The GVG Diaries: Speaking to the Sage of Sauvignon Blanc

On Friday, the Good Value Guru washed up at Hermanus. And while you may have expected an epistle on Pinot Noir given the presence of Hamilton Russell, Bouchard Finlayson, Newton Johnson, Whalehaven, et. al., we headed instead to the über-bling tasting facility of Hermanuspietersfontein Vineyards, headquarters of the Sage of Sauvignon Blanc, Bartho Eksteen. Any resemblance to a Winesense shop is to be expected, as Bartho’s partner owns the chain. We spoke Sauvignon.

be The GVG Diaries: Speaking to the Sage of Sauvignon Blanc

Q: Does Sauvignon Blanc make serious wine?

A: Most definitely. I was recently in France and Didier Dagueneau opened a bottle of €300 (R3600) Sauvignon for me. I said “don’t do it” but he said “you’d open your best wine if I came to visit you.” Of course just how much of the stuff he makes and sells is a mystery – I suspect he drinks most of it himself. Anyhow, I preferred his Silex to the expensive wine.

Q: Adi Badenhost named his dog after his son (they are both called Samuel) explaining “in this business, its best to keep things simple.” I see you’ve taken a leaf out of his book are call your wines by numbers – which must make things confusing when ordering from a wine list where the individual brands are numbered. “I’d like two bottles of the number six which is the HPF number seven.”

A: Hermanuspietersfontein is already such a mouthful, we thought we’d keep it simple and easier on the ear. My other wines all have Afrikaans names (Swartskaap, Kleinboet, Bloos) which is absolutely no obstacle to sales, by the way. I’ve got five Sauvignons at the moment and they’re all named after prime numbers: #1 is a noble late harvest, #3 is a tropical style, #5 is wooded, #7 is herbaceous…

Q: Why so many?

A: I would like to make as many different styles as possible. I want to discover as many different expressions as I can. I recently found a very nice vineyard at the top of the Tradauw pass. Its nine degrees cooler than down in the valley. There are vines on are four fruit farms owned by a British company and Meyer Joubert told me about it. I’ve made 300 bottles of “heel jolly” wine from the 2008 vintage.

Q: Does Sauvignon work in a blend?

A: Definitely. My wine called Die Bartho (R100) is a 70:30 blend of Sauvignon and Semillon. When I visited New Zealand in the nineties, winemakers were very shy to admit they added Semillion to fatten out the mid-palate and use that oily, lanolin component from fully ripe Semillon to fill it up. Now it’s an open secret, but you have to be careful about quantities – I reckon between 6 and 8% is about right.

Q: Your favourite SA Sauvignons?

A: Miles Mossop’s Tokara and Duncan Savage’s Isleidh from Cape Point.

Q: What’s your opinion of reverse osmosis (a mechanical technique for concentrating wine) that seems so popular in Robertson?

A: It destroys the natural order of Sauvignon Blanc. Now you can plant the stuff in Ladismith and make a decent Sauvignon. In Afrikaans I’d say “dit ruk die dam onder die eend uit” – it pulls the rug out.