The colonisation of the South African wine landscape by foreign powers continues, with French group AdVini doing most of the running of late. L’Avenir was first to fall in the hands of France’s fourth largest wine business, based in the village of St Félix de Lodez in the Languedoc, followed by Le Bonheur and a majority holding in Ken Forrester in 2016.
The deal cementing AdVini’s acquisition of Stellenbosch Vineyards has just dried, and I’d say the future for this bunch looks so bright they’d better get another set of Vuarnets.
AdVini owns some 2 800ha of vineyards, mostly in France, but the ethos of terroir-specific wines and the eternal excitement the French find in seeking something new has led it to Chile and South Africa.
I visited my old media mate and Portuguese dining partner Edo Heyns at L’Avenir where he is now based taking up the role of marketing and communication for AdVini, which includes keeping his French paymasters up to speed with general developments in South Africa.
Edo knows me well-enough not to try the AdVini business schpiel, so there was no poring over spread-sheets or the laborious communicating of mission statements, long-term goals and strategic insights. Having gotten to know L’Avenir well enough over the past 15 years, I got the message as soon as we sat down to taste some wine next to a glass-walled barrel cellar.
The message is one of focus and direction, and in L’Avenir’s instance this is sending this venerable Stellenbosch wine brand forth into the world as a provider of excellence in Pinotage and Chenin Blanc. The packaging has been spruced-up, wines are in immaculate condition and the air about the farm has a sense of a rural-corporate environment, not unlike what you tend to pick-up when hanging about Bordeaux waiting for the next meeting with a potential Chinese investor clad in a New York Mets baseball jacket.
Introducing me to the L’Avenir GlenRose Rosé 2017 was a clever way of setting the tone, but then again Edo has always been one of the local wine scene’s more strategically cerebral monsieurs. The wine is beautifully packaged in a flint bottle above a decorative punt and topped with a glass stopper. Catherine Deneuve would not mind keeping her bath-salts in a container like this.
The wine itself is 100% Pinotage and my idea of the perfect Rosé colour: an onion-skin lying on a rose petal in the glow provided by the golden-hued rays from a setting sun. Taste-wise, possibly the finest local Rosé I have yet encountered. Freshness first, as it should be, the crushed red berry fruit and floral notes given a sexy adult allure by some just-plucked curry leaves, a hit of Cretian oregano and decidedly firm citrus notes. The finish is long, thought-provoking and gorgeous. What a wine. Take me north, Genevieve, and don’t stop until sunrise….
Erstwhile L’Avenir wine maker Francois Naudé made a legend out of Pinotage on this farm, and I think this wine hero of mine will be extremely proud to experience in what fine hands his legacy is. We had two wines: One from the L’Avenir Provenance range, and then moved onto the Single Block icon, both made by current cellar master Dirk Coetzee.
The Provenance range expresses the general terroir of L’Avenir, Glenrosa and Malmesbury shale soils and the vineyard aspects a tad more exposed to airflows than the areas in the Simonsberg’s shade, just across the R44 road.
In the Provenance Pinotage 2015, the most remarkable aspect to me is the extraordinary length of the wine, the way it clings onto the senses before the flavours slowly dissipate. The nose is agreeably confected and visceral, with the attack on the palate being as coy and polite as the resistance the French put up to the Germans marching into Paris in June 1940.
This is Pinotage elegance wrapped in silk and patterned by Versace, partly due to a soft-handed approach in the cellar and a spread of 1st to 5th fill oak barriques used in maturing the wine for between 12 and 15 months. Black fruit flows linearly, a sweet core and dank, forest-floor offering an element of shade and mystery. The finish, though, is cool and crunchy and the whole process of drinking the wine leaves a nice feeling in the mouth. I believe they call it texture.
Monsieur Single Block Pinotage 2015 from L’Avenir is made from a vineyard of 10ha planted in 1985, and gets a different treatment in the cellar. And the result is quite something.
The greater concentration of the old-vine berries requires newer wood to rein-in the tannins, and a part of the wine was fermented in oak after the relatively long ferment of eight days. Aging was done in 1st and 2nd fill barrels, as well as in stainless steel, and bottle-aging was not skimped on.
As can be expected, the wine is voluptuous in a kind of way that would make a priest pick-up a Vatican Bible and rip-out the pages containing the Ten Commandments. Sprawling and vocal, but there is terrific balance in the splendour of it all. The nose has a heady, floral-and-forest perfume that would penetrate a military gas-mask at twenty paces. Passing the lips without need for a visa or work permit, an exotic element of spice and feral beast is detected, before a calming flow of crushed black-berry, pitted cherry and overripe fig takes over.
It is absolutely delicious to drink, finishing in a fresh crack of pepper – strangely enough – and a tasty smack of brandy-snap biscuit. And like the Provenance, the wine provides texture that is opulent and finely luxurious.
The Chenins are to follow, but I first have to get over the wonders of what L’Avenir is doing. Another producer showing that great things are happening with Pinotage.
Who’s conquering now?