Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc lands at Diemersdal, South Africa

Imagine. You stroll through throngs of unmasked people mooching upon a waterside, the ocean shimmering in the soft gold-mauve shades of sunset. Folk are sitting outside crowded cafés and bars, a cacophony of social noise, life-affirming, buzzes along the quay, and you stop when your name is called.

You step into a wine-bar, packed with easy-going after-work throat-wetters drinking long cool beers and glasses of white wine. The crew of friends stand at a cocktail table, and greetings are done with hugs and cheek-kisses and contact, and when offered a slap-bang lip-kiss from your best friend’s fiancée, she even manages to slip you some tongue.

Drinks are ordered, glasses knocked together before natural close-contact socialising begins.

Sauvignon Blanc vines in Marlborough, New Zealand

No, this is not a dream of pre-Covid times. It is just the current situation in New Zealand, where life goes on, the Land of the Long White Cloud having knocked the virus out of the park, or back to China from where it came.

Reminiscing about times of normality and thinking about New Zealand was made starkly clear this week. Why, for purposes of marketing and consulting, I procured a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc made in Marlborough on the South Island of a country that has in only three decades built a wine industry of stratospheric success. Mainly on Sauvignon Blanc, and mainly from the 20 000ha of the stuff grown in the soils of silt and loam.

Marlborough is ground zero for Sauvignon Blanc in terms of sales volume and value. Big brand stuff. Even Cloudy Bay, the wine that put New Zealand on the map and continues to demand a premium price through portraying an image of rarified luxury, produces 12m bottles a year – ten times the volume of South Africa’s biggest wine brand.

The Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in my current sights falls under the label of Diemersdal, the Durbanville Estate that, apart from its extensive wine range, continues to focus on this variety thanks to the obsession owner-winemaker Thys Louw has with this cool white grape of Sancerre. It was this obsession that led to Thys in 2019 teaming-up with Marlborough producer Ben Glover from Glover Family Vineyards to have a wine made in New Zealand for Diemersdal.

Ben Glover, left, and Thys Louw.

The maiden Diemersdal Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was released at the end of 2019, a wine from that year’s vintage. It was an immediate success in the South African market, offering locals a world-class white wine made 11 000kms away at under R300 a bottle. And now the 2020 version has docked after its three-month voyage from the port of Nelson in New Zealand, and opening this bottle of undeniably Kiwi-driven exuberance and freshness has a lockdown wine-lover from the Cape thinking about things free, normal and unrestricted.

Diemersdal Marlborough 2020 follows the trend the Kiwis began six, seven years back of reigning in the pushy pyrazines that caused flavours of asparagus, pulped alfalfa and feline urine to jump out of any glass of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc like a Maori lock trying-out for the All Blacks. Opening of vine canopies during the long southern summers has allowed the beguiling tropical features to remain in the wine, while brisk reductive work in the cellars captures a flinty, rapier edge.

Ben Glover, who made the Diemersdal Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, says 2020 was a brilliant vintage on the South Island resulting in wines with a commanding presence. “That’s why we call this Diemersdal the ‘Danie Gerber’ wine, it reminds me of that powerful, yet graceful Springbok rugby-player.”

Like most New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, there is little messing around when it comes to the Diemersdal Marlborough. Machine-harvested. Cold-settled for 48 hours. Fermented with selected yeasts. Bob’s your uncle.

The result is a vivacious expression of simplicity in winemaking and complexity of climate and soil. Aromas of cut green apple and lime-peel hit the nostrils, resulting in the mouth beginning to water at the prospect of something exciting and pungent. On the palate a samurai sword of pure-fruited acidity alerts the senses and quickens the pulse. Awakened and supremely focussed, the tasting-tools can get to work in scrutinising and enjoying the wine. Meadow nettles and broad rivers racing over shallow beds of polished white pebbles. White flowers, arum lilies, blow gently in a fresh maritime breeze. And on the mid-palate, an offering of Sauvignon Blanc-flavoured generosity: Cape gooseberry, pitted and sliced. Ripe granadilla, picked from the vine and chomped through the cusp. Some Kiwi fruit, and a squirt of lemon.

Startlingly different to what South Africans are used to in their own Sauvignon Blancs. But with enough basic, attention-grabbing elements of a shared DNA to make you drink a toast to South Africa, New Zealand and the great southern lands of wine.

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