Tuesday provided a masterclass in winemaking, wine history, wine families and the breadth and quality of some of the Western Cape’s newer wine growing regions.
Our first visit was to Paul Cluver Wines in Elgin. This involved driving west and then south through the Franschhoek Pass, our driver Henry did a great job negotiating a hairpin heavy road as we admired the spectacular scenery. At the other side of the pass we drove beside the huge reservoir that serves Cape Town which is tragically depleted, a desolate site.
Doing our bit for water stocks we had brought the rain, and our arrival at Paul Cluver was a quick dash from the coach into the winery. We went straight into the tasting room, to meet Andries Burger, winemaker and husband of Inge, one of second generation of Cluvers who are running the estate, which was founded in 1987.
Andries gave one of the best tastings I have ever attended. His knowledge and experience was phenomenal, he has learnt from some of the most famous winemakers in the most prestigious estates in France, and he is passionate about the ecological work done on the estate, which also produces apples, pears, Hereford cattle and has set aside nearly half its area to be part of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, a ‘transition area’ between mountains and coastal regions with unique vegetation and habitats.
We learnt about the evolution of wines grown, as more was learnt about their characteristics on different parts of the farm. With 2,500 hectares of land available for farming, albeit apple production being more profitable than wine production, they are gradually developing their 75 hectares of vineyards. Their climate is the coolest possible – due to the tendency for clouds to settle between the mountain ranges, so their growing season is two months longer than in Franschhoek. I think this showed in the complexity of the wines we tasted: the 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, which was full of tropical flavours, the 2016 Gewürtztraminer, that balanced delicate lychees with great acidity, two lovely Rieslings, the 2015 Dry Encounter and 2016 Close Encounter, both of which had great acidity and respectively greater amounts of residual sugar, the 2016 Chardonnay, barrel fermented and barrel aged which I thought has a fantastic balance between fruit and butterscotchy creaminess, and of course great acidity. The 2016 Pinot Noir was so dense that I wished I was drinking it in 5 years, but the sweet botrytis affected Riesling we finished with was glorious and very much drinking well right now.
We finished with a short discussion on cork, which Andries explained has improved in quality immensely over the years and to which they are returning for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, to achieve a more interesting evolution in bottle. Sorry if that sounds a bit nerdy, but Andries was able to make the most esoteric aspects of wine making down to earth and comprehensible, and I’d like to share some of that!
We were really sorry to go, but our next visit was just as good, even if it involved a wine marathon! At Gabrielskloof Wines we were greeted by Peter-Allan Finlayson, the winemaker, who led us through the first part of the tasting, and Grant Baxter, who hosted the rest of the day. We enjoyed more stories of wine families coming together, and of the evolution of winemaking on the estate. Botrivier is a very new wine region, between Elgin and Walker Bay, much more arid than Elgin, with a somewhat cooler climate. Gabrielskloof is another huge estate, set amid rolling hills planted with cereals, and there are plenty of opportunity to experiment on vineyard sites, and with olive trees – our day ended with an olive oil tasting.
Before, during and after a superb three course lunch we tasted 15 wines. Grape varieties included Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Merlot, Shiraz and Viognier. To see what we drank, look at the list on their website, and add in the Agnes Chardonnay, and Malabel and Cuvee Cinema Pinot Noirs from Crystallum, which are made by Peter-Allan and his father, sourcing grapes from local growers across the Walker Bay region. The style is moving towards more open, younger drinking wines, although I personally enjoyed the Old World style Bordeaux blend and Shiraz ‘Reserve’ wines for their promise of things to come.
We congratulated the chef, the front of house team, peeped into the winery, enjoyed a discussion about virgin olive oil’s high smoke point and suitability for deep frying chips over a glass of the stuff, and took our leave, making Grant promise they will come to see us and lead us through another tasting next time they are in the UK.
Not many of us managed to stay awake to admire the view on our return journey to Franschhoek. What a fantastic day.