May Day for Sauvignon Blanc: The Highs of Thys Louw and Diemersdal

To talk on South African Sauvignon Blanc is complete without the opinion of Thys Louw of Diemersdal Estate. Obsessed and intrigued by this grape, he is known for his restless experiments with wooding, natural ferments and the freezing of must before fermentation. And that’s only those we know of. I caught up with him on Sauvignon Blanc Day 2020.

Elaborate on your affinity with Sauvignon Blanc – what draws you to the cultivar and what makes Diemersdal a good site for it?

As part of the sixth generation of the Louw family to farm at Diemersdal, I arrived on the farm in 2005 as winemaker. I had worked at various other wineries, including Buitenverwachting and Jordan, and at that stage Sauvignon Blanc was coming to the fore as South Africa’s best-loved wine among consumers. I have just always been infatuated with the flavours and the profile, and set about to make Diemersdal a primarily Sauvignon Blanc Estate. Besides the terrific quality and diversity of styles of Sauvignon Blanc we are making in South Africa, the fact that the consumer can seemingly not get enough of it is encouraging. You therefore continuously aim higher in making better wines and experimenting with different styles. As far as site goes, our gravel and clay soils together with the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean make Durbanville ideal for the variety. But for me, the real kicker lies in dryland farming. All our vineyards are unirrigated, leading to deep roots sturdy plants and grapes with personality.

You’ve treated Sauvignon Blanc in a number of styles, why do you think the grape responds to these different treatments and can you give some examples of the things you’ve tried?

Once again, the quality and chemistry of terroir combined with dryland farming gives you grapes with the features amenable to experimenting. In the past two years we have done skin-contact wild fermentation with the Diemersdal Wild Horeseshoe Sauvignon Blanc. As well as the Winter Ferment where we literally froze the juice during harvest time. It was thawed and vinified six months later, leading to a flavour profile unlike anything I have tasted from a South African wine. The freezing and thawing gave the wine an immense tropicality. I was gob-smacked! And it has been a hit with the public.

Thys Louw, right, and his cellar team. From left: Juandré Bruwer, Mari Branders and Janeke Beck.

Have you ever had a technique you’ve experimented with gone horribly wrong?

A few. But like battle scars, you don’t want to show them or talk about them!

What does a winemaker need to keep in mind when oaking a sauvignon?

You have to use grapes that are more tropical and mineral in character than the green, pyrazine-driven wines. It is crucial to find the right barrel, too, and go easy on the new wood. Having said that, wooded Sauvignon Blancs can be amazingly complex wines and open-up the variety to a new generation and profile of consumers.

For people who say they don’t like sauvignon, what would you say to convince them?

Everyone has the right to a preference – the wine world would be boring without it. But I’d encourage consumers to keep an open mind as styles and regionality are leading to a lot of wines that are re-writing the pre-conceived ideas about the variety.

Dryland vines on Diemersdal.

How’s the future looking for sauvignon in the SA market – and what do you think consumers should be aware of when choosing a bottle off the shelf? 

It is South Africa’s number one selling varietal white wine, and the international market for Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa is growing – at premium price points to boot. So the future really looks great for the variety. The other part of the question is harder. South Africa has a diversity of good Sauvignon Blancs from many regions and at various price points. While familiar brands are always a safe bet, try something new, and you could be surprised. That is the great thing about wine.

Do you enjoy cooking? What, in your opinion, are some of the ultimate food matches with sauvignon blanc?

I am a keen fisherman, when I find time, so it will definitely be a fresh fish braaied to perfection. So I am saying a galjoen caught in season and braaied on the beach with cold Sauvignon Blanc.

Galjoen – tastiest fish in the sea.





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