Like love, evolution and rugby defensive patterns, the term “terroir” is never going to be truly understood. It is becoming increasingly evident that limiting the complexities of terroir by defining it as the unique influence soil, aspect and climate has on what ends up in the wine bottle is as short-sighted as stating that sushi is raw fish and opera is a play with some music.
Due to various limitations, such as a short attention span, I am not going to get into the broader interpretations of terroir. But the words of Remington Norman, that charming and approachable Burgundian sage, have forged my understanding of terroir.
Namely, it goes beyond ideal soils, cooling misty breezes and optimum ripening conditions. Terroir, Remington says, is also about the way soil and vines have reacted to the intervention of vineyard farming practices. Over generations. Hence his somewhat controversial statement that “in South Africa it is actually far too early to start talking about terroir in its fullest sense”.
The annual Novare SA Terroir Wine Awards has, however, contributed to highlighting talk around the concept of terroir. South African terroir might be a work in progress, but in a few short years the SA Terroir Awards has done a great job in garnering well-deserved recognition for regional identity and wine expression. The importance of differentiation has been highlighted and led to a better understanding from the consumer, although the local authorities and their Wine of Origin Coastal definition seemingly still struggle to comprehend that which the SA Terroir Awards is trying to achieve.
This year the SA Terroir Wine Awards took a bold step by announcing a SA Terroir Top Wine Estate. Any official announcements of a top SA estate were always going to be controversial, never mind tagging it on the grey area of terroir definition. I warned Marius Labuschagne, the SA Terroir Awards’ reserved and restrained manager about this a few months ago. He politely told me what I could do with an empty magnum bottle of Pol Roger, and the conversation swiftly progressed to other topics.
Unable to attend this year’s Terroir Wine Awards, I eagerly awaited the announcement of this SA Terroir Top Wine Estate. This was Jordan, the Stellenbosch estate owned by Gary and Kathy Jordan (See picture above). And with the awards a few weeks in the past and not one voice of dissent at this somewhat audacious and ambitious announcement, one has to say that the judges and organisers got it right.
On the vinous front, Jordan is a stunning set-up.
My favourite wine from that estate remains to this day the Shiraz 2003, with the Nine Yards Chardonnay 2009 a close second. But since becoming acquainted with Jordan some 17 years ago, I have never had a wine from them that was not exemplary and admirable. Forget about the slopes of Stellenbosch Hills, the straining aspects, the breeze from the south. This, to me, is the Jordan terroir: exemplary and admirable.
Leathery, savoury plush Cabernet. The juicy and sumptuous Cobbler’s Hill Bordeaux blend. That pepper, sage-brush Shiraz. The in-your-face seductiveness of the Nine Yards Chardonnay. A lovely waxy Riesling?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-+?-+
And so it continues. All these splendid wines harnessed by meticulous vineyard management, skilled and un-showy winemaking and an air of easy-going personal genius in tandem with nature.
And if Remington is correct and vines do take-on the characteristics of those who lead them and the wines into life, well then the personalities of Gary and Kathy Jordan will remain a part of that places’ terroir for generations to come.
A wine region that seems to have been given a place in the limelight by the past few SA Terroir Awards is Wellington. This year Welbedacht and Doolhof took some top honours among the producers, underscoring the fact that there is not only a lot of exciting stuff happening out that way, but that the areas’ wines are being recognised for their quite specific taste of place.
Welbedacht caught the eye with its Chenin and Pinotage, both wines exuding a brooding elegance characteristic to the region, while Doolhof’s Petit Verdot and Malbec are, to paraphrase Frank Zappa, towers of power on which you can take more than an hour. All wines oozing, bleeding terroir.