Fryer’s Cove: Where the West Was Won

Having traversed the Cape winelands for a few decades, I yet have to find a more unique winery than Fryer’s Cove in Doringbaai, 300km straight-up the West Coast. The winery itself is set in a former crayfish factory that was built in 1928 and is the very reason for Doringbaai’s settlement as a once-thriving coastal village. Back then, Cape crayfish was fished and processed here – first as a canned product, and later frozen whole, adorning the swanky tables of America and Europe. Those in the know would know, too, that when it comes to the consuming of the lobster-species, Cape rock lobster has no equal.

The politicisation of the South African fishing industry post 1990 ended the Doringbaai fishing factory, and after two decades in disrepute it was purchased by Jan Ponk van Zyl and Wynand Hamman. They had begun making wines from the vines they had planted between Doringbaai and Strandfontein, focusing on Sauvignon Blanc set 500m from the icy rollers thundering in from the Atlantic Ocean. This is balls-to-the wall, rugged wine country if ever there was some, and not unexpectedly the fruit showed a visceral concentrated thrust ever since the maiden Fryer’s Cove Sauvignon Blanc release in 2001.

Initially the wine was made in Stellenbosch, but in 2010 Van Zyl and Hamman acquired the decrepit Doringbaai crayfish factory, turning it into a working winery literally on the edge of the ocean where in days of old the fleet of boats would off-load the day’s lobster catch. In 2020, local drinks behemoth DGB bought the Fryer’s Cove winery, taking ownership of this distinctive location and continuing to churn-out the toppish notch wines. It is great stuff, and I never miss the latest offering. Drinking these wines takes me to desolate coastal village of Doringbaai with its murky morning fog, scent of sea-spray and wild-brush and the sound of mussel shells being crunched by ceaseless waves braking in restless unison.

The latest releases of the two premium Fryer’s Cove Sauvignon Blanc wines are the Hollebaksstrandfontein Reserve and its brethren Bamboes Bay, both from vintage 2023. They are made from the same Sauvignon Blanc vineyard outside Doringbaai, with vines varying between 12yrs and 25yrs, cropping yields of five, six tons per hectare. Same piece of wind-swept, ocean-splashed sandy red earth; two varying vinification regimes.

The Bamboes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2023 is an expression of pure Bamboes Bay terroir and was made to the principles of minimum intervention. Free-run juice is settled overnight and then racked to stainless steel tanks for seven day’s fermentation. The wine is then left on lees for seven months where texture takes hold and the grapes’ inner secrets are allowed to unfold.

The result is a Sauvignon Blanc of truly singular and distinctive terroir expression. On the nose, Bamboes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2023 exudes aromas of nettles and white flowers with a pronounced oyster-shell note, a familiar feature of Sauvignon Blanc fruit grown in extreme maritime conditions. The palate is dense with flavours of green citrus-peel and goose-berry with an intoxicating line of wild-herbs. A firm, lasting presence on the palate is elevated by the typical bracing Sauvignon Blanc freshness leading to a commanding and persistent finish.

Then the other wine. After destemming of grapes and pressing, Fryer’s Cove’s Hollebaksstrandfontein Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2023 underwent a spontaneous fermentation and was aged in a combination of 500l Austrian oak barrels and ceramic amphorae for seven months. The time spent in these vessels elevates the textural nuances of the wine’s terroir origin, resulting in a Sauvignon Blanc of statuesque, regal presence yet still expressing the unique flavour-profile of this wine’s Bamboes Bay origin.

The nose is led by a rakish maritime edge with underlying aromas of cut-grass and an exotic whisper of sage. In the mouth, Hollebaksstrandfontein Reserve 2023 offers a luxurious density of flavours which include grape-fruit, kumquat and grenadilla leading to a discernable minerality. The tastes are presented in sumptuous layers lying beneath a luxurious veil that creates an experience harbouring both charm and excitement. An extraordinary white wine which will only grow in character through aging of five years or more.

In the rising tide of great South African Sauvignon Blanc, Fryer’s Cove is, for me, a force lifting all boats.

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