New Release Backsberg John Martin Shows Excellence of 2017 Vintage


By Lafras Huguenet

Showing my age I’ll admit that when first meeting the John Martin Sauvignon Blanc from Backsberg Estate Cellars I assumed the wine was named after the iconic South African yachtsman. This John Martin was to round-the-world sailing what Cristiano Ronaldo is to football, and if ever a sailor needed a wine named after him, it would have to be our John.

Not, I later learnt. John Martin was the general manager of Backsberg in the seventies and a close friend of Sydney Back, the second-generation owner. John was Sydney’s right-hand man and together the pair were responsible for putting Backsberg on the map in South Africa. He worked on the farm for close to forty years and although he enjoyed many wines, he was never a huge fan of Sauvignon Blanc. John and Sydney shared a ‘special’ sense of humour. Therefore, when it came time to honour John for his years of service to the farm, Sydney chose to name the estate’s Sauvignon Blanc after him. Ironically, it just happened to be the varietal he enjoyed the least. The name still stands today, some forty or so years later, and is a fond reminder of the farm’s predecessors and their vivacious spirits.

backsberg vineyards e1479882916273 New Release Backsberg John Martin Shows Excellence of 2017 Vintage

John Martin the Wine was also one of the pioneering South African Sauvignon Blancs, introducing local and international consumers to the depth and complexity a bit of wood maturation can bring to this steely, pyrazine-driven white grape which today outsells any other local white varietal by three-to-one.

I was especially perked to see that the John Martin 2017 was already on shelf, as this is being hailed as one of the finest South African vintages in recent years. With the past two years of warm winters, dry soils and intense summer heat, doomsayers were predicting the 2017 vintage to be as disastrous as the Donald Trump presidency and the Brexit vote put together.

Not so, nature said. Come grape-picking time and night-time conditions cooled, days were mild and the refreshed fruit produced grapes of splendid quality.

The John Martin 2017 is made from grapes grown on the Backsberg Estate in soils of weathered granite and clay loam. After crushing , the juice is immediately placed in barrel for a few weeks’ ferment, before being taken out for lees contact in stainless steel tanks for approximately three months.

Here we are dealing with a tropical style of Sauvignon Blanc, one for which Backsberg is famous for seeing that ocean breezes and sea mists are largely absent out Simonsberg-Paarl way. Flavours of asparagus, cat-pee and cut grass are thus largely absent, with delightful notes of melon, gooseberry and citrus peel coming to the fore.

Now to this, bring a mild cloak of brief oak contact, and the wine becomes something quite marvellous. There is no discernible evidence of toasty wood as such – barrel contact was too brief. But the oak gives the wine a fuller mouthfeel and a denser palate weight, allowing the charming fruit and floral elements to linger longer in the mouth. This is complemented by a rapier-thrust of stone and fynbos that lifts the wine, giving it verve, life and freshness.

Patient wine-lovers can be assured that the wine will age well for the next few years, but I am not one of these. Currently I am enjoying this Sauvignon Blanc with the first winter runs of snoek, cauldrons of black mussels steamed in white wine and garlic, as well as some amazing wild oysters from Cape Infanta.

Both John Martins – and all others – can be proud of their name on this wine.