The wines of Gabrielskloof, Bot River, South Africa

Gabrielskloof, where I’ve spent the last 10 days working vintage, is a winery on the up.

Bernhard Heyns, owner, Gabrielskloof

It’s owned by Bernhard Heyns. In his previous life, Bernhard’s family owned a brick-manufacturing company, based on a clay quarry that they owned. Then they discovered a coal deposit under the clay. So Bernhard got planning permission to start mining the coal. Initially they wanted to mine enough coal to supply the brick factory, but when they opened a coal finishing plan, in order to make this financially viable, they had to mine more coal than they needed, so the mining operation grew and became Graspan Colliery.

Chenin Blanc

In 2000, he decided he wanted to start a wine farm, and identified Bot River as a promising location. He purchased a portion of the Avontuur farm, and in 2002 began planting vineyards. In 2006, the first stage of building a winery was begun, and this – together with a hospitality complex including a restaurant – was completed in 2009, and the first wine released was from the 2008 vintage.

Bernhard and Peter-Allan discussing picking dates

But it wasn’t plain sailing. Some of the advice that Bernhard had received about varieties suited to these distinctive terroirs was sub-optimal. And the early wines struggled to gain real traction in the market, perhaps not being made in a style that displayed the potential of this place. Step in Peter-Allan Finlayson, who is married to Bernhard’s daughter, Nicolene. He’s achieved a lot of success with his own brand Crystallum, but for a while decided that he didn’t want to get involved with the in-laws’ winery: the pressure would have been pretty intense. Meanwhile, Bernhard was in a difficult position: all his friends were congratulating him on living the dream, owning a beautiful winery, but he could see the balance sheet and how much money was being lost.

The Landscape Series – the top wines – was introduced in 2015

Eventually, Peter-Allan decided he’d get involved. His first vintage is 2015, and since then – this was a big step up – he’s been steering the wines with a deft hand closer to the style he prefers. And they’re getting better every year: 2017 reds tasted from barrel were stunning, and bottled 2017 whites are also very impressive. And now Gabrielskloof has begun to make some money.

Sandstone soils

We toured around the vineyards and had a look at the different blocks. There are two main soil types on the farm: free-draining, rocky sandstone with some quartz, and then clay and shale. The latter has really good water-holding capacity, and if the new normal is these drought conditions, it will be the prime terroir. Overall, these are really good vineyard soils.

Syrah, which does really well here

Cabernet Franc, another star turn. The 2015 got some big critic scores, but 2016 and 2017 are even better

Gabrielskloof The Landscape Series Magdalena Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2016 Western Cape, South Africa
13.5% alcohol. There’s a real presence to this wine: fresh but textured pear fruit, some smoky grapefruit, fine spiciness and even a hint of wax. It’s fresh with a saline, mineral edge to the fruit and a slight bready, toasty richness in the background. Lovely stuff: a really serious South African interpretation of the classic barrel fermented Bordeaux white. This will age beautifully. 93/100 (R295)

Gabrielskloof The Landscape Series Elodie Chenin Blanc 2016 Swartland, South Africa
13.5% alcohol. From dry-farmed bush vines. Fresh, supple and fine with bright tangerine and lemon fruit and a bit of white peach, but also lovely mineral density and texture. It has a fine structure to it. Pure and even a bit salty, with a nice fine spicy finish. This wine really grows on you: it has dimensions and layers, and it’s not just about fruit. 93/100 (R295)

Gabrielskloof Landscape Series Elodie Chenin Blanc 2017 Western Cape, South Africa
Paardeberg and Durbanville. Such a fine linear nose with pure pear and citrus fruit. Textured and a bit grainy with pear and citrus fruit. Fresh tangerine and lemons on the finish. Really fresh but with complexity. 94/100

Gabrielskloof Chenin Blanc 2017 Western Cape, South Africa
13.5% alcohol. Naturally fermented in old oak. This is an inexpensive wine (100 Rand), but it has plenty of personality, with bright lemony fruit, some baked apple and a nice spiciness. Lovely texture with a pleasant slightly sour twist on the finish. Lots of wine for the money. 90/100

Gabrielskloof Landscape Series Syrah on Shale 2016 Bot River, South Africa
40% whole cluster. Beautifully perfumed floral red cherry and pepper nose. Fresh, expressive and light in its feet with bright red fruits and a fine spiciness. Fine and spicy with bright cherry and plum notes. Supple and fine. 94/100

Gabrielskloof Landscape Series Cabernet Franc 2016 Bot River, South Africa
Lovely gravelly green nose is so varietally true. Grippy and fresh on the palate with bright cherries and plums. Taut and savoury with lovely freshness and grippy structure. 93/100

Gabrielskloof Landscape Series Cabernet Franc 2015 Bot River, South Africa
Aromatic and floral with fresh sweet cherry and plum fruit. Chalky and supple with nice density. Some sweetness and a nice texture. Nice grip here. A lovely wine with some appealing smoothness. 92/100

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1 comment to The wines of Gabrielskloof, Bot River, South Africa

  • Lisa

    I love the wines from Gabrielskloof and I was very lucky to have a personal tastingof their wines at the Bot River Spring Weekend in 2016. Conducted by Bernhard himself and thanks tofriends who know him well. But since then the wines have continued to improve, especially the Landseries wines. The Cab Franc is exceptional in my opinion and it sounds like the 2016 is even better. Can’t wait to taste it!

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