South African Wine-makers with French Souls

Like the rich, the French are different. In what way? Well, going into detail cannot be done before proper broadband comes to South Africa as the reasoning is bound to be expansive.

Wine, for example, is one area in which the French are different from other nations.

Still the greatest wine country on earth. Has been and always will be. Blah.Blah. Agreed.

In the spirit of Bastille Day celebrations, thus, I’d like to take a look at five South African winemakers who to my mind have ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ knowingly or otherwise ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ been infected with French genes of vinous brilliance. Doubting Thomases can taste it in their wines.

Abrie Beeslaar, Kanonkop

The brief from Kanonkop-owner Johann Krige to Abrie on him becoming Kanonkop’s third winemaker was: Don’t reinvent the wheel. Keep it simple in the cellar and allow the Estate’s terroir pedigree to do the work. Manual punchdowns. New oak. Patience.

Abrie understands this ethos, and it is displayed in his wines. The Cabernet Sauvignon and the Paul Sauer blend have, however, under his stewardship shown a progression in fruit purity. Unlike Jan Boland Coetzee and Beyers Truter before him, Abrie uses a sorting system, resulting in opulent , unblemished fruit ending in the open-fermenters. This could easily result in over-extraction and excessively modish juiciness. However, Abrie’s understanding of the fruit and its reaction to the Kanonkop wine-making process, including the ability to handle two years in new wood, results in classical red wines that ooze real Old World excellence, character and purity.

Hannes Storm, Hamilton Russell Vineyards

The Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs now rank among the best South Africa has ever produced. Hannes does an incredible job in grasping his somewhat challenging windswept terrain and clay-strong soils so as to sculpt Burgundian wines in the truest sense of the world. The 2010 Chardonnay and 2009 Pinot Noir are terrific wines which deserve to be in any serious wino’s collection.

Pieter Ferreira, Graham Beck

The wines, the Blanc de Blancs being a personal favourite, say it all. But Pieter’s underlying commitment to living out the philosophy of a Champagne master not only give his wines the edge, but have and still do influence wine-makers taking the baton for M+¬thode Cap Classique. Arguably South Africa’s most successful wine category in terms of growth over the past 10 years, much of this has to do with the influence of Pieter, both on a skills and personal level.

Alwyn Liebenberg

He might be a specialist on the wines of Portugal, but when it comes down to the wire, Alwyn has a palate schooled in great Bordeaux and Rh?+¦???+¦?+¦????ne. His French flair comes in two ways: first, the Sauvignon Blanc he churns out under The Goose label. Floral, yet stony; fresh yet fleshy; zippy yet poised ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ Alwyn coaxes true character from a grape that does not really do very well in South Africa in terms of personality, individuality and expression.

Secondly, Alwyn’s generosity in terms of sharing great wines from his collection to add substance to conversation is a true French characteristic. For example, when talking Cabernet Franc, why not open an Angelus 1977 to help the thought processes along?

Jan Boland Coetzee

French wine-makers observe a similarity in their South African peers, I have been told at various Franco gatherings. “You see yourselves as farmers first and wine-makers second. You can’t be one without believing in the other.”

They must have been talking about Jan Boland Coetzee, first and foremost a farmer. A boer. A sun of the soil. Eternal student and meticulous recorder of climates. This guy is the real deal.

And it is there in his wines. The Vriesenhof Pinot Noir 2003 was a personal revelation as to what is possible in the local Pinot Noir narrative. The Vriesenhof Chardonnay exudes a piercing spear of elegant minerality I have not yet encountered outside the wines of Beaune. His way with words, people, ideas and his take on the wine-makers life make him a national treasure, one which the French would be proud to call their own.



Monsieur Jan Boland Coetzee


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