Back again at my hotel after the Table Mountain Run, I took a quick shower and went out to get some lunch. As expected, but not forecasted, the sky had cleared and dried up all remains of the morning’s light drizzle. Heat was picking up, it was going to be a warm day. This time I walked upwards on Long Street, into Kloof Street, until I reached a small shopping mall with adjacent restaurants. The mall itself – Lifestyle On Kloof – looked quite nice and had a little wine shop that I planned to browse through later. But first lunch.
In the end I settled for a grilled sandwich at Knead Bakery, which must be at the epicentre of hipsterism in Cape Town. The place was crowded with young men with beards and visible tattoos! All laughing, all drinking coffee or fruit juices, all with iPhones and Macbooks… At the table beside me there was this young couple very much in love, but in this particular case the guy looked more like a surfer dude than a proper hipster. The girl, though, looked like a true hipster.
Anyway – I bought some wine in the wine shop and got ready for my three o’clock appointment at Reyneke. I was going to take a taxi, but this time I was going to be prepared. Very unfortunately, but perhaps very good for my economy, I just could not get internet to my iPhone (other than the hotelian wifi of course). I tried all kinds of roaming acceptances, “yes you can read all my private messages, and yes you can get all information to my whereabouts, and yes, take all my pictures for free, and yes take my bio statics and my bank account movements and of course I will pay a truckload of money but PLEASE GIVE ME INTERNET!” But no. So, in order to be fully prepared for the cab ride, which I assumed would take about forty to fifty minutes, I had taken explicit screenshots of where I was going.
Down on Long Street, I approached a nice looking cab and showed the driver a collection of the screenshots. He nodded, “yes I know where that is!” Great. I jumped in, the handle came off when I shut the door. Maybe not that nice after all.
We drove for a few streets, and then all of a sudden he said, “let me see that map again!” I showed him it. “You can’t move it!” “No, it’s because they are screenshots! I don’t have internet on my phone!” “You don’t have internet?” “No!”
So first we had to stop at a little convenience store where he got out and bought some internet for HIS phone. Then – a big bright smile – aha! Now I know where that place is! Splendid.
We got out on the “1,” the National Route no. 1, driving eastward. And just like the day before, it did not take long before we got in serious traffic jam. Friday afternoon, I guess everyone had fled work early and was driving home for dinner and drinks. But slowly, the traffic eased up and about Bellvile it got better. Then we made a right turn on the R300 and then into Kuils River on the R102. Passing through the town, we made a left turn on the M12, or the Polkadraai Road. We were getting there, slowly but steadily. The remaining thing was to find the tiny exit, which was not that easy. And although driving very slowly, we just missed the sign saying Reyneke. But, since traffic was virtually non-existing on this part of the road, the driver put the car in reverse and backed up some 30 metres to the exit. A few turns later up the dirt road, I was there.
Reyneke Farm turned out to be beautifully located on top of a hill with a gorgeous view overlooking the surrounding hills and valleys. Outside, two roosters were roosting for first position. Everywhere I looked wine was planted. I was greeted by L, who showed me into the tasting room where I met with Nuschka, assistant winemaker at Reyneke who was going to lead the tasting. First wine, as always, a savvie.
2015 Reyneke Organic Sauvignon Blanc
“This is our entry level wines, screwcap, more new world style, organic,” Nuschka notes. “It’s more aromatic, typical new world style. For our other wines we use cork, aiming for an elegant, old world style. This wine is 95 percent sauvignon blanc and 5 percent Semillon. You get all the aromatic sauvignon blanc on the nose, the five percent Semillon gives you structure and complexity to the palate. The grapes come from a warmer region, it’s grapes that we buy. It’s too expensive to grow these grapes here at this price level. Soils a bit more fertile. You will pick this up in comparison with our own grown grapes, you will have a tighter, more minerality, more granite soils over here.”
So you have more minerality in your wines?
“Yes, because it is terroir expression. We can really say our wines are terroir. Our soil is healthy, and without the soil being healthy and high carbon, you don’t have microorganisms that make everything available in the soil available to the vine. With more microorganisms and healthy soil, available for the vines, you can pick it up in the wine, on the palate.
Is it important for you to get the terroir expression in your wines?
“Yes, our wines are made in the vineyard, in comparison to other. We try to extract the best from our grapes, nothing really falls out in our wines. We don’t add acid and we don’t inoculate with certain yeast… like some, having certain yeast for their savvies to get certain character…
Just natural yeast?
“Yes. We use for this range organic certified yeast (that we are allowed to use). But that is actually yeast that was isolated from our vineyard, then manufactured. But originally it came from our vineyard.”
I liked this wine. On the nose, a very typical sauvignon blanc. Very fresh, very light, not too much acid, not packed with exotic fruit. Light, well-balanced, and yet quite mouth-filling. No bitterness, fresh and fruity. 58 Rand. Nuschka sums it up quite accurately by “it is a drinking wine, it is not a thinking wine.”
2015 Reyneke Sauvignon Blanc
“This is grown on the farm. And actually, with the reserve white, it will basically be cornered off sections of the vineyard, in the old all was farmed conventionally, and mixed together, but with the biodynamic the terroir expression started to appear.”
“Just by walking through the vineyard, tasting the grapes to see if they were ready to pick, they started to notice differences, just walking and tasting. The vines for the sauvignon blanc were planted around 1994 – so 20, 22 years old.”
What is the difference between this and the reserve white?
“The reserve is more flinty, more granite, more minerality in comparison to this one. But they are not far from each other. For this wine, some of the fruit we do whole bunch press. But all fruit goes into the cold room over night. For this, we don’t have to use sulphur. So it’s cold, not hot and oxidizing. The juice goes into tank, and then on to another tank, and then slowly warms up. Fermentation kicks in, we transfer the juice to barrel and finish the fermentation in barrel. So all this is happening in barrel, a natural element for the yeast. We don’t think that stainless steel tanks are good for natural yeast. For this wine we’ll use first, second, and third fold barrels. It’s made like the reserve, except we use new barrels for the reserve, and only certain parts of the vineyard that we identified as different. For the reserve, we do 20-30 percent malo. Then stored back in the cold room, staying on the lees, and only after six months we’ll rattle for lees. Tank, cold stabilization, then botteling.”
Great wine! So delicious, such a lovely wine. It has a light touch of the oak, but then waves of citrus, oranges, and… mandarins! I found this wine to have more balance than the first. So complex, and changing. A few minutes later, other scents, other aromas. This would go excellent with food, or as Nuschka observes, “not often you can have a sauvignon blanc with food without it disappearing.”
You mentioned this was not your typical new world sauvignon blanc?
“No, it is not a typical South African sauvignon blanc, that’s why I say that our wines are more old world, European in essence. Like a sancerre… We are in a warmer climate, that is one thing we have a harder time with, but we still have natural acid in our wine, because we have a healthy vineyard. Our soils have healthy pH’s. A lot of these other that make sauvignon blancs, they add tones of acid! We don’t have to add acid. This year has been a hard year though, we didn’t have much rain and it has been very hot. The grapes would ripen, but the acid levels were dropping. So what we did was that we harvested one patch a lot earlier, at 19 brix, and used that for acid. Thus, we had a natural component that we could blend back into our wines. You know, you have to be a bit smart about your winemaking!”
Well, needless to point out, I’m gonna do it anyway: this was difficult to spit.
2015 Reyneke Chenin Blanc
“This is our new chenin, the vines are about 55-60 years old. It is quite a funny looking vineyard, just grown on its own way. But, because of that, we have this wine where the fruit is very concentrated, clusters are small. It’s not light chenin, it’s got complexity, it’s got intensity. We made 2,500 litres of it in a foudre, the other part we did in second and third fold barrels. It stayed on the lees for a year, basically. We took it out in December. Then we did cold stabilization over the holidays in December, and then went into bottles. So, basically, it has just been released. It is a wine that can age. The natural acid that you get with these old vines, this intense acid, sometimes it is too sharp for people, but that is the ageing potential. Lovely with food.”
Quite different from the sauvignon blanc! This was actually a bit more difficult to drink, compared to the sauvignon blanc. Quite different. More of the oak, more of the acidity, still very complex, very powerful.
“Yes. It’s a very powerful wine, exactly. Just bottled recently, it is going to develop, it does actually become more fruity. A wine you would have with food.”
Jumping a bit, but you are biodynamic. The conversion, how long did that take?
“The conversion takes three to four years. It is quite a long process. The first years are hell, because when you do conventional, you do spraying. When converting, you do none of that. Every disease, every insect, everything you could possibly imagine comes into the vineyard in the first year. Then it gets a little better, but it is still chaos… as the vines are putting up their own defenses. The natural predators start to come into the vineyard and the vines… It is actually quite a long time before the balance comes in. It takes three to four years for the conversion, but to get the essence of the grape, vine and the fruit, that takes long time. The potential and what the vines and the fruit can do, really start to come out after eight years. It is a long process, something you need to have patience for. Patience is just a choice that you have to make if you want to make a wine with integrity.”
2014 Organic Shiraz Cabernet
Moving back to the organic range, with purchased organic grapes, the fourth wine is the 2014 Organic Shiraz Cabernet with 51 percent Shiraz, and 49 percent cabernet sauvignon.
You buy the grapes?
“Yes. From a warmer region, more new world style. We call our estate grown Shiraz Syrah. That’s a clear indication we try to make two styles. This wine is put in old barrels, to soften the tannins. It’s quite interesting with this wine because… you smell it, and all you can smell is the Shiraz. Then, when tasting it, on the palate, all you can taste is basically the cab!”
Once again I am presented with a drinking wine and not a thinking wine. On the nose there is no cedar, no cassis. No blueberries either! In the mouth, a bit spicey, peppery… lot of tannins in! Full taste, full bodied. Very short aftertaste. 58 Rand, “made for drinking, we try to make it available and affordable for everyone.”
The grapes that you buy, they have the certificates?
“Yes. They have to have the certificate before we buy. We go there and take leafs and test them. Strict regulations.”
Do you influence them, to be more organic, biodymanic?
“Yes, we help them. There is this movement, and a lot of people come to Johan to get advice on conversions. It’s slow, but it is happening. The biodynamic movement is happening in South Africa, which is great.”
2014 Vinehugger (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot)
A 50/50 mix, exclusively made for Woolworths. This is clearly a more Bordeaux style wine. It stays about a year in oak barrels, the grapes that do not make Cornerstone class go into making the vinehugger brand. I also found this to be quite good: nice tannins, well-balanced, it fills the mouth.
By the way, you don’t make a dessert wine?
“No, we haven’t got the time, haven’t the area. We do what works here.”
How determine were to plant which grapes? Like, “this plot is excellent for sauvignon blanc, this is excellent for chenin blanc…?”
“Well, you look at the soil, that is quite an important aspect, you look at the slope, north or south or west… what’s the heat, the temperature? Is it hot in the day does it cool down at night? In our case, the wind from False Bay makes a great cooing effect. You can see all the way to Hermanus, the wind comes right over our vineyard. Lovely for the savvies, even for the cabs. Without that, we would just have heat, and the wines would be more jammier and baked. So that cooling effect is great. We could not grow pinot noir here, we don’t have the warm days and very cool nights, and we don’t have clay in our soils, we have more granite. So, you have to look at many aspects. Any new plants we look more at what fits here, which is in line with being biodynamic. Understand what the vine needs. Soil is very important.”
2014 Reyneke Syrah
“2013 sold out very quickly. We cool our fruit and do fermentation in concrete tanks. 30-35 percent whole bunch, foot stepped. We keep some of stems in. The rest will be destemmed. We keep it at 17-18 degrees, the juice stays there until the natural ferment starts, cold macererations. We don’t do a lot of pump overs, but we do two pump overs a day. We have small berries and small branches, so we don’t have do get much extraction. Two pump overs a day give us enough extraction. This wine still needs to develop, still young.”
This was my favourite wine of the day. It had such intensity, so full of flavours, such balance. Nothing sticking out. Lite the sauvignon blanc, it just kept developing and developing. I would like to keep some bottles for a few years, see how they will end up. Also, just drink the wine over a few days, see what happens. “A book wine,” Nuschka says. I could not agree more.
2013 Reyneke Cornerstone
“The cornerstone of this vineyard is the labourers, the ones picking in the heat, working when it’s cold with pruning, throughout the year, with blood and sweat making the wine. This wine is basically for them. Proceeds of this wine goes into a trust, and once they have worked here for ten years, Johan will go and by them a house, or they can use it for education, for them or for their children. Most of the guys that we have are complete illiterate. Within a generation, you have improved. You are farming for the future. Not just for Mother Nature but for the integrity of these people.”
The 2013 Reyneke Cornerstone is a Bordeaux style blend, 43 percent cabernet franc, 32 percent merlot, the rest cabernet sauvignon. A predominantly cab fronc wine, unusual for South Africa. It is a very aromatic wine, much expression. Lovely, great wine! A wine on its own, why compare with Bordeaux?
The tasting concludes with a straight merlot from the vinehugger collection, which was quite nice. Before heading back to Cape Town, I ask Nuschka some additional questions:
Mildew and so on… what diseases do you get here in South Africa?
“We get all – powdery mildew, downy mildew… downy mildew quite a lot. Being biodynamic we try other ways… obviously the vine is more capable of dealing with these… they have deeper, broader spectrum of roots. We use Trichoderma, which is a natural fungus that eats off all the other funguses, in fact its quite effective!
Copper & Sulphur?
“We sprayed only once this season. How much copper? Gosh, I don’t know! Isn’t that bad… this season only once.”
Any “all the other ones had to… we didn’t?”
“We don’t have to add acid. Usually, pH is very high in South Africa. We struggle with our acid in our grapes. But being biodynamic, the pH has improved. We have high carbon, better natural acid in our grapes. Our wine is made in the vineyard.”
And what about composts? And the compounds?
“Yes. We try to be as much self-sustainable as possible. We don’t have to buy compost or anything. We use all the grape skins that we use… so many minerals in them that you can put back into the compost, back into the soil. We use all.”
What’s the perception of eco-wines in South Africa?
“Previously, they were considered not to taste good but I think interest is growing!”
And the sowing and planting calendar? You use it?
Two hours later I get into the taxi again and we drove back to Cape Town. It had been a great visit, a visit I had wanted to do for quite some time. Many, many thanks Nuschka and Reyneke for a very interesting visit! Thank you so much.