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The first vintage of Vine Garden, from Walker Bay on South Africa's south coast, remains a rich, multi-faceted and full-bodied triumph. Based on the roussanne grape but with chenin, chardonnay, verdelho and a little muscat in support, its creamy, mealy texture is lifted by citrus freshness and a scintillating streak of salinity.
Product Code: SA13181
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From their Hemelrand cellar in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley above Hermanus, Chris and Suzaan Alheit continue to produce a stand-out – and growing – range of wines from parcels of cherished and nurtured old vineyards. Both trained as winemakers and began their exciting winemaking venture together. At the time of writing, Suzaan is taking a natural break to allow more time for their young children but remains Chris's most committed critic and sounding board. Their first wine, Cartology, achieved international acclaim in its maiden vintage, including five stars in the influential Platter's Guide to South African wines. Its back label reads: ‘Chenin blanc and Semillon have been planted at the Cape since 1656. They are truly traditional Cape varieties. This wine could come from nowhere else. Cartology is made from rare and extraordinary parcels of mature, low-yielding bushvines. These vineyards lie between 320 and 540 meters above sea level. They are scattered across the varied and marvelous lands of the Western Cape. We take great care to vinify these parcels naturally and respectfully, letting them speak for themselves. Here is the Cape seen through the lens of her old bushvines. A tribute to those who went off in search of treasure, and found diamonds in the rough.’Tiny quantities of additional wines have been made since – Radio Lazarus (sadly 2017 represents the last vintage from this venerable vineyard), Magnetic North, La Colline and white blend Hemelrand Vine Garden, soon to be followed by an expanded range of site-specific wines, alongside the more approachable Flotsam & Jetsam wines.
South Africa is undoubtedly one of the world's most dynamic wine producers. Established winemakers re-emerged onto the international scene in the early 1990s, following the demise of the apartheid era, and new wines, wineries, highly qualified winemakers, and even new regions have appeared steadily ever since. This makes South Africa more exciting than ever, but more complicated, too. Most South African wines are varietally labelled - a key factor in any buying decision. Styles vary of course, and our notes aim to clarify this, but you will probably already know whether you like sauvignon blanc (now among the world's best), chardonnay, riesling, syrah, pinot noir, or cabernet.South Africa's most famous grapes - white chenin blanc and red pinotage - will be less familiar unless you are already a convert. South African chenins are quite different from those in the Loire - almost always dry, but ripe and full of flavour (often with the complexity that comes from the increasingly sought-after old-vine fruit and the use of oak). Pinotage, a South African creation, is for many a love-it-or-hate-it grape. Pinotage's 'parents' are pinot noir, which imparts its strawberry aromas and lovely texture in young wines, and more complex, farmyard characteristics in more mature examples, and cinsault, the southern French grape, which adds spice and body. It was developed in South Africa in 1926. Shiraz is now making a name for itself in South Africa with some superb examples bottled varietally and showing characteristics that often places it between the plush New World style pioneered by Australia and classic Rhône balance and elegance.More significant in South Africa than much of the New World (notably New Zealand and Chile) are blends, which make selection more complicated, as the style of the wine is less easy to anticipate. As in Australia and California, however, many of the best wines here are blends - a sign of maturity in the industry. Bordeaux blends were favoured initially but there are increasing numbers of Rhône and southern French influenced blends, including some eclectic mixes, many of which are among South Africa’s best wines.The RegionsThe vineyards of South Africa are at a latitude of about 35o south, with hot, dry Mediterranean-type summers tempered by oceanic influences in the south, particularly the very cold Benguela Current. Much of the country is mountainous or hilly with a multitude of terroirs for winemakers to play with. Soils are ancient and complex, and many and varied from region to region, and even vineyard to vineyard. Rainfall is very varied from one area to another, largely depending which side of a mountain or range a vineyard lies on, and in some parts irrigation is essential. South Africa’s rigorous Wine Of Origin scheme demarcates vineyard areas, including some single vineyards, and guarantees the geographical source of the wine much like the old French appellation contrôllée system recently renamed AOP, though there are no controls on yields and grape varieties as there are in France..Bordeaux-style blends are one of the Stellenbosch region's great strengths. Wines such as Kanonkop's Paul Sauer, Meerlust's Rubicon and Warwick's Trilogy are South African icons, produced over many years, and with proven ageing capacity. The striking Simonsberg mountain names the ward (or area) most highly sought after for these reds, but Stellenbosch produces a wide range of wine styles, from excellent chenin blancs and sauvignons to robust pinotage and Cape Blends.Paarl is its less-well-known neighbour, also warm, and best known for its robust but smooth reds. Franschhoek is understandably one of the most-visited towns in the Cape (with lots of French Huguenot history and some of the best restaurants in the region). It has a number of famous producers, most notably Boekenhoutskloof, but most do not produce exclusively from Franschhoek fruit. Cape Chamonix is an exception we rate highly, producing a wide range of wine styles from bubbly to cabernet franc led red blend Troika.The generally warmer Swartland region has been at the forefront of the development of Rhône varietals in South Africa, led by stars such as Eben Sadie, as well as home to some of the best old chenin blanc vines. Further north, and much cooler is Citrusdal, where fresher styles are produced and chenin blanc can achieve real finesse.The Cape peninsula, to the south of Cape Town itself, is home to Constantia, known for its cooler climate thanks to the influence of the two oceans that almost circle it. Here, sauvignon blanc and the Bordeaux grapes predominate, but there are lovely examples of aromatic varieties too, notably Klein Constantia's elegant riesling and its wonderful sweet muscat Vin de Constance, and the vibrant sauvignon blancs from Cape Point vineyards to the south. Rhône varietals are successful new additions.Elgin, en route to Hermanus, is another very cool region, very much up-and-coming for sauvignon blanc, as is Elim, which is even further south and the source of our former Exhibition Sauvignon. Robertson is almost due north of Elim, but way inland and far hotter. A small number of family producers manage to make excellent sauvignon here, too, but it is also a good source of chardonnay, increasingly pinot noir, and elegantly styled pinotage and Rhône varietals, not forgetting the excellent fortified muskadels which are unique to the Cape.The most important factor in deciding whether or not to buy is often the producer's name. This is easily achieved when some of the grandest 'old' names, such as Meerlust, Hamilton Russell, Kanonkop, and Klein Constantia, still rank among the country's best producers. Where it gets trickier is when the winery is new, has no track record, or the winemaker is not a household name.
One of the earliest on record - indeed the earliest for many - and earlier even than the 2015 harvest, the 2016 growing season was marked by drought and by heat (especially in January). Indeed, those without access to water for irrigation purposes will have struggled to achieve both ripeness and rewarding yield in 2016, unless their soils were better able to handle the conditions. Grapes tended to be smaller, which meant careful, gentler extraction of the reds was essential. Sorting was required to remove berries affected by millerandage or sunburn. Winemakers had the additional knock-on effect of naturally low acidity to grapple with too, as well as a rather drawn out (but compacted grape-wise) harvest towards the end. Upsides were the lack of disease pressure, and bush fires limited (albeit sometimes devastatingly) to the Simonsberg in Stellenbosch. Cooler climate fruit was in greater demand than ever and the Cape South Coast regions were far less affected by the drought. In fact cooler regions look to have had a good to very good vintage.
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