Bouchard Finlayson was established as a collaboration between Paul Bouchard, a Burgundiannégociant, and Peter Finlayson, arguably the king of Burgundian grapes in South Africa.
The winery lies in the small valley of Hemel-en-Aarde ('heaven and earth'), a stone's throw from the sea near South Africa's southernmost point in the Walker Bay region. The climate here is greatly influenced both by the nearby Atlantic and the protection of the surrounding mountains: the latter traps the cloud cover and moisture brought from the sea by the ocean breezes. The result is warm rather than hot summers, and frost-free, mild winters. This is one of the coolest regions in the Cape, and the grapes ripen more slowly, intensifying their flavours.
Award-winning winemaker Peter Finlayson gained his qualifications in the 1970s, both at Stellenbosch University and Geisenheim in the Rheingau. His frequent trips to Burgundy helped forge a friendship with Paul Bouchard, and their joint venture makes him the first winemaker to settle in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.
Unsurprisingly, Burgundy has a marked influence on Bouchard Finlayson's practices, both in the cellar and in the vineyard. Of the 22 hectares under vine, 50% is pinot noir, with the remainder mostly comprising chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Interestingly, Peter also planted Italian varieties like nebbiolo, barbera, andsangiovese, with some success.
The company uses Burgundian techniques like high-density planting, which restricts root growth and promotes competition, and pruning around 35% of the fruit to give the remaining grapes better access to nutrients. Both of these techniques concentrate flavour. The clay-shale soils secure a source of moisture, and the north-south facing slopes take full advantage of the sun as it passes from east to west.
Bouchard Finlayson also sources some of its grapes from nearby vineyard sites. The most significant of these is the Kaaimansgat, or 'crocodile's lair', vineyard which towers 700m above sea level. Here it is even cooler, and a perfect haven for chardonnay grapes. The grapes from this vineyard make Crocodile's Lair Chardonnay, which was first produced in 1992, illustrating how long Bouchard Finlayson maintains relationships with its appointed grape growers.
The riesling and viognier used in Bouchard Finlayson's Blanc de Mer are also sometimes sourced from nearby vineyards, although the company does now plant its own riesling too.
The winery is a point of pride, so much so that it appears on the company's labels. Fitted with state-of-the-art machinery, it boasts stainless-steel and concrete vats, air-conditioned cellars, and the finest French oak barrels sourced from a tiny cooperage in Burgundy.