs time to integrate, 1-2 years I suspect. Tasted April 2017.

87 2016 Waterkloof Seriously Cool Cinsault

Slight carbonic – fermented with the lid on for a couple of days, but the berries are partially crushed from the start. Pale red-garnet. Herbal-leafy, red fruit, minty, very fynbos influenced. Light, tart, fresh. Crisp. Perfectly sippable. Tasted April 2017.

90 2012 Waterford Kevin Arnold Shiraz Ashleigh Anne

Almost entirely from the Stellenbosch farm. 6-9 per cent mourvèdre. A ripe, genteel style, without obtrusive wood (no new wood), though quite fresh on the palate, delicate even, with fine floral character, lively indeed. Some real stony-granite-minerality and “granular” texture, but there’s also a more burly, firm side on the back end. Nicely balanced overall, stylish, characterful. Tasted April 2017.

90 2014 Waterford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon  An intriguingly herbal, fynbos-scented, black olive, Mediterranean or Napa Mountain cabernet in style. Granite, sandstone and schist mixed. The palate is balanced and mid-weight+. Acids are firm, which further tighten up the tannic structure. I like the way this plays in the mouth, the freshness and the resinous local flavour. Decent length, too. Tasted April 2017.

90 2015 Yardstick Wines Raised By Wolves Chenin Blanc (Deon Joubert vineyard)

Yardstick Wines are made by Mulderbosch winemaker Adam Mason, and Mulderbosch Estate is a partner. The concept is small parcel lots of special vineyards (vine age, elevation, soil, etc.) not yet launched. There will be 6 wines in the range. This vineyard was planted in 1996, Montpellier clone, shy yielding, low clusters. Took 6 months to ferment dry, wild, malo completed, low sulphur.  Made in the later harvest style, rich, honeyed, lightly phenolic, but still with high acids. The palate is replete with yellow fruit in the oxidative style, and length is great. Acids are certainly firm. Wheat toast buttered with honey. Heading in the right direction, would love to see it tightened up marginally. Tasted April 2017.


95 2014 Mullineux Syrah ‘Granite’

From the Paardeberg. Like the chenin series, the granite tends to give more spice, floral, freshness (also more canopy, and thus less sunlight on the bunches), but this is still dense and ripe, concentrated, hardly a light and easy drinking. Really lovely. Tasted April 2017.

94 2015 Porseleinberg Syrah

Boekenhootskloofs, principal Swartland outpost, the Porseleinberg is a radically stony-schist mountain where vines struggle to grow. In general these are extremely sturdy wines, in need of considerable bottle ageing, but are a striking example of Swartland terroir. An increase in finesse, however was evident across a mini-vertical from the first vintage in 2010 to this 2015, as vines seem to be settling in to their new hell. It’s aged 90% in foudres and 10% in concrete eggs, and is still a touch reductive, but also succulent and juicy, with genuine minerality – iron flavours streak through the palate. Florality also dominates – a fine purple flower-violet note, with spicy dark fruit, and fresh/ripe black olives. Tannins are very firm, but a little more fine grained then earlier vintages. Quite exceptional wine, best after 2025. Tasted April 2017.

Radically stony-schist soils on the Porseleinberg, Swartland-7716

Radically stony-schist soils on the Porseleinberg, Swartland

94 2014 Mullineux Chenin Blanc ‘Granite’

From the Paardeberg, a parcel on deep decomposed granite soils. Soil type boils down to moisture Chris Mullineux tells me, and granite up to 4-5 meters deep, allows deep root systems to grow, buffering against stress. Chenin can be picked with relatively high acids and low pH fully ripe. The soil is low in nitrogen and nutrients in general, leading to struggling ferments that give a more flinty character. This is refined, floral, crisp, lightly honeyed, really lovely, crunchy, fresh. So mineral. Tasted April 2017.

94 2014 Mullineux Syrah

From a blend of blend of Schist, Granite and Iron soils. Terrific density, heavy but not ponderous, with high tannic structure and inky black fruit character. It’s a little severe for now, but give it 3-4 years for what will surely evolve into a brilliant expression. Tasted April 2017.

94 2015 David & Nadia Sadie Chenin Blanc

This is an impressive young operation, now into the 5th vintage. This chenin from the southern Swartland on the Paardeberg slopes is wild fermented in old wood. It offers a terrific nose, marvellously dense and complete, rich, balanced, elegant but powerful. Citrus balances with yellow fruit and flowers. 13.5% alc declared is really well balanced – love the unctuous texture with freshness built in. Superb length. Tasted April 2017.

93 2014 Eben Sadie Columella

Sadie’s Columella is a syrah-dominated blend, with grenache, mourvèdre, cinsault, and tinta barroca from eight vineyards in the Swartland on different soil types. The 2014 was just released. Fermentation in conical wooden tanks, pressed into barriques (228s) for another year, then blended and aged a final year in large foudre. It’s still slightly reductive,  but has lovely perfume, violet, purple flowers, pepper, black fruit. The palate is full, fresh, perfectly medium-full bodied, with excellent length and fine-grained tannins. Great length. A fine and complete wine. Very classy, more refined than the earlier vintages. Almost no punch downs now, juice extracted out of the bottom. 14%. Tasted April 2017.

93 2014 Eben Sadie Palladius

A ripe, slightly wood-influenced white blend of 11 different grapes, mainly chenin blanc, with semillon blanc and gris, verdelho, viognier, colombard, marsanne roussanne, clairette, etc., more or less the same each year, from all around the Swartland. Vineyards are kept separate until blending. Half is fermented in 500l barriques, the other half in clay pots and amphora and concrete eggs, then racked in barrel for another year. The 2015 is very plush and ripe, generous and plush, textural, with a light touch of caramel -wood, intensely concentrated. Great length. Needs another 3-4 years. Malo done on all wines. SO2 added only at bottling. Tasted April 2017.

93 2014 Mullineux Syrah ‘Schist’

Schist soils cause drought stress, and this pure schist example is indeed quite tannic, even slightly hard at this youthful stage. But it’s equally full dense and concentrated to be sure, superb, but needs years in the bottle to fully resolve. Revisit in the early ’20s – this should be great. Tasted April 2017.

92 2014 Mullineux Chenin Blanc ‘Schist’

More weighty and dense than Granite chenin from Mullineux, thanks to a less deep root system, smaller canopy, smaller bunches, and thicker skins. This has serious extract -lots of phenolics, higher pH, lower acid; alcohol is declared at 14%. A wine of full on power all in all. Tasted April 2017.

91 2015 Boekenhootskloof Syrah

From Porseleinberg and Goldmine farms in the Swartland, with 21 months in large foudres and old barriques, far shorter than previous vintages. Smoky and peppery, firm and concentrated, old world style with ripe black fruit. Very good length. Needs 2-3 years min. Tasted April 2017.

90 2015 Boekenhootskloof Chocolate Block Syrah

Syrah 71%, cabernet sauvignon 8%, cinsault 5%, viognier 1%. Far less chocolaty and oaky than previous vintages, this has very fine depth and length, fresh black fruit, resinous. Very good length. Tasted April 2017.

90 2014 Huis Van Chevallerie Filia Chenin Blanc Brut Nature MCC

One of the more interesting and successful traditional method sparkling chenins in SA, made from 45 year old vines. I like the sensation of sucrosity despite no dosage (naturally low acids help to round and soften the palate). Depth and Length are very good, and there’s a genuine salinity, not to mention length. Nicely done. 11.5% alcohol. Tasted April 2017.

90 2016 Mother Rock Wines Liquid Skin (Orange wine)

A skin fermented chenin kept 9 weeks on the skins, 100% whole bunches, stems and all, aged in foudre. It’s clean and fresh on the nose, but the palate is classically skin contact style, which is to say firm and tannic, but balanced. Very clean overall, with low oxidation/volatility, not filtered but limpid. This has character. Tasted April 2017.

90 2016 A.A. Badenhorst Ramnasgrass Hermitake (Cinsault)

Hermitake is the old Afrikaans name for cinsault. Old clones. The nose is all light red fruit, strawberry-driven, given whole bunch fermentation (like all reds at Badenhorst except the grenache). There’s lots of tannic grip, and resinous stemmy-twiggy flavour. Decent to good length. Firm and grippy, honest fruit, just lightly oxi/dried. Tasted April 2017.

89 2015 Momento Grenache

Decomposed granites, 30% whole bunch. Lots of tannic grip here, resinous. 3-4 weeks on the skins, old barrels. Succulent and juicy-firm. Tasted April 2017.


89 2015 Bosman Family Vineyards ‘Fides’

6 year old Grenache blanc, fermented and left 8 weeks on the skins. Clean, relatively open, lightly honeyed, like older late harvest riesling. This has fine acids, very light tannic structure, decent length. Highly drinkable, simple but pleasurable. Tasted April 2017.

The Bosman family's vine nursery, Wellington-7762

The Bosman family’s vine nursery, Wellington

Western Cape

93 2016 Blank Bottle ‘Orbital Frontal Cortex’

A blend of grenache, clairette, semillon, verdelho, and fernão pires from across the Western Cape (the blend changes slightly every year, and is essentially Peter Walser’s theoretical ideal, the best white from the cellar each harvest designed by the Frontal Cortex, the ‘conscious thinking centre’ of the brain. (The neurological counterpart to this wine is called “Limbic”, after the more emotional part of the brain, a blend made with “a few people, some computers and quite a few wires”. The blend is assembled according to Walser’s subconscious reactions when tasting each lot (e.g. brainwaves, blood oxygen levels, arousal levels and heart rate) – the barrels that ‘light up his brain’.) Fascinating stories aside, this wine is good. It’s a rich, ripe, southern Rhône style white, oxidative, ripe white fruit-flavoured, dense, full, balanced, with crunchy but ripe acids, and fine concentration. Superb complexity. Also noteworthy “Haan”: Grenache Blanc from three sites: Wellington, Piekenierskloof, and Voor Paarderberg (also a touch of grenache gris from this last site). Fat and rich but not heavy, low fruit, mostly ripe white. Impression of richness/sweetness. “69.9999”, The first truly reductive wine, rubbery – not surprised, this is pure shiraz. Blood, iodine. Very firm, tight, Fantastic. “Moment of Silence”, High percentage of old vines, chenin, chardonnay, grenache blanc. Interesting botanical notes. Not explosive, or particularly aromatic, but again like all of Pieter Walser’s wines, much more textural and very stony, with more oyster shell flavour than fruit. Great length and precision.

Watch this short video of Pieter Walser talking about his wine Orbital Frontal Cortex – It’s a neat story.

91 2015 Fram  “Fine Wines of Exploration” Chenin Blanc

Chenin blanc from the Swartland, Stellenbosch and Piekenierskloof. Lovely, dense, ripe, botanical/herbal chenin, full, generous, delivering an impression of sweetness thanks to high extract and high alcohol (13.5% declared but 13.9 actual). This is immediately impressive, well structured with excellent length. Tasted April 2017.

91 2015 Alheit Vineyards La Colline

Pure old high density bush vine semillon planted in 1936 on the southern slope of Dassenberg, between 310 and 350m above sea-level. but also an estimated 10-15% semillon gris mixed in the La Colline vineyard. I like the savoury-botanical character, gently oxidative, and fullish with lots of phenolics on the palate – a solid tannic backbone. The tannins “help with the impression of nervousness” for Chris Alheit. Bold and still tight, best after another 2-3 years I’d say.  Tasted April 2017.

90 2016 Momento Chenin-Verdelho  Whole bunch basket pressed, dirty ferment, 10 months on lees before bottling. Verdelho brings acids. Appley, oxi, botanical style, rich, full. Solid result. Tasted April 2017.

Table Wine (No Appellation)

89 2016 Flotsam and Jetsam (Alheit Vineyards) Stalwart Cinsault

Made from “the stuff that was jettisoned off the boat”, says Chris Alheit. Cinsault has always been a workhorse grape, yet still part of SA’s heritage, and in fact has been blended into some of South Africa’s most iconic wines in the past. But this is made to be drunk, not revered. It has lovely nose, and firm, crunchy, juicy, salty palate, bright and infinitely drinkable.  From 40 year-old, dry farmed vines, all concrete, 100% whole bunch. “It’s the kind of wine we drink at home”, says Alheit. Tasted April 2017.


John Szabo, MS