Craven is one of the most interesting wine projects in South Africa.
It's part of the rediscovery of the best vineyard sites in
Stellenbosch that's currently underway, with a whole group of young
guns looking to find the gems and make interesting wines from them.
has her hands full
The folk involved,
Mick and Jeanine Craven met in 2007 while working a harvest as
cellar hands in Sonoma. The Aussie (Mick) and Saffa (Jeanine) hit it
off right away, kept in touch while finishing off their enological
studies, fell in love and took to the road to work, taste and learn
as much as they could about what they shared a passion for:
site-specific, honest wines.
They decided to return to Jeanine's family base in Stellenbosch in
2011 to put their travels and experience into action and plant roots
as Craven Wines. 2014 was their first commercial vintage. They
quickly established themselves as Stellenbosch revolutionaries,
became key members of the Zoo Biscuits collective, and, more
recently, started off the next generation; one year old Sebastian is
already a natural in the vineyards. Mick still has a day job working
as a winemaker for Mulderbosch, which is where these wines are made.
To do less, you need to know more. Their low-interventionist
winemaking is as much hands-off, as it is tuned on. The duo knows
their vineyards intricately, and craft only single-vineyard wines,
picked early and respectfully to best reflect site and vintage. They
use no cultured yeasts, enzymes or fining agents, allow the wines to
stabilize naturally, and utilize only older oak and larger format
barrels whenever possible. A minimal amount of SO2 'which is our
friend' is the only addition, and the wines are bottled unfined and
Faure vineyard, rocky soils
They sell out of everything they make, with demand high in the UK,
Japan and USA. They produced
20 000 bottles in 2016, and projections are for 30 000 in 2017,
aided in part by a few new vineyards and wines, including their
first Chenin Blanc. Now into the third real year of production, the
challenge is managing growth while staying true to the story of
Eikenhof: Clairette Blanche
'Some markets love this and some don't,' says Mick, talking of his
Clairette Blanche. 'People love it when they try it, but it's hard
to get them to try this.' One of the last, if not the last Clairette
vineyard in the region, it was left without being farmed, and the
farmer was just getting 1000 Rand a ton. 'The farmer laughed when we
made it, and then we started again the following year, and it was
farmed a bit,' says Mick. 'It's 34 years old this year, we think.
John Seccombe, Franco Lourens and Francois Haasbroek takes some, and
the other half goes to the coop. So it's now financially viable.'
The vineyard is about 3 hectares, with decomposed sandy granite,
opposite Reyneke in the Polkadraai.
Craven 2016 Clairette Blanche
TR) Lovely golden hue, shining in the glass. This textural wine is
fuller on the palate, with vibrating spice and energy on the finish.
Golden yellow apples, fine quince and a layer of marmalade are
framed by a fine apple skin bitterness grip. 60% skin fermented, 40%
whole bunch press, this was gently handled until fermented dry
(around 12 days) and then pressed to old neutral tonneau for 10
months. The 34-year-old vines are on Eikenhof Vineyard’s decomposed
granite and sand. According to Mick they could make 3x as much, but
it’s hard to sell in all markets. I vote make much more because more
people need to taste this smashable, interesting, waxy wine. 11%
5000 bottles in 2016. 91/100
60% skin fermented, 40% whole bunch pressed. Mineral citrus and pear
fruit with some ripe apple. Nice texture with some spiciness and a
mineral core, as well as a hint of grip. Lovely weight here with
some pear and spice complexity. Lovely stuff. 92/100
Karibib vineyard: Chenin Blanc
This vineyard was managed by an old school farmer who passed away.
'His son took over and is passionate,' says Mick. 'His dad sold
everything to Distell and coops and didn't allow small guys in, but
his son is the opposite and is almost co-op free.' This Chenin is
planted on weathered granite: a typical Polkadraai site. 'We were
nervous about acid so we picked it a bit early.'
Craven 2016 Chenin Blanc Karibib
(TR) Their first Chenin Blanc, sourced from early-picked,
35-year-old radial bush vines on the weathered granite soils of
Polkadraai's Karibib Vineyard. Grapes are whole-bunch pressed to
neutral 500L barrels, and after a five month wild ferment and
natural MLF, it was left on the lees for four more months before
racking. Slightly cloudy, with intense dried fruit on the
concentrated, expansive palate, lovely depth of flavour. Direct,
nutty and salty, with layers of depth and mineral flavour. The
easterly-facing site was always farmed for sweet wines, and has
never had chemical farming. A stunner. 12%. 93/100
Beautiful aromatics with stones, pears and ripe apple. The palate is
fresh and stony with nice creamy pear fruit with some fine
spiciness. Has a fresh stony finish with length and precision.
Newlands: Pinot Gris
There's not much Pinot Gris in Stellenbosch: maybe three vineyards.
This vineyard consists of is 6 or 7 hectares opposite Mulderbosch,
near to Boschkloof, facing east, with koffieclip soils. 'We made a
drinking barrel in 2014, and it has grown,' says Jeanine. 'We see
this as a light red. It's a pain trying to describing it to the
trade, and to the wine and spirits board.' The vines were planted in
2005, and this is their earliest ripening block, normally the first
fruit in every January.
Craven 2013 Pinot Gris
(TR) Love this characterful wine. Pouring a cloudy peachy red hue,
this Pinot Gris was fermented like a red. 10% whole bunch and with 8
days on skins before racking into older French barrels where it
remained for 9 months. For the 2016, this carries ample large flake
sea salts on the grippy and textural palate, with alluring pear oil,
dried fruits and subtle dried raspberry / peach fuzz. Intensity and
lightness. It's quite rare to see Pinot Gris in South Africa
(there's pockets in Darling and Hemel-en-Aarde). I dream of this
wine. 13%. 93/100
10% whole bunch on the bottom, with 8 days on skins. Red/orange/pink
colour. Lovely strawberry, cherry and herb fruit with nice stony
mineral characters and some grip. Lovely mouthfeel to this wine,
which has a delicious savoury character. Lovely weight here. 93/100
Before she was a Craven, she was Jeanine Faure. The 650 hectare
Faure farm was part of Jeanine's family for a long time, was where
she grew up and would return until it was sold. 450 hectares are
planted to vines, and the Cravens source Syrah and Pinot Noir from
Faure: Pinot Noir block
One of the coolest sites in Stellenbosch, this is on a
south-westerly slope facing False Bay, only 4km away. It was
entirely planted to clone 115 Pinot Noir in 1998, on a very rocky
site of decomposed granite and sand, with clay subsoil. 'This
vineyard has to be picked early because it gets botrytis,' says
Mick, 'and if you miss picking by a day you are in trouble: it ends
up tasting jammy.'
Craven Pinot Noir Faure Vineyard 2016 Stellenbosch, South Africa
(TR) Beauty thorny raspberry, florals, warm cherry and a fine
sapidity lead this Pinot Noir. Whole bunch pressed, this was 70%
foot crushed (purposefully leaving some grapes intact on the
bottom), with gentle handling of the grapes (“no punch downs, just
moving juice around a bit”). It's rare to see Pinot Noir in
Stellenbosch, a region known more for big, gutsy reds. 12% alcohol.
Fine and focused with a pretty cherry and plum fruit character, with
nice texture and weight. There's a nice stony quality to this. 100%
whole bunch, with gives some structure, with some foot stomping.
Gently pumped over and not punched down. Lovely grippy structure on
the finish: there's a lovely fruit purity and texture to this wine,
which has complexity. 93/100
Bottelary Hills Cinsault: a one off
'We've always wanted to make Cinsualt because it is what the cool
kids do,' says Mick. This vineyard is at the top of the Bottelary
Hills down to the Devon Valley. 25 year old bush vines, dry farmed,
and in 2016 they got 1.5 tons. 'This is a Distell-controlled farm,
and we approached the farmer and asked for more, and he said he
can't sell the grapes any more because of Distell.' Says Mick.
'There's a farm near Rustenhof that has old Chenin and Cinsault as
well as other stuff, and he's offered Cinsault, and he offered 6
tons in 2017. So this is a bitter-sweet wine, because it is a
one-off, but we are excited going forward.' Janine adds, 'The best
thing about the new vineyard is that has acid.'
Craven Cinsault 2016 Stellenbosch, South Africa
(TR) This is 25-year-old dry farmed bush vines on Malmesbury shale.
Super thorny, with resin, dark plum, wild blackberry, blackberry
leather. Brooding and peppery, this is quite dense on the palate
with a thick layer of black raspberry to base and a florality to
lift, though acidity is characteristically Cinsault: low throughout.
This was the only wine they destemmed in 2016 (90%). A one-off wine,
they've sourced a new higher-altitude, sloping Cinsault site for
This wine is 90% destemmed in order to preserve acidity. 'I don't
think it's the grape to work carbonically,' says Mick.
Interestingly, with Cinsault, some wine stores are reporting a fall
in demand after a big fashion boost. Unlike most of the Craven
wines, this isn't the freshest, smashable example: it has more
structure and depth. Fresh with a nice silky, stoniness under the
red cherry and plum fruit. Grippy and appealing with a lovely
complexity to the fruit. This tastes richer and sweeter than many
Cinsault, with a grown up personality and good structure. Lovely
finesse here. 94/100
Faure Syrah block
Close to the ocean (3km away), this rocky soiled vineyard features a
mix of granite, dolorite, quartz and shale. The easterly aspect on
the Helderberg Mountain, cooled by the ocean breezes, was planted to
Syrah in 1995.
Craven Syrah The Faure Vineyard 2016 Stellenbosch, South Africa
(TR) Lovely dusty florals, black raspberry lead this whole bunch
Syrah, followed by a core of black plum, dried blackberry and
cherry. Big stones line the bed of this youthful wine, finely
textured and peppery throughout, with a gentle tug of tannins to
frame the ripe fruit. You can feel the granitic soils here. A lovely
flush of peppery warmth on the grippy finish sings Stellenbosch. As
with all their reds, this was 100% whole bunch, lightly stomped,
gently handled and into old puncheons for 10 months. 93/100
Same farm as the Pinot Noir. The Pinot faces the ocean, and this
Syrah faces the Helderberg. Only site on the farm that is properly
rocky, with a bit of clay in the subsoil. 20 year old vines, clone
22. The vines are really balanced with small canopies. 100% whole
bunch. Fresh, fine and floral with lovely cherry and plum fruit.
Youthful with red fruits to the fore and an underlying stoniness,
with some pepper. 'Stellenbosch is hot and a lot of sites have ripe
fruit characters at this alcohol level,' says Mick. 'We don't pick
stupidly early, but we have strange conversions from this site.'
Lovely supple fruit here with nice weight and texture. So fine.
Devon Valley: the Firs Syrah
This is from dark clay soils in the Devon Valley. 'There are some
cool vineyards around Faure and the Polkadraai but they are all on
granite,' says Mick. 'We wanted to find Syrah on a completely
different soil.' They spoke to one of the growers they use and he
said he had really good Syrah planted on the Firs. 'I had worked
with Chardonnay on here and it was dark clay, in the Devon Valley,
and vigorous,' says Mick. 'He said these were the most expensive
grapes sold to Distell. The vineyard looked so balanced even though
it was vigorous. So in 2015 we took a couple of tons.'
Syrah The Firs Vineyard 2016 Stellenbosch, South Africa
(TR) Firs Vineyard is a new site for Craven, and an experiment to
show Syrah through a different lens. The wine is vinified in exactly
the same way as Faure Syrah (100% whole bunch, lightly stomped,
gently handled, into old puncheons for 10 months). The Firs fruit
comes in one week before Faure. Situated on a warm site in the Devon
Valley, an area of Stellenbosch prized for intense red wines, this
has deeper, darker, red clay soils. Brisk and bright black cherry
carries into a broody, thicker palate of dark plum, thorns, black
pepper and stones. Firm and tight now in youth. 11.7%. 91/100
Faure is rocky, bright and mineral whereas this is dark and black:
punchy and moody. This usually comes in a week before the Faure.
Complex, vivid and dark with lovely black cherry and blackberry
fruit. Has supple fresh fruit but also some structure. Tight and
wound up. So supple and structured. 94/100