Diemersdal Sauvignon Blanc: Genius and Youth

Lafras Huguenet

In his marvellous book Drinking With The Valkyries the genius wine writer Andrew Jefford promotes the joy of young wines: “Who doesn’t enjoy being invaded by a young wine, and having your head turned, your horizons altered, your composure rattled? Acidity in wine is never better than in youth, when it, too, remains spliced to generous fruit contours, indeed when it seems to bubble and froth with fruit itself, like a gurgling baby with milk.”

However much I agree with these words and do enjoy Chablis, Alvarinho, Picpoul and Sancerre wines under a year old, I found my Editor’s encouragement of trying a Sauvignon Blanc wine a mere six weeks after the grapes were harvested a bit of a ballsy request. Surely a gimmick, I thought, this Diemersdal Sauvignon Blanc bottled, on-market from grapes harvested in January.

But having researched into the pedigree of Diemersdal where Thys Louw established himself as one of the pioneers in the explosion in popularity and quality of Cape Sauvignon Blanc some two decades back, I relented. The bottle of Diemersdal Sauvignon Blanc 2024 did not end-up in salad-dressing or as a tenderiser to the batch of glistening squid recently procured in the Eastern Cape. It was chilled until the bottle beaded moisture, iced my rheumatic palms as a unlocked the screwcap. And with Jefford’s words echoing through my tufts of ear-hair, the wine was poured for pondering.

An underage, raw wine will mostly be aggressively sulphery and edgily pungent on the nose. But here this was not thus. Instead, the wine showed assured aromatics, a waft of jasmine-leaf, freshly mowed buffalo grass and just the ever-so slight sunny cirrus layer of guava sap. Very interesting and inviting at the end of a long day behind the steering wheel from Jeffrey’s Bay to Hermanus.

The promise from the nose was delivered onto the palate. A tentative perusal revealed delight that led to thirst and a desire to drink fast and drink deep and drink good.

Thys Louw from Diemersdal.

There must be some intuitively scientific techniques going on in the Diemersdal cellar for such a young wine to achieve this state of excellence. Which leads to wonder and amaze, but anticipation is not conducive to lofty pondering.

The exquisitely bracing revelation the wine’s nose held was furthered by its titillating, tasty and enjoyable presence in the mouth. There is the harmonious balance between the thiols of tropicality and a crisp crest of vibrant flavour so characteristic of fine, pure Sauvignon Blanc.

Expecting acidity, robust in its virile youth, there was, rather, a comforting glycerol mouthfeel making the temptation to glug the wine in huge dollops so much greater. This agreeable texture made the flavours confident and assertive, with everything being in balance. I found on my taste-buds a generous scoop of cantaloupe whetted with rivulets of passion-fruit juice. Gooseberry, tart and teasing, also presented itself, as did a hit of honey-suckle and yellow zest from those thick-peel Cape lemons.

I was reminded, fleetingly of a waterfall thundering into a pool surrounded by a forest filled with trees bearing tropical fruits and citrus, the splash and the roar elevated with each mouthful of a truly lovely, delicious wine. Reminding me that, as I always tell my neighbour’s daughter, there being great pleasure in youth. Indeed.

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Diemersdal Sauvignon Blanc at the Heart of the Country

Lafras Huguenet

There are too many ways of recognising a wine snob to mention in one brief column, but I think I have pretty much seen them all. Lord knows I might even be one. For what is a snob other than someone passing condescending opinions on the whims of others?

In any event, the wine world is known for attracting self-appointed arbiters of taste and manner who loftily opine on all things to do with the modest fermented grape. The correct glasses from which to sip the respective nectars and which foods must accompany them; the dissing of certain countries and regions as not being able to vinify a specific grape variety to a state of suitability; knocking wines for showing a generous alcohol-level or the winemaker having used too much new oak for the judger’s liking; asserting that certain wines from certain countries are only drinkable after 15 years in the bottle… and so on.

Having returned from a lengthy stay in Casa Huguenet’s abode at Abingdon Villas in Kensington, I can say that wine snobbery is a universal trait. One of my neighbours still – after 23 years of mostly agreeable friendship – refuses to accept that some Stellenbosch Bordeaux red blends deserve status as honouring the soul and spirit of the Medoc in terms of quality. At Lord’s for the test match between Australia and England, I got irritable, frayed stares for putting one ice cube into my glass of Chablis. Even my Spanish house-help Juanita crapped on me upon discovering I dared to serve some Jamón Iberico ham with a sweet Pedro Ximenez sherry.

However, the kind of wine snobbery I did not find in the UK, but one which is all around me here in the Cape, is the “oh, I don’t drink Sauvignon Blanc” line. Or the general impression South African wine critics have that Sauvignon Blanc is some kind of homogenous, one-trick pony.

Even the official bodies of the Cape wine industry are in on the fix, starkly refusing to promote Sauvignon Blanc as South Africa’s leading variety with the most commercial export potential, instead putting their weight behind promoting Chenin Blanc. Which a fine wine makes. But due to Chenin Blanc’s lack of universal identity and failure to have gained recognition in global wine markets, it has about as much chance of capturing the attention of the wine world as pineapple pizza has of taking on Naples.

Sauvignon Blanc is huge in the UK, which does happen to be a knowledgeable and mature wine market – far more so than South Africa. Of course, New Zealand is still a prime runner in the offering of Sauvignon Blanc, but Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are growing at over 20% a year in terms of sales. So too Sauvignon Blancs from Austria, Italy and Chile and if anyone would like to question the diversity in deliciousness this variety offers, one trip to a decent wine bar off the King’s Road will have one thinking differently.

Vines on Diemersdal Estate in Durbanville.

It was at a dinner-party two days before my return to the Cape that I was asked to show a few wine-slinger guests what South African Sauvignon Blanc tastes like. A challenge, as my homeland of diversity has established itself as a producer of Sauvignon Blancs showing a vast variation in styles varying from goose-berry bombs out-Marlboroughing Marlborough, to classy Sancerre-styled wines with a refined complexity enhanced by the moderate use of oak barrel.

The wine I chose, however, was the Eight Rows Sauvignon Blanc 2023 from Diemersdal, to me the most South African-tasting Sauvignon Blanc of all Cape Sauvignons.

Thys Louw, current winemaker and proprietor at Diemersdal, created the legacy of the Eight Rows. Upon arriving on the family’s Durbanville farm in 2005 to work under his father, Tienie, the young Louw was not going to be allowed to jump into the vineyards and cellar to do it his way. Wise Tienie demanded Thys first prove himself, and thus the lad was initially awarded eight rows of a Sauvignon Blanc vineyard to vinify to show what he can do. Okay, this rite of passage is not quite as dramatic as a young wannabe Viking being sent by his father to decapitate a British priest and bring back the head, but it still smacks of rustic family charm.

Thys Louw

Thus, the legend of the Eight Rows was born after Thys’s first winemaking foray proved to be, well, a success.

The Eight Rows 2023 was but eight months old when I pulled its stopper and filled my guests’ awaiting glasses, and I immediately knew that the wine was going to be received with respect and rapture. As what to me is a defining Cape Sauvignon Blanc.

Vineyards grow in cool Durbanville, with chilly south-easterly breezes a feature of the long summers and layers of Atlantic Ocean mist covering the region in spring and autumn. Unwooded, the grapes from these eight rows of Sauvignon Blanc are kept on the lees, in stainless steel, capturing the essence of terroir and of purity, and of distinction.

On the nose, Eight Rows’ South African roots are evident in the whack of dry fynbos meeting a rush of seaside rock-pool on an incoming tide. There is aroma, raw and vivid, with just a slight waft of the floral.

In the mouth, the Sauvignon Blanc is exciting and boisterous but not without a confident dignity. There are stern and focussed elements, reminding of the steely thrusts found in Dagueneau’s Pouilly-Fumés. But the wine has an openness, a truly South African grip of hearty hospitality in its generosity. Flavours are substantially portioned with chunks of loquat, slivers of grape-fruit peel and juicy cuts of green-melon. A breezy note of gooseberry floats around, while a stony grittiness gives the wine swagger and presence.

It tastes of country and the flag flies high, and it flies proud.

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The Force of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – but is it Culture?

BLENHEIM, New Zealand. – When renowned American wine writer and critic Matt Kramer referred to it as the biggest single success story the modern wine world has seen, he wasn’t kidding. The category known as New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has in 46 years grown from literally zero vines and nada litres to 24 000ha of vineyard planted in the dry alluvial and clay soils on the South Island’s Marlborough region, seeing 340 000 tons of grapes crushed annually and making 255m litres of wine.

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Producers Should Demand more from Wine Shows

Each year my clients and I sit down and discuss the merits of entering wine competitions in general, and then go through the list of shows on offer before making a decision on which to enter. If any.

Things are becoming more selective in this regard. First, entries fees could see a fairly range-heavy producer forking out R30 000 on four local competitions. What for? Well, for pride and honour, that is one. And then for the marketing punt that serious competitions give wines.

As my mate Thys Louw from Diemersdal Estate likes to remind me when I talk to him about the new trends in wine marketing: “Nothing sells wine like a double gold sticker on the bottle. Period.”

This undeniable commercial interest embedded in wine competitions makes me wonder why many shows are so slack in following through. For most competitions, you enter and you pay. And if you are lucky at the judging you are invited to an awards ceremony – for which on most occasions you have to pay to attend. And then, you win a gong, and then you pay for the honour of being able to buy a few thousands stickers to decorate your bottles.

So besides the bling on the bottle and a bit of hype from your marketing division – if you have one – what’s in it for the producer, except bragging rights?

It has been interesting to note recent developments in the Michelangelo International Wine and Spirits Awards. They follow most of the usual rigmarole outlined above, but since last year have shown an almost obsessive eagerness to tie-up the competition with retailers and other outlets so as to “add value”.

First, to add further impetus for entrants by getting wine sellers to stock the Michelangelo winners, the producers of whom would take an increase in sales above the nice warm feeling that comes with winning a medal.

And secondly, by aligning the competition with accessible outlets, the consumer is now able to easily access ranges of awarded wines that generally remain in some lofty realm of unapproachability.

A few weeks back Checkers, the retail giant that knows what booze means to its bottom-line, announced that it is sourcing Michelangelo’s winning wines and spirits for stocking in its ubiquitous stores. And at the week-end SAA came on board, saying it is using the Michelangelo selection to choose wines for on-flight lists as well as in its lounges.

From the periphery this development is going to shake-up South African wine competitions, most who have rested on their laurels assuming wine producers deem the honour of recognition enough reason for entering a show.

Not any more it ain’t. Take it from us on the wine marketing side, the bang is going to have to bet bigger to get wineries spending the bucks on entries, parties and stickers.

New time for showtime, it is.

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Diemersdal Estate Wins 3rd Trophy at Old Mutual Wine Show

Thys Louw at the 2018 Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show awards function.

In what is turning out to be an extraordinary year for Durbanville-based Diemersdal Wine Estate in terms of wine awards, the Diemersdal Private Collection 2016 won the Riedel Trophy for Best Bordeaux-style Red Blend at this year’s prestigious Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show. This accolade follows the estate’s superb showing at the recent International Wine Challenge where its MM Louw Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 won a Gold medal, one of only two South African Cabernet Sauvignons to do so.

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Riding the Epic with Sauvignon Blanc, and Winning Gold

Thys Louw, left, from Diemersdal with cousin Thys after Stage One of the Epic.

Diemersdal wine maker Thys Louw had just finished the first stage of the world’s toughest mountain-bike race, the Cape Epic, when he heard that he’d won two gold medals. Not on the bike, but at the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon 2018, the world’s premier international showcase for Sauvignon Blanc wine. Diemersdal took gold for the MM Louw 2016 and Eight Rows 2017, two of the wines from this Durbanville estate renowned for its interpretations of South Africa’s and one of the world’s most popular white wine varieties.

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A Dry White Reason for Sauvignon Blanc

So here we are, the first discussion of a wine from the 2018 vintage. That’s right, this is the Dry Year characterised by the worst domestic water shortages in the history of Cape Town, black-bass having to learn the leopard crawl due to empty dams and Premier Helen Zille sporting a water-saving, unwashed hair-do resembling a wombat that had gotten hold of a tub of Vaseline.

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Drawing the Boerewors Curtain Reveals Fine Fare

The Gauteng propagandists constantly claiming the superiority of Johannesburg and Pretoria in wine -buying terms were dealt a bloody nose recently. A consumer survey commissioned by Caxton Media showed that the region with the highest per capita consumption of wine by value happens to be Cape Town’s Northern Suburbs. That is Durbanville, Bellville, Tygerberg and Parow, otherwise known as the Boerewors Curtain.

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Cape Town, Wine Town…..and we Like It

Dry-land vines on Diemersdal Wine Estate, Durbanville with Table Mountain in the distance.

Cape Town might be synonymous with the growing of wine grapes and drinking of the fermented juice since 1659, but the city had to wait until this year to get its own demarcated wine district. In May the South African wine authorities accepted a proposal from the wine areas of Constantia and Durbanville, both a one-winged seagull’s fly from the City Centre, to establish a Wine of Origin Cape Town district. This means that the wine folk of Constantia and Durbanville will be able to officially use the name of the Mother City on their wine bottles.

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Press Release: Thys Louw on Sauvignon Blanc

Thys Louw has a simple answer as to why Sauvignon Blanc is South Africa’s – and one of the world’s – most popular single varietal wines. “The taste of the consumer. At the end of the day, after all that is being written, analysed and debated on the topic of wine, it all boils down to the taste of the consumer for whom wine is made,” says Thys who is cellar master and co-proprietor of Diemersdal Wine Estate in Durbanville, one of South Africa’s leading Sauvignon Blanc producers.

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