Day 3 of my Elgin harvest experiences was at Almenkerk, hosted by owners Joris van Almenkerk and Natalie Opstaele. They are great fun and have a really thoughtful, scientific approach to farming. The day began with a farm tour, riding pilion with Joris as he took me through some blocks that were almost ready to pick.
Here’s a film of the day:
Sauvignon Blanc is one of Almemkerk’s talents, and while the block we looked at isn’t quite ready, they are already picking another.
We also looked at some Merlot. Joris has a keen instinct for viticulture. For Merlot, he’s looking to avoid the unpleasant green characters, so he untangles bunches early on (tangled bunches end up in uneven ripeness) and removes the shoulders, which are usually slower to ripen. The Almenkerk Merlot is one of the few South African examples that excite me.
Sauvignon Blanc waiting to be processed
Back in the winery, it’s time to sort Sauvignon before it is destemmed, crushed and then pumped to the press. The fruit is pretty clean so it’s just a question of looking for rot or raisins.
Crushed Sauvignon in the press, with dry ice pellets sitting on top
The press fills and is ready to go
As the press fills, dry ice is added to keep the fruit cool (it’s already been through a must chiller on the way to the press) and to keep oxygen away. The free run juice drains and is pumped to tank. When the press is full it is closed and the press cycle of 2.5 hours is started. Sauvignon juice looks very different: it’s really green in colour. Usually Chardonnay juice is a sort of brown colour, which can be a bit alarming.
Cabernet Sauvignon: the shoots are allowed to droop a little to keep the berries in dappled light
Syrah, beginning to dimple a little
We hopped on Joris’ bike and went back into the vineyard to check on the Syrah, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. They were doing pretty well. Then it was time to press some Pinot Noir projects. Because these are small ferments, they are done with a basket press. And it’s a tiny basket press, worked by hand.
The ferment has slowed right down and is almost dry, so it’s time to press
Paul Cluver is the pioneering wine farm of Elgin. Dr Paul Cluver, a leading neurological consultant, planted vines here in 1987. ‘Everyone thought we were crazy,’ he said, because at the time apples were the main crop in the valley, and they were commercially successful. In the late 1990s, though, it was a tough time for apples and lots of second and third generation family farms ended up being sold. So grapes became more widely planted. Now, things have changed, and apples are once again highly profitable – so much so that some significant vineyards have been ripped up.
I spent the day taking part in vintage here at Paul Cluver, shadowing winemaker Andries Burger. This is a film of the experience:
The main task today was sorting 17 tons of Pinot Noir that had come in. The 2017 vintage is looking very promising, but there’s some uneven ripeness in the Pinot. So Andries is running a two-stage sorting process. First, there are six people sorting the bunches. Then, six more people sort the berries, once they have been destemmed. The sorted berries end up in a bin that is then tipped into the fermenting tank with a fork lift, to avoid pumping.
Tipping the Pinot Noir berries into the fermenter
Rejected grape bunches
Every morning, all the ferments are tasted and checked for density (which tells you how much sugar is left, and is the way that the progress of the fermentation is checked). In most wineries, this is done using a hydrometer in a measuring cylinder full of wine. But Andries has a device that checks it automatically, which is quicker and more reproducible. It costs €3000, but he says it’s the best money he has ever spent.
We also checked the progress of various blocks in the vineyard. Some Gewürztraminer was being picked: it’s a beautiful-looking grape.
And we also looked at a couple of Chardonnay vineyards.
The Riesling is doing well this year. The healthy bunches are picked first, then a short time after the bunches with some botrytis (noble rot) are picked for the Noble Late Harvest Riesling. There hasn’t been any for the last two years, but this year there probably will.
Back in the winery, it was time to do some punching down of ferments. This is slightly precarious, because you need to apply enough pressure to force the floating mass of grape skins down, but not too much because they then give, and you could end up falling into the tank. These are deep tanks, and this would be very dangerous. Many people have suffocated in wineries because of the carbon dioxide produced by ferments. Apparently, an Italian stagiere fell into a ferment here a few years ago, but luckily survived, and that was during a pump over. That takes some doing: maybe he fell asleep.
In one of the tanks, the fermentation had slowed so the cap of skins was protected by adding some dry ice. This stops the development of volatile acidity, which occurs in the presence of oxygen when the cap dries a bit.
Finally, we finished the day going for a tour of this spectacular property with Dr Cluver.
The first day of my vintage experience in South Africa’s Elgin region was spent at Iona. I was with Werner Muller, the winemaker, for the day. Iona have three properties: the Iona farm itself, Brocha, and Langrug – all are quite different. Langrug is the first to be harvested and is now finished; Brocha is part harvested; and harvest has yet to begin at Iona.
We began by visiting Brocha, where some Syrah was being harvested today. This is a rocky, stony site with interesting soils. Syrah is grown here alongside Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and also a bit of Semillon.
The Syrah arrived in the winery and Werner decided he was going to ferment this with whole bunches in small plastic bins. The grapes were tipped into each bin by forklift, and Werner stomped them around a bit to release some juice, to get the fermentation going quicker. He also added a bucket of fermenting Sauvignon to each, again with a view to getting things going quickly. The bins were then sealed up with plastic wrap around the lids, and they’ll be inspected at regular intervals to check their progress.
We had a look at the Kloof block on the Iona vineyard, which produces the first of the home estate Pinots to be harvested. The soils here are really distinctive.
aloof block, Iona
Then some Riesling turned up. This was to be pressed whole bunch. So we pulled the press out into the open, and got it ready. The draining tray on the press was connected to a pump, which was connected to the receiving tank, which had been flushed with inert gas. The press was filled by tipping in the grapes, and then it was started.
The juice that comes out is quite brown in colour, especially at first. This is because of phenolics in the grape skins and flesh oxidising and turning brown, and it’s quite normal. During fermentation this all cleans up. As the juice filled up the press tray it was pumped into the tank. The only addition was to be a bit of sulfur dioxide and some white tannin. No settling enzymes were used.
Tasting Langrug Pinot 2017
Finally, we took a trip out to see two another vineyard: Langrug. This is a really interesting 14 hectare vineyard planted on distinctive koffieklip soils. There’s Pinot here, plus some Sauvignon, and two hectares of newly planted Nebbiolo, which will be very interesting. Langrug is an interesting spot, and the 2017 Pinots, which have now finished fermentation, taste lovely.
I’m currently in South Africa’s Elgin Valley, which I visited last October for the Chardonnay Symposium. I’m here to experience vintage with four different producers: Iona, Almenkerk, Paul Cluver and Elgin Ridge. I’ll be working as a cellar rat, and documenting the experience in pictures and film. I’m really looking forward to it.
I’ve had a day to prepare. On Saturday night we went to the amphitheatre at Paul Cluver to see Watershed, a local acoustic/rock band play. Cluver host a series of concerts (hope@paulcluver) to raise money for local charity the Thembalitsha Foundation. It was a lovely setting and the band were pretty tight – the sell-out crowd really got into it.
Andries Burger, winemaker, Paul Cluver
Sophie and Julien Schaal, who make wine in Alsace and Elgin
Then yesterday we popped into Almenkerk for a tasting, and then headed over to lunch with the four wineries to discuss plans for the week. This finished around 6 pm, and I went back with Brian and Marion of Elgin Ridge to listen to Brian’s fabulous vinyl collection at a decent volume. This morning I’m off to Iona to begin work.
The view from Almenkerk
Impressive new releases from Iona: the 2016 Chardonnay and super-elegant 2015 Pinot Noir
Paul Cluver Seven Flags Pinot Noir, made with Martin Prier, shows real elegance – this is the latest 2015 release
I was given this wine to taste blind. It’s always interesting to try things without any clue what they are. I really liked it immediately, but it also tasted a tiny bit natural, with some (but not excessive) volatile acidity and a slight savoury spiciness. But these elements integrate beautifully into the whole of the wine, and it’s drinking beautifully now at age 8.
Lapierre Morgon 2009 Beaujolais, France
This is the version that has some SO2 added (labelled ‘S’ on the back label). Wonderfully detailed with a warm spicy, savoury character. Fine herbs with some sweet tea leaf notes. There’s a warmth at the end of the palate. So textural, complex and savoury with some pepper and herbs as well as some texture. Smoky, meaty cherry and berry fruits with lovely texture. There’s a bit of lift here but also lovely harmony and beauty. 94/100
This seminar at the Vancouver Wine Festival looked at the diversity of wines coming from British Colombia, and followed on from a previous session focusing on some more of the region’s wines. I was on the panel, which was very well led by Canadian wine journalist Treve Ring, and which included Rhys Pender and terroir expert Pedro Parra. These are my notes on the wines, of which a few really impressed.
Maverick Estate Winery Ella 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada
A sparkling wine from the Golden Mile Bench, disgorged in April 2015, 20% Chardonnay, 80% Pinot Noir. Subtle waxy, appley edge to the fresh citrus fruit. There’s nice warmth to the fruit here with tangy citrus notes and some pear, too. Intriguing and quite delicious with nice texture in the mouth. 90/100
Summerhill Pyramid Winery Ariel 1998 Okanagan Valley, Canada
This is a distinctive, mature sparkling wine that comes in a very striking bottle. Complex, rich, toasty and appley with lovely complexity. Pear, peach and nuts with some honeyed richness. Powerful, bold and long, with a sense of deliciousness. Sweet and savoury at the same time. 92/100
Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015 Vancouver Island, Canada
From the cool climate of Vancouver Island. Attractive texture here with sweet pear and citrus fruit with some melony richness. Nice weight here. Has lovely purity and appealing fruit. 89/100
Haywire Switchback Pinot Gris 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Lovely open fruit here with some fresh grape and pear characters. There’s a detailed texture to this wine which shows lovely purity and a stony, mineral character. Subtle nutty detail. 92/100
Little Farm Winery Riesling 2015 Similkameen Valley, Canada
Lively and keen with intense lemony acidity and some appley character. Some taut herb and nut characters. Waxy and complex with great precision and freshness. Distinctive and lovely with a stony minerality. 92/100
Tantalus Vineyards Old Vines Riesling 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Such a beautiful wine, made from one of the famous plantings of 1978. Appley, nutty and precise with some waxy notes and a lovely lemony core. There’s really high acidity but it integrates beautifully into the complex fruit. Powerful and expressive with real personality. 94/100
Cedar Creek Estate Platinum Block 5 Chardonnay 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
There’s a lovely citrussy core to this wine, with good acidity. Hints of pineapple, white peach and toast adding richness. Lovely precision and good acidity (pH 3.1, no malolactic) with nice focus. Puncheons and a concrete egg used here, and only 10% new oak. Very stylish and pure. 93/100
Checkmate Queen Taken Chardonnay 2013 Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley, Canada
Made from some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in Canada, trellised in an umbrella sprawl with wide spacing. Lovely fruity depth here with pear and white peach, as well as some sweet bready complexity. Broad, nutty and complex with some vanilla oak evident. Very sophisticated and bold, but still in balance. 92/100
Spierhead Winery Pinot Noir 2015 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Four Dijon clones, 10% new oak. Sappy, green edge to the sweet cherry and berry fruit. Made in a lighter, more expressive style with some sweet, supple fruit and a green edge that just about integrates with the fruit. Has a cool-climate edge. An attractive wine. 90/100
Foxtrot Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada
From the Naramata Bench. Sweet and sour cherry and plum fruit with a spicy, tarry, tangy edge. Strawberries and herbs, too, with a savoury spicy finish. Tangy. 89/100
Black Hills Estate Syrah 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
A beautifully sleek, modern wine with lovely black cherry and blackberry fruit. Sweet and lush with seductive fruit and notes of olive and roast meat. Satisfying in a ripe, luscious style. 91/100
Painted Rock Syrah 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Very distinctive with a lively peppery edge to the black olive and black cherry palate. Intense and vivid with dense fruit and grippy tannins. There’s a strongly savoury, saline character to this wine and it’s quite delicious in a bold, full-on style. 92/100
I’ve just published two films on my Mornington Peninsula adventures, with an introduction to the region. The two parts go together, and feature many of the key winegrowers who have helped put this region on the map as Australia’s premier for Pinot Noir (although Tasmania may dispute this.
Part 1 – in order of appearance
0:27 Mike Aylward, Ocean Eight
2:53 Lindsay and Jamie McCall, Paringa Estate
4:58 Simon Black, Montalto
6:48 Glen Hayley, Kooyong
8:39 Geraldine McFaul, Willow Creek
Part 2 – in order of appearance
0:28 Gary Crittenden 2:39 Sandro Mosele 3:32 Martin Spedding, Ten Minutes By Tractor 8:48 David Lloyd, Eldridge Estate of Red Hill 10:25 Hugh Robinson 12:49 Tom Carson, Yabby Lake 15:29 Mike Symons, Stonier 17:34 Kathleen Quealy, Quealy
You can’t put Dirk Niepoort in a box. He’s not your standard winemaker. Who releases a wine called ‘Clos de Crappe’ with the description ‘technically a disaster’? (See above from the Niepoort website.) As Dirk explains in the film below, Clos de Crappe was originally a wine made with a view to producing a slightly funky barrel to add seasoning to his high-end Burgundian-style red Charme. But now it has become a wine in its own right, stinky and reductive – flawed yet serious, and thoroughly likeable, if you can see past the edges. Here Dirk explains the wine to Canadian wine journalist Treve Ring and me while we are lunching with him at Quinta do Napoles in the Douro.
Niepoort Clos du Crappe 2013 Douro, Portugal
Remarkable stuff. There’s some spicy reduction here but it’s nicely integrated into the smooth, quite elegant juicy red cherry fruit. Very interesting and detailed with some grip on the finish. 93/100 (JG)
Niepoort Clos de Crappe 2013 Douro, Portugal
When you lift this straight to your nose without air, you can see why this wine has come by its memorable name. However, after a swirl or decant, the reductive and barnyard blows off to reveal fine cherry, raspberry, black plum and earthy notes. Tannins are fine and slightly grippy on the finish, easily supporting the seamless lightness of the palate. 60-80 year old vines of Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Sousão, Alicante de Bouschet, Rufete and others make up this charming Crappe. 92/100 (TR)
There’s a rather crazy video for Clos de Crappe here. Quite addictive.
There’s a buzz around sparkling wine at the moment. Sparkling wine sales account for 11% of global wine sales and this market is growing by 4.5% annually. And it’s something that Canada has a talent for, with its cool climate wine regions.
This seminar, moderated by Dr Janet Dorozynski, looked at Canadian sparkling wine. Of late there has been the beginnings of something special here in Canada. VQA sparkling wine is 3.2% of market share in Canada, which means there is room for growth. By value, domestic sparkling wine is 12% of sparkling wine sales.
1974 saw the first sparkling wine from Ontario which was made from Chardonnay and labelled ‘Champagne’. It was the late 1980s when there was greater commitment to sparkling wine, with Hillebrand and Chateau des Charmes producing their own fizz.
Now there are at least 40 sparkling wine producers in British Columbia (but there may be as many as 75 if you count all those who have wine on lees but which is not yet released), and some 40+ in Ontario. There are 20 in Quebec making grape-based plus also fruit and cider fizz, and in Nova Scotia 10 producers make fizz (from 20 wineries). There are relatively few specialists though: in BC there’s Bella, and Ontario has Hinterland in Prince Edward County.
A lot of progress has been made in Ontario with the ‘fizz club’ which Belinda Kemp set up at Brock University. This brings together sparkling winemakers for a forum to discuss technical issues.
The latest buzz surrounds sparkling wine from Nova Scotia, which has a particularly cool climate that allows producers to make base wine with amazing acidity and yet also lovely flavour development.
This selection of wines showed the breadth of the offering of Canadian fizz, with some real highlights. This is an interesting future direction for Canadian wine.
L’Acadie Prestige Brut Estate 2010 Nova Scotia, Canada
pH 2.9, rs 2 g/l, 11.5% alcohol. Fresh, pure and lively with lovely balanced citrus and grape characters. Fruity and quite sophisticated, this is made solely from L’Acadie Blanc. This is traditional method with five years on the lees, and it has nice complexity. 90/100
Domaine de Grand Pré Vintage Brut 2009 Nova Scotia, Canada L’Acadie Blanc and Seyval Blanc. Almost five years on the less. Slightly creamy edge to the lovely balanced pear and ripe apple fruit. There’s a bit of toasty richness here with some sweetness, too. Nice weight on the palate with some grapey richnesss. Sweet finish. 89/100
Blomidon Estate Winery Late Pick Chardonnay 2011 Nova Scotia, Canada From Chardonnay left on the vine and picked on 8th November. No malolactic fermentation and 2.7 g/l dosage. Pithy, bright and herby with a slightly waxy edge to the lively lemony fruit. There’s some focus here with a bit of savoury grip under the taut fruit. Dry, lemony finish with keen acidity and purity. 90/100
Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008 Nova Scotia, Canada L’Acadie Blanc and Seyval with a bit of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Lovely delicacy here: there’s fine toastiness, ripe apple, lemons and some bright herbal characters. Sweetly fruited and well balanced with keen acidity. Precise, with some nice complexity. 92/100
Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catherine Brut NV Niagara, Canada Rounded and fruity with some white peach and pear notes. Generous with subtle toast and bread characters, with some citrus freshness here. Good balance. Has some deliciousness. 89/100
Trius Winery Brut NV Niagara, Canada Craig MacDonald collects disgorgement lees and uses them as the basis for the liqueur d’expedition. Fresh, a bit toasty and a bit herby, with nice bright lemon and pear fruit. Fresh and detailed with nice precision and a lovely lemony finish. Fruity and bright. 89/100
Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Entourage Sparkling NV Niagara, Canada 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, three years on lees. There’s a sweet fruit character here with grapes, citrus fruit and green apple notes. Fresh and fruity with some cherry hints and a smooth, rounded texture. Attractive fruity style. 88/100
Huff Estates Cuvée Peter F. Huff 2011 Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada Very rich and toasty with lifted apple and pear fruit. Very toasty and broad with nice acidity and a slightly chalky edge. There’s a lot of flavour to this rather distinct wine. Baked apple character with some herbs. 90/100
Averill Creek Vineyard Charme de l’Ile NV Vancouver Island, Canada Fruity, lively, bright and intense with lovely citrus and grape notes. Good acidity and clean, lively fruit flavours dominate. 88/100
Meyer Family Vineyards Brut NV Okanagan Valley, CanadaCrisp and pithy with nice citrus drive. Has some fine toasty, bready notes. There’s nice precision to this wine with some finesse. Youthful and pure. 90/100
Haywire Narrative Ancient Method 2015 Okanagan Valley, Canada There’s a distinctive grapey, floral edge to the nose. Creamy with a hint of talcum powder. Lively, pure and very fruity on the palate with some sweetness and a nice full, rounded mouthfeel. 89/100
Stellar’s Jay Brut 2009 Okanagan Valley, Canada First made in 1989. Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Distinctive fruity style with tangerine, grapes and pears. Has some sweetness, too. Appealing and fruity with nice brightness. 87/100
Summerhill Pyramid Winery Cipes Brut NV Okanagan Valley, Canada Fresh, bright and detailed with crisp fruit. Really lively with grapefruit pith, lemon and table grape characters. Keen acidity and a bit of sweetness on the finish. Very appealing. 89/100
By a stroke of coincidence, while I was in Victoria (Vancouver Island, not Australia) today I got to try through this set of wines from Argentina star winery Catena, presented by Catena’s Andrea Nuñez and Daniel Stiefvater of Trialto (the company that brings them into this part of Canada). I was impressed, especially by the two high-end Chardonnays, and also the Malbecs. The wines here seem to have moved in a positive direction: they were always good, but they’ve got better. For more information on the rather special White Bones and White Stones Chardonnays, and why they are different, see here.
Catena Alta Historic Rows Chardonnay 2014 Mendoza, Argentina Adrianna and Domingo vineyard, 70% malolactic, 10-12 months in oak. Textured and nutty with some fine spiciness. It’s broad and mealy but there’s nice acidity with a bit of tension on the finish. Fine spicy finish, with some nuttiness. 92/100
Catena Adrianna Vineyard White Stones Chardonnay 2013 Mendoza, Argentina Fermented and aged in in 500 litre puncheons for 20-24 months. From stony soils with some limestone on them. There’s intensity to this wine, which shows pear and peach fruit with some lemony detail. Complex fennel and nut characters, as well as a bit of waxiness, and also a distinct slightly resinous mint character that reminds me of Fernet and Mediterranean herbs. Lovely mineral characters on the finish. Intriguing combining richness and freshness. 94/100
Catena White Bones Chardonnay 2013 Mendoza, Argentina This is from just 100 m away from the white stones, and it’s completely different. So fresh, floral and mineral with lovely precision and fine lemony fruit. There’s a really lovely mineral quality here with a stony edge and taut citrus fruits, as well as some subtle mint characters lurking. There’s a really fine lemony finish that just keeps on going. A beautiful wine with concentration, purity and finesse. 96/100
Catena Alta Malbec Historic Rows 2013 Mendoza, Argentina Four vineyards: La Pyramide, Angelica, Adrianna and Nicasia. Sleek, floral nose with lovely fresh cherries. The palate is supple and fruit driven with great balance and a lovely stony detail to the cherry and plum fruit. I love the floral aromatics and the freshness on the palate. 94/100
Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon Historic Rows 2011 Mendoza, Argentina
Two vineyards: La Pyramide and Domingo. Some warm cedary notes alongside the chalky black fruits on the nose. The palate is fresh and detailed with some spicy warmth, some grainy, chalky gravelly structure and a nice savoury edge to the blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Very stylish. 93/100
Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino 2011 Mendoza, Argentina Nicosia and Adrianna vineyards, 24 months in oak. Textural and concentrated with a fine-grained tannic structure and a hint of oak (but it’s well integrated). The palate combines fresh, floral, pretty red cherry and berry fruits with some structure and an appealing, sweet, rounded textural quality. There are layers of flavour here. It’s modern and ripe but beautifully balanced and beguiling. Power and elegance combine. 94/100
Nicholas Catena Zapata 2011 Mendoza, Argentina A blend that depends on the year. This is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec. Sweetly aromatic, liqueur-like blackcurrant fruit nose is pure and modern. Concentrated palate with structured blackcurrant and berry fruit with fine spices. Quite structured with some freshness on the finish. A modern wine with real class, and which needs a bit of time to show its best. 93/100