Chamonix, Franschhoek
One of South Africa's most exciting wineries: South Africa revisited part 22

Franschhoek is the gourmet capital of the western Cape, where many of the best restaurants are found. And its wines? They're not all that highly regarded, unfortunately. Those wineries that do have a good reputation seem to source quite a lot of their grapes from outside the valley. But one notable exception is Chamonix, who in recent years have begun to develop a stellar reputation, and whose wines are all from estate fruit.

Chamonix is one of the largest properties in the valley, with 300 hectares, but much of this is mountain and forest, and there are 50 hectares of vines. The vineyards are at altitudes ranging 350 to 600 metres, which is higher than most; they are split into many small parcels.

The notes here are from three separate tastings. The first is with winemaker Gottfried Mocke at a lunch in Franschhoek, the second is from a dinner with the other winemaker here, Werner Muller, and the third is from a tasting in London.

Mocke (above) has been at Chamonix for eight years, and he takes quite a natural approach. ‘We have a no acidification policy,’ he states, ‘and in the last few years we have been focusing on wild ferments.’ The emphasis is on traditional French varieties with a focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The vines are dry farmed.  

The Sauvignon Blanc is interesting. The soils are predominantly greywacke and not very vigorous. ‘Our area is not coastal cool climate so we shouldn’t try to make that primary fruit style,’ says Mocke. His Sauvignon is made in a distinctive style with some oxidative elements and barrel ageing. ‘When I started this style it was difficult to sell because it didn’t fit into what people thought of Sauvignon.’  

Pinot Noir is made from the highest vineyard parcels, which are predominantly stony/clay soils. ‘Greywacke doesn’t work so well for Pinot Noir,’ explains Mocke. ‘You get too much sour cherry character.’ They lose quite a few grapes to the baboons, as well as birds. ‘Baboons never touch Merlot and Pinotage,’ says Mocke. ‘They know something that the rest of the industry hasn’t learned.’

Chamonix Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2008
100% barrel fermented, 20% new oak. 20% of the wine is fermented maceration carbonique with whole bunches before being pressed to barrel. Subtly toasty edge to the rich ripe pear fruit, with some grapefruit freshness. There's richness yet restraint, with nice texture. 90/100 (10/10 )

Chamonix Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Strikingly pure aromatic grapefruit and herb nose. The palate is savoury and mineral and intense with lovely texture. Real purity and intensity here. Complex and refined. 92/100 (11/09)

Chamonix Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Wonderfully toasty and intense with lovely grapefruit and herb character. Fresh and quite complex. Subtly toasty and a bit nutty with some appealing grassy notes. 91/100 (10/10)

Chamonix Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Taut, intense, lemony and herby with subtle greenness. Nicely textured palate with nice greenness and also some tropical notes. 91/100

Chamonix Chardonnay 2008
Gently toasty with nice purity and appealing rich peach and pear fruit. Long finish. 90/100 (10/10)

Chamonix Reserve Chardonnay 2008
13% alcohol. 10% fermented in Nomblot egg. 100% malolactic at cold temperature, which results in lower diacetyl production. Refined, minerally, toasty nose: pure with lovely complexity. The palate has freshness and elegance to the concentrated, mealy, spicy, subtly minerally fruit. Lovely precision and focus. 92/100 (11/09)

Chamonix Reserve Chardonnay 2009
Toasty, rich and dense but nicely balanced with subtle oak and dense peach and pear fruit. Lovely fruit quality. 92/100 (10/10)

Chamonix Reserve Pinot Noir 2008
13% alcohol. Made from four parcels; the highest vineyards on the property. Beautifully perfumed pure, elegant sweet sappy cherry and berry fruit. The palate is fresh and sappy with lovely purity and freshness. Cherry and herbs, finishing mineral. Beautiful wine. 94/100 (11/09)

Chamonix Reserve Pinot Noir 2009
Dryland farmed at 550-600 metres; low yielding vines. Werner reports that they used to use more older oak here, but found forest floor characters developing too early. Now they use more new oak (80%), seasoned for longer and lightly toasted. Ferments are all natural and there's no acidification. Ripe but elegant fresh cherry fruit nose, which is subtly spicy and sappy. The palate shows rich cherry and berry fruit with notes of herbs, iodine and spice. A rich but elegant style. 93/100 (10/10)

Chamonix Greywacke Pinotage 2008
Sweet, pure berry fruits with a fresh, tangy edge. Nicely expressive and pure with lovely fruit. A Pinotage I like! 90/100 (10/10)

Chamonix Troika Reserve 2007
54% Cabernet Franc, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Merlot. Intense nose of graphite, gravel, chalk and pure blackcurrant fruit. Very pure. The palate is dense and structured with lovely freshness and impeccable balance, with a mineral edge to the pure blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Brilliantly fresh and quite complex. 94/100 (11/09)

An older review from 2003:

Chamonix is a substantial 300 ha estate in the trendy Franschoek valley of the Western Cape. Only a short drive from the better-known Stellenbosch region, the pulling power of Franschoek lies in its pretty setting and the fact that it’s emerging as the culinary capital of the winelands, with a good spread of high-end eateries.

These wines were presented by Gottfried Mocke, who has been winemaker here for the last two years. Quality is very good, with the distinctive Chardonnays the stand-out wines.

Chamonix Chardonnay 2000 Franschhoek
80% new French oak. Served a little cold, this is a rich, intense nutty, toasty Chardonnay. Lots of new oak but it integrates well with the rich, dense fruit. An impressive savoury style. Very good/excellent

Chamonix Chardonnay 1999 Franschhoek
Lots of character. Quite taut and toasty – a rich savoury expression of Chardonnay. Very good/excellent

Chamonix Chardonnay Reserve 1998 Franschhoek
Unusual but nice. Golden colour. Expressive bready, nutty nose is quite intense. Creamy and quite evolved with some vanilla fudge notes. Evolved rich, toasty, nutty palate. Lots of character here. Very good/excellent

Chamonix Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2001 Franschhoek
Aged in old barrels for 11 months. Vivid herby nose leads to a richly flavoured palate with nutty, herby fruit and a spicy edge. Very good

Chamonix Pinotage 2001 Franschhoek
An attractive take on Pinotage. Rich style with sweet herby berry fruit. There’s a slightly cheesy Pinotage character on the finish. Very good

Chamonix Pinot Noir 2002 Franschhoek
Quite a forward sweet herbal nose with a medicinal note. The palate is dense, spicy and herby. Lots of flavour but a slight herbaceousness on the finish. Very good

Chamonix Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 Franschhoek
Lovely chalky edge to the classy berry fruit. Quite elegant. Really appealing concentrated palate which shows dense ripe berry fruit with chalky tannins and good acid. An elegant style. Very good/excellent

Part 1, Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards
Part 2, Cape Point Vineyards
Part 3, AA Badenhorst Family Wines
Part 4, Eben Sadie: Sadie Family Wines and Sequillo Cellars
Part 5, Paul Kretzel of Lammershoek
Part 6, Mullineux Family Wines
Part 7, Vondeling
Part 8, Scali
Part 9, Sterhuis
Part 10, Raats
Part 11, Migliarina
Part 12, Charles Back and Fairview
Part 13, Hermit on the Hill
Part 14, Klein Constantia
Part 15, Iona, Elgin
Part 16, Paul Cluver, Elgin
Part 17, Eagles' Nest, Constantia
Part 18, Anthonij Rupert
Part 19, Rupert & Rothschild
Part 20, Oak Valley, Elgin
Part 21, Shannon, Elgin
Part 22, Chamonix, Franschhoek

Wines tasted 11/09  
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