Some Like It Hot

Chatting to a Pinot Noir maker a while back, the dude flicked the hair from his eyes and said that Jan Boland Coetzee was probably the best Pinot exponent in South Africa. “But unlucky for him, he’s farming in the wrong region.”

This statement had two implications. Firstly, that Stellenbosch is not Pinot valley on account of the area being too hot. And the latter implication being that such statements can be made ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ as long as Jan Boland is not around to hear them, as he may just take it on himself to disagree.

Kind of turns out that Stellenbosch is doing pretty well in the Pinot Noir stakes, thanks very much. Off=hand there are three wines that would definitely feature on my list of the SA Top 10, wines that have also wooed show judges and Platter scribes to date.

Muratie’s GP Canitz Pinot Noir was the only wine to crack a golden nod at Veritas. Meerlust, well, no introduction needed there. And Vriesenhof, Jan Boland’s baby, remains a consistent pure beauty.

Despite all the violin-strummed laments about Pinot Noir’s fickle moodiness and temperamental nature it appears to have found a comfortable home in Stellenbosch. Turns out the grape can function really well without misty sea breezes and vertigo-inducing altitudes. It can take heat and sun, as long as the soils accommodate the plant with love, and the viticulture and wine-making is up to scratch.

Those who’ve walked the Simonsberg will know that Muratie’s Pinot Noir takes a whack of heat in November, December. But still the balanced nuances of soil and viticulture do not prevent the grape from expressing a fresh, classy elegance.

Meerlust, basically situated in Cape Flats Upper, has the benefit of False Bay proximity, but it sure ain’t chilly. Yet the Pinot Noir takes on a Gevrey-Chambertin perfume, gives a silky mouth-feel and gives off a heady, elegant power.

Both these wines are truly world class.

At a tasting last week, in a blind line-up of Pommard, Volnay, Aloxe-Corton, I was asked to slip in a local wine or two. My choice fell on the Vriesenhof 2007. I’d last had the wine two years ago when it oozed a classic work-in-progress character, and I was thus interested to see how things had panned out two years on.

The wine was truly amazing. Not as earthy as the 2003 or concentrated as the 2005, the 2007 was the like striking a tuning-fork and putting it into your mouth. It was clear, focused and extremely pure.

The tannins had settled down, the acidity pushing a multi-dimensional mouth-feel to the fore. The structure of the clay soils and the briskness of the shale had created a perfectly structured wine. Bruised plums and sour cherries gave way to a kick of savouriness and scent of beguiling mushrooms.

Everyone at the tasting was stunned, asking questions I’ll have to ask Jan to answer someday.

But the main answer is, is that there isn’t one.

Good vineyards and good wine-making can make great wine, great enough to render preconceived notions and short-sighted prescriptions obsolete.

Yes, there are guidelines as to where certain grapes are going to grow better. But like Latin grammar, there will always be exceptions.

And on this journey on wine you will always find amazing surprises and be confronted by the unexpected.

Isn’t that just great.

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5 thoughts on “Some Like It Hot

  1. Well written Emile !
    There is absolutely no reason why Stellenbosch or some other “warmer” areas cannot make decent or great Pinot Noir. One look at the spread of Pinot Noir producing areas in California and the wide variety of styles made there proves that Pinot Noir doesn’t need to strive eternally to be Burgundy. There are so many micro climates , even in “warmer” wine growing regions that may respond well to Pinot Noir. Finding the spots that work well is of course a slow and expensive process. In fact, I bet there is quite a lot of Pinot Noir grown in Stellenbosch but it virtually all goes into MCC as it pays grape growers better to sell their grapes earlier when they are heavier and give a faster return than to struggle with the nuances and fine points of ripeness that can make or break a Pinot Noir red wine. The old cliche “heartbreak grape” simply expresses the frustration that so often goes into the production of fine Pinot Noir and it is not every winemakers idea of fun to go on this quest but rather for those who love a challenge. I for one , am going to give Pinot Noir in Stellenbosch a go over the next few years and plan to release my first small production of Stellenbosch Pinot on the CWG auction next year.

  2. I remain surprized at how very few accolades the Vriesenhof Pinot noirs have picked up along the years, considering that in many minds Jan’s wines are the closest to quality Burgundy from any SA producer. Then again, considering how very few of our local tasting “experts” can distinguish between a good red and a bottle of Bashew’s rasberry, perhaps I shouldn’t be…

  3. Hi Emile,

    Thanks for drawing attention to Stellenbosch Pinot Noir. David’s point is spot-on, what makes Stellenbosch so successful in a range of different varieties and styles is the enormous diversity of soils and meso-climates. Add to that dedication in growing and winemaking and Pinot can excell in this region. I think one issue is that other regions have claimed Pinot as their flagship, while in Stellenbosch the producers flagships tend to be Cab or Cab based blends, and so those get the attention.

    At Meerlust we had a hard look at Pinot in 2004, discussed whether we could master it and pulled out vineyards that were in the wrong place or the wrong clone. I also think you really have to love Pinot to make it, it is unlike any other variety. One really needs to be familiar with the great Pinots of the world to be inspired to grow Pinot.

    Since upgrading our style of Pinot we have seen its popularity rise immensely and it is now a key wine in our small range.

    Chris Williams

  4. Dear Chris
    Thanks for your comment. The gist of it all is that Stellenbosch’s diversity is pretty damn audacious! Here Meerlust is a prime example. I mean, such fine Chardonnay, Pinot, Cab, Merlot on ONE property. And while you were still using corks as toy soldiers I was drinking Grenache made at Meerlust. Nico Myburgh called it his kuierwyn and we used to draw it from huge “stuk”-vate, funnel into a bottle and take to the braai. It was gorgeous silky stuff, so Meerlust could probably wax the southern Rhone as well, if it were interested.

  5. Indeed, uo to fairly recently we had about 1000 Carignan vines as part of a Merlot block, which I once vinified seperately and it was superb, lovely perfume and bright acidity. Who knows, maybe one day!

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