I have pulled hundreds of fish from the foamy blue sea along the continent’s great south coast, but had never visited the wine region some six clicks from the ocean at Elim. This is the Big South, an evocative sparse, windswept and empty land. Flowing green fynbos slopes with vineyards in-between. Charming old farm buildings with walls thick enough to ward-off a tribe of armed abalone smugglers. And pretty good juice, too.
If the Burgundian monks’ saying “the more the vine suffers, the closer the wine is to God” holds water, then heaven is in the Big South.
Conrad Vlok, cellarmaster of Strandveld Vineyards, walks me through the vines. It is quartz and gravel and koffieklip. No real elevation, just a gentle incline to make the breeze that much stiffer, the sea-air that much more salty and cloying.
There are Pinot Noir vines. Shiraz. Grenache. And Sauvignon Blanc, the Big South’s Signature.
“No Chardonnay?” I enquired looking at the gravel that resembles Puligny. I might as well have asked if there is a Formula One track nearby.
“Chardonnay, now that was a costly experiment for us,” he says. “Tried to plant a block. But the young shoots were too soft to stand-up to the wind. Blown apart.”
I stand between the vines and listen to the emptiness talking. There is a lot of space around.
Back in the tasting room, some tasting.
Strandveld Sauvignon Blanc Pofadderbos 2013 is made from a vineyard where the grapes are green and the snakes puffy and as thick as a Maori’s thigh. Not real appetizing vison-wise, but the wine expresses beauty all round. White flowers strewn on the perfumed, musky bathwater in which Scarlett Johansson has just soaked. In the mouth, the wine is new, fresh and virginal. The underlying crispness is offset by a viscous complexity, a taste of salt-lick, gooseberry and salsa verde. Delectable mouthfeel, lean and supple and rocky, with a maritime swoosh that lingers.
The Afrikaans names are not out of place, blessing the wines with a rugged authenticity. Adamastor is a white Bordeaux blend of oaked Sémillon and clean Sauvignon Blanc. The vintage is 2013, and for the first time Elim’s thing for Sémillon grabs me, forces attention.
It can be a tough spread of juice on the palate, this grape. Dense, green with enough grip to make your eyes roll back to stare inside their sockets.
Not in Elim. Not in the Big South. Here, the soils, the cool wilderness and the openness tempers the vivacious ballsyness Sémillon sometimes gets. It brings an operatic mellowness to the wine, swirling fronds of cut white fruit as well as an intriguing waxy spiciness, like a rinsed honeycomb that has been dusted with marjoram and saffron. Combine this with the refined grace of the Sauvignon Blanc, and Adamastor is one of those perfect partnerships, and I stop to think Eric Clapton and BB King RIP.
Up a dirt road from Strandveld, hang a left and Dirk Human is waiting at Black Oystercatcher. Despite the sparseness of the area, the restaurant is humming with well-dressed tourists from Europe. I head for Dirk’s Sauvignon Blanc 2014. It is edgier than the Strandveld, more sagebrush and stones, with a line of persimmon and green plum running from entry to finish. Yet again, another new verse to the Sauvignon Blanc story as I have come to know it. No ball-cracking pyrazines or appendix-removing acidity. Fun wine to drink, in buckets. Which we do.
Time to head for a red, and Black Oystercatcher Triton 2013. Syrah, with a whack of Cabernet, and is this not what cool-climate red wine splendour is about? The wine moonwalks across the palate, light and breezy, trailing mulberry-sap, pomegranate and just a touch of kelp and umami-ish soya sauce.
That’s it. I’m staying. Tell the world. Hang the sign. “Gone fishing.”
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