Vriesenhof Stellenbosch: Four Decades of Wine Greatness

Jan Boland Coetzee bought Vriesenhof 40 years ago to make a great red wine. Left Bank Bordeaux was the inspiration. But seeing that his new spread of earth on Stellenbosch Mountain was only planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsaut, the first three vintages of Vriesenhof were pure-bred Cabernet Sauvignon. (Still holding up very well, thank you. The 1981 is extraordinary.)

It was only in 1984 that the desired wine-blend saw the light. Named Kallista, implying “the most beautiful”. Well, true beauty can only be judged if it has stood the test of time. And the wine sure has.

Kallista’s make-up is led by Cabernet Sauvignon, Jan still believing that this is the great variety of Stellenbosch. Due to the geography incorporating maritime air-flows and earth made-up of decomposed granite and shale and clay. “All great wines need clay soils,” he says himself.

The other reason is human. “Generations of families have tended Cabernet vines, made wine,” he says. “It is in the DNA of the Stellenbosch people, this grape. Don’t underestimate that feature.”

Vriesenhof: First vintage.

To the dominant Cabernet Sauvignon, sensual Merlot and sinewy Cabernet Franc are added to entice the Sauvignon into exuding those extra surreal layers of fruit and wood, spice and earth. Presence. Weight and deftness.

Making the blend, and check how it’s done on Vriesenhof. The three components are fermented apart. Once dry, they are blended. Then sent to wood. The true approach. No mixing-and-matching of barrel-aged wines permitting trial-and-error. This is a pure blend, from the word go.

I had the Kallista 2016 to remind me what great Stellenbosch red wine is. Classic approach. From a piece of earth God made when he was feeling like a drink.

On the nose there is a stern austerity, a seriousness with a dangerous sense of foreboding and drama. Only once the wine has aired a bit does a whiff of dense blackberry skins and nutmeg come to the fore. There is, too, a mysterious feminine perfume of the above-the-beltline kind.

The wine attacks the palate with calm, yet directed, force. It plunges directly into the mouth sending sinewy threads of fine tannins, exotic and pure as a spider-web, across the mouth. The beauty – the Kallista – lies in the tannins. For they hold everything together: the pine-needle and sappy mulberry; the pencil-lead and crushed Victorian porcelain; the dried fig, pomegranate seed and Havana cigar leaf. There is a delicious long cool finish the draws the density of the wine from the mouth and into the place it was actually made for – the warmth of the human heart.

The Kallista 2016 is going to age well for another 15 years, easy. Those wine-lovers who take a bead from Bordeaux, can start thinking Saint-Estèphe. With a few rays extra of African sun.

Four decades ago Jan Boland came to Vriesenhof, and he saw. And man, did he ever conquer.

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