After my magical experience of South African fine-dining over the tunes of shosholaza at The Meat Co, I was over the moon when I received an invite for a wine tasting session at their branch in Souk Madinat Jumeirah.
This was an exclusive media invite, and a very special menu was created by the very talented Chef Chris. However, the highlight of the evening was the wine! Chef Chris’ creations for the night were the perfect pairing with the beautiful South African wine that was overflowing that night.
I met the lovely Abi Mitton who is the Marketing Manager for The Winery of Good Hope. Abi is a Briton, and her love for fine wines took her to the prestigious wine-making region of Stellenbosch, in South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.
Apart from having a cellar in the pristine slopes of the Helderberg Mountain, The Winery of Good Hope differentiates itself from the more commercial variations of wine by sticking to tradition. Their sole purpose is to create delectable quality wines by employing traditional, ethical means that are both environmentally friendly and ethical at the same time. Read more about their wine-making process here.
We had the pleasure of tasting four of The Winery of Good Hope’s most popular wines over a tantalizing six-course South African fine-dining experience hosted by The Meat Co.
Here is what we sipped:
Sitting right across from Abi, it was quite an experience getting firsthand anecdotes on the world of fine wines.
Each of these bottles has a very different story behind its making.
VINEYARDS & HARVEST: The vineyards are old bush vines principally in the Helderberg area of Stellenbosch and located on extensively decomposed granite soils on Ocean-facing, gravelly slopes, benefiting from maritime breezes.
All fruit is hand-picked. The winter that preceded the 2013 harvest was rather cold and very wet, which meant that budding and flowering occurred quite late, but were very even.
Hot, dry conditions during the summer months meant healthy grapes which could ripen at a leisurely pace over December and January.
In the lead up to harvest, the vineyard was blessed with cool evenings which retained natural acidity and freshness in the grapes.
Winery of Good Hope’s Chenin is packed with vibrant, taught acidity, bags of fresh citrus fruit and beautiful ripe texture, though mineral and restrained on the finish. These magnificently resilient, sturdy old Bushvines seem to produce impeccable fruit year-in, year-out.
VINIFICATION: Separate parcels are picked by hand, individually at varying ripeness, in order to build a good complexity of acidity, fruit, depth and minerality.
Grapes are hand-sorted (with barely any berries rejected) before vinification with minimum skin contact, using free run juice only. Reductively handled to obtain fresh, clear juice.
Cool fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks, one part with natural yeast (favouring fruit enhancement) , the other part inoculated.
It is kept on lees for 9 months, with occasional battonnage. This stirring of the lees is done to enhance palate weight, freshness and texture of the wine. The components are blended prior to bottling, whilst still on the lees, to allow total integration of the final wine before preparing for bottling.
Fining is kept to a bare minimum before filtration. The focus is on fruit retention; respect of flavours through lees work and fresh, natural minerality and acidity.
Winemaker’s Comments: Chenin is an extremely versatile grape, able to make excellent wines in many different guises, from Late harvest to Straw wine to classic dry Chenin and even Méthode Champenoise. This example is a wonderfully lively, intense, fruity and beautifully balanced dry Chenin Blanc. With flavours of citrus, sherbet and flint there is plenty of leesy mouthfeel and purity of fruit, whilst finishing with a refreshing lime and mineral length. A true noble varietal, Chenin deserves to be taken seriously –even for everyday drinking wines such as this.
Bush Vine Pinotage
VINEYARDS & HARVEST: These grapes are entirely from the beautiful old bushvines on the Helderberg Mountain, at the heart of the estate on which the Winery of Good Hope is located in Stellenbosch.
These bush vines are between 35 to 42 years old, and are of an age that allows for spice and fruit to impact on equal terms. Green harvest thinning was carried-out early in the growing cycle, allowing for enhanced focus of flavours and the restriction to a lower yield. At harvest, all grapes were hand-picked into small lug-bins, before passing over the sorting-table.
2012 was an intriguing vintage. The winter that preceded harvest was mild, which meant that flowering occurred very early indeed. Even though picking began at the very beginning of February (which is early), the hang-time on the vine was actually longer than usual (due to the very early flowering) and the fruit was packed with amazing flavours. This occurrence was due to some unnatural weather patterns which saw the early varieties ripening especially early.
The Pinotage in 2012 was sensational. Ripe at lower sugars, with great balance. Yields were up on the extremely low levels of say the 2010 vintage but still modest at only 45 – 50 HL/ hectare. Lovely small berries, no sunburn rot or any other distraction. All grapes were hand-harvested into small lug-bins and tractored straight in to the winery, only 200 meters from this vine.
VINIFICATION: The berries were crushed and de-stemmed into a large fermenter, leaving about a quarter of the berries intact to carry-out carbonic maceration.
They were cold soaked for a short duration. The priority is always on developing elegance and fruitiness, avoiding bitterness and harsh tannins that Pinotage is normally renowned for (coming largely from the skins and pips).
The winery also wanted to retain the underlying spicy minerality from the local soils. The fermentation cycle was relatively short at just a week, solely done to drain the free-run juice. No pressings were used whatsoever, again with elegance in mind.
The wine was matured in a stainless steel tank using the natural carbon dioxide content in the wine on the lees to act as protection. No sulphur was added in the tank, nor any residual sugar. This ensured it fermented dry, giving the winemakers the luxury of bottling without fining or sterile filtration and allowing all the juicy fruit flavours, the rich colour and berry ripeness to stay in the bottle and not in filter sheets.
Winemaker’s Comments: By handling the grapes and the ferment as we did, we were able to focus all of the good aspects of Pinotage’s heritage into the bottle (cherry fruit related to Pinot, spiciness related to cinsault) and avoid all of those that have so often made Pinotage infamously awful. Using free-run juice only is reflected in the red cherries, violets and juicy palate, which finishes with balance, length, a touch of minerality and some really funky spice. Definitely a Pinotage you can drink a bottle of on your own. Even slightly chilled. Now we’re hooked, we’ll be making a lot more like this…
VINEYARDS & HARVEST: This comes from a mature, trellised vineyard in the Helderberg Mountain area of Stellenbosch. The crop is selected from several vineyard blocks (covering about 14 hectares in total), on decomposed granite soils overlooking the Ocean. These slopes benefit from the moderating factor of the maritime breezes, as well as an altitude of 3 to 400 meters above sea level.
Green harvest thinning is always carried-out, sufficiently early in the growing cycle to allow for focused development of a smaller yield. 2012 was an early vintage, with some unusual weather patterns and a shorter than usual ripening season for many varieties, with an early heat-wave, that was surprisingly not that hot and allowed for an earlier ripening period. Yields were small and fruit quality really excellent.
The Cabernet-Sauvignon benefited from the ‘Indian Summer’, with lovely intensity of flavours from an extended ripening season, contributing significantly to this wine’s all-round fantastic drinkability.
The Merlot is less structured by nature, and it contributes a softer, fruit element to this blend, thanks to the careful canopy and yield management that was carried out. The Cab fulfills the role of providing ripe tannins, depth and some intensity to underpin the Merlot fruit. All are hand-harvested and sorted by hand.
VINIFICATION: The crop is picked at sunrise and early morning, crushed and de-stemmed into separate fermenters.
These are cold-soaked for several days on the skins to promote fruitiness, colour and flavour. Fermentation takes 10 to 12 days and is dried with natural wild-yeast, using regular pump-overs throughout. Micro-oxygenation occurs in the tank post alcoholic fermentation. Malolactic fermentation with the wines is still done on the lees. Pressed juice is kept separately from free-run juice, matured and micro-oxygenated separately, before final assembling. 2/3 of the wine was matured in the third and fourth filled barrels, to develop fuller tannins and depth of palate. The tank component retains the fruit-driven character of this range.
Winemaker’s Comments: Combining Old-world style tannins with New World style fruit is one of the things Cape wines do best. This example has characteristic Stellenbosch minerality, structure and depth, but with some delightful ripe red fruit & cherries -and an overall balanced nature with a supple texture which promotes easy drinkability, helped by its wonderfully restrained alcohol level. The ultimate test is can you drink a bottle on your own ? Answer this when you’re onto your second…
Reserve Pinot Noir
VINEYARDS & HARVEST: Several parcels over four individual vineyard sites are used in producing this wine. The first two at altitude on the cooler mountain slopes of Elgin, the second two on the ocean-facing hilltops in the Stellenbosch-Helderberg area, facing directly into the False Bay Atlantic breezes.
The vines are mostly Dijon clones and density, trellising and canopy management are conducted in such a manner that the more subtle characters of Pinot could be best expressed.
Green harvest thinning was carried out sufficiently early in the growing cycle, allowing for focused development of a smaller yield (+/- 38hl / ha). Attention was paid to retaining natural acidity, minerality and purity of fruit.
The 2012 vintage was typified by a combination of contradictions : a dry winter, with strong rainfall coming during summer –so a cooler summer than usual, not least in the evenings. The winds were quite strong over the flowering period which resulted in a naturally lower yield.
Later in the season, during early January, there was quite a heat-wave. However, thanks to the altitude at which these vines grow, the veraison had not yet commenced and there was no detrimental impact on the fruit.
Then there was some more rainfall in the run-up to harvest, keeping the vines nourished, followed by blue skies right up to picking. The resulting beautiful fruit of 2012 translated into a wine with wonderful balance, purity and freshness.
The grapes are always hand picked, into small lug-bins at dawn, and brought promptly and while still cool into the winery, where they pass over a sorting table before being de-stemmed.
VINIFICATION: The winery’s yearly challenge with the Pinot each year is to produce an elegant, yet juicy Pinot Noir, in what is, relatively-speaking, a hot climate (even though some claim these vineyard areas to be “cool climate”).
The aim was to capture the delicacy of Pinot, while reflecting the modern viticultural improvements in some of the more fruit-driven Dijon clones.
The approach involved rigorously hand-sorting the fruit, vinifying tiny parcels in micro-open-top ‘cuvées’ (600L oak barrels) and employing traditional Burgundian methods. Even in this climate, The Winery of Good Hope go on to prove it is possible to make wines with balance and finesse.
A short pre-fermentation cold-soak kicked off the process with each of the parcels, which were fermented separately, up to 3 weeks apart using only natural yeast, the Elgin fruit being harvested last, a couple of weeks after the Stellenbosch fruit.
Pump-overs and punch-downs were kept to the minim as the aim was to retain elegance and not to over-develop structure. Taking the wine off the skins right after completion of fermentation, the free-run juice was placed directly into small, mainly second, third and fourth fill Burgundian barrels.
The pressings were matured separately. Interestingly, right through their maturation, each of the vineyard sites shone through their respective wine and gave a particular dominant facet –the Stellenbosch fruit had a more muscular, dense and earthy Pinot character, whereas the Elgin fruit had a wonderfully juicy cherry and strawberry flavour with clean, mineral acidity and a lingering finish.
Winemaker’s Comments: This is not a Pinot for those who think good red wine needs to be black, oaky and tannic. It is a fragrant, bright and refreshing Pinot with wonderful succulence and expressive fruitiness. The successful combination of its earthy, mineral & red berry characters make for a really lovely drinking Pinot, at a very reasonable price. Quite an uncommon combination in these parts for this most magnificent of varieties …
Abi is an encyclopedia on wines and their making, and talking to her was like having a virtual tour around The Winery of Good Hope’s vineyards. I hope I can visit these magical vineyards some day and witness the story of wine-making unfold firsthand. For now, I clink my glass and enjoy the sipping.
You too can enjoy The Winery of Good Hope’s beautiful wines. Have them over a decadent South African meal at The Meat Co, or look them up on the shelves of MMI. Cheers!