One of the best things to emanate from the Swartland Independents, is that region’s role in inspiring the corralling of wines and people sharing a similar heartbeat. Stellenbosch would not have gotten its Kingdom of Cabernet act together and the Zoo Biscuits would still be eating Marie cookies had they not been energised by the success of the Swartland.
Not that the sought-after individual winemaking streak is being sacrificed. But just as painting had the Impressionists and literature the American Beats, so can wine flourish within the flexible confinement of collective creativity.
A gang I got to know recently was the Breedekloof Chenin Blanc Initiative, nine producers from that vast Chenin valley other side of the Du Toitskloof Tunnel. Okay, the region is big and in some places gi-normous yields are harvested by the drone of efficient machines. Co-ops rule, so does the Breedekloof’s ability to produce stunningly clean, well-made wines at prices that don’t make your wallet wince. But the image of a top wine region was lacking.
The Breedekloof Chenin Blanc Initiative has come to fore to rectify this, adding personality and small-batch wines to the mix. Currently nine wineries are making limited-volume casks of personally-crafted Chenin Blanc to express individuality of both terroir and winemaking style.
Why Chenin? Well, the variety has had a full-on passionate affair with the Valley for decades. The soil knows the vines, and the plants have been swopping biologic fluids with the turf and climate for yonks.
Oh, and the people making the wines know how to work the grape, that is for sure.
Attie Louw from Opstal out Slanghoek way is one of the pioneers of the initiative and no stranger to Chenin cognoscenti – his Carl Everson Chenin Blanc has given him and the valley quite a reputation. The 2014 wine he presented as part of the Breedekloof Initiative this year is a stunner.
Vines are a healthy 35 years old. Wild yeast fermentation. Old French wood for 12 months. And it’s got personality all over it.
The entrance on the palate is waxy and robustly textured, while on the mid-mouth a bowl of summer fruit blows the slight hit of oxidation to hell and gone. I got some loquat and custard apple, the tropic nature of which was rushed by a zippy acidic breeze whistling lemon and lime.
The general feel is a serious, weighty white wine, one of the greats and worthy of the cult status it is rapidly gaining.
On the other side of the spectrum, Merwida Winery lies down on the valley floor under auspices of cousins Schalk and Pierre van der Merwe. When compared to the Carl Everson, Merwida’s contribution to the Breedekloof Initiative – the Chenin Blanc 2014 – shows the exciting and tangible diversity. Both in terroir, as well as winemaking approach.
Lieza van der Merwe from Merwida took a fresher approach. The wine only saw 3rd fill wood for four months, with regular battonage ensuring lively lees contact.
The result is a crisp, bracing Chenin Blanc with fantastic edges of green pear, under-ripe gooseberry and those tantalising suurvytjies that grow in the Southern Cape dunes. Approachable and zippy, the wine announces itself with the complexity of a world-class white wine, something the underrated Breedekloof deserves more recognition for.
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