Namaqua West Coast Wows

Being invited for kreef and a chance to taste 2013 vintage whites from Namaqualand at the Grand & Beach, which sounds like a Tom Waits tune but is actually the most photogenic spot in Cape Town, is an invitation not to be missed. As expected, the wines were WOW and I for one will be looking out for the Aloe Tree 2013 Chenin Blanc (which may be called Lutzville locally) as at under R30, this is the kind of Sauvignon-style Chenin SA producers need to pump out if they will ever convert Generations Y and Z from RTDs.

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My notes on last year’s tasting expedition with Anibal Coutinho:

If the Swartland marketing slogan is “small berries, big flavours” then Namaqualand should adopt “big lorries, small prices.” In a nutshell:

 Best value for money maritime style Sauvignon Blancs in SA
 Home to largest organic producer in SA
 Fresh and spicy Shiraz a feature

Back Label: “Big trucks proceeding past this point, do so at their own risk” says the sign 10km short of Citrusdal on the road north from Ceres, through the Kouebokkeveld. Which reminded me of the notice British eccentric Lord Berners erected outside the folly in the garden of his Oxfordshire country pile. “Members of the public committing suicide from this tower, do so at their own risk.”

Neither was joking, as the precipitous track through the Cederberg Mountains resembles those Taliban supply routes in Afghanistan, with US drones replaced by hungry Lanner Falcons and Pale Chanting Goshawks. It was lorries that got us into this mess in the first place, as one had overturned in the Nuwekloof pass between Tulbagh and Gouda and Google Maps had redirected us onto the rustic R303 as replacement for the stop-and-go rich N7 highway. Suffice to say, driving to the Olifants River wine appellation can be a challenge.

Terroir Credentials: Made from grapes grown 320km north of Cape Town, elephant wines from the Olifants River typically have warmer, more tropical flavours than other maritime appellations such as Durbanville and the Hemel & Aarde Valley, yet a shared proximity to the cold Atlantic Ocean adds a refreshing natural acidity that makes them fresh and exciting. The boutiquification of the region is still in its early days (giant co-operatives like Lutzville and Namaqua Wines dominate volumes) with one noticeable result: it is hard to find a wine priced over R100, the entry level in tonier terroirs.

Wineries: Olifants River wineries are some of the largest in the country. The SA tourism website somewhat breathlessly notes “production is dominated by co-operatives and the Vredendal Co-operative alone crushes more grapes than the whole of New Zealand in one harvest!”

Well Vredendal Co-op transformed into Namaqua Wines many moons ago and New Zealand has ramped up production and now dominates the market for grassy Sauvignon Blanc in the UK in the interim. In the south of Namaqualand, Stellar Winery is the largest organic wine producer in SA.

Ethically traded, it salves conscience as well as the palate and inner personal trainer. In the western approaches, Bamboesbaai and Lambert’s Bay are home to two of the greenest Sauvignon Blancs in the Cape, real doppelgängers for the grassy Kiwi style that sells so well in Knightsbridge, but at a fraction of the price.

Best Wines: Our blind tasting of 68 wines unearthed five gems including five wines rated five hearts. There is a great value 2011 wooded Chenin Blanc for R55 from the appropriately named Lutzville Diamond Collection and a 2010 Pinotage costing all of R25 from Namaqua Wines. Less well known is the 2010 Shiraz from Stoumann’s Wines (R70) whose logo is a tortoise, the meat ingredient in waterblommetjiebredie before Karoo lamb became popular.

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Terroir Top Ten

1. ♥♥♥♥♥ Sir Lambert Sauvignon Blanc 2012 R65
2. ♥♥♥♥♥ Namaqua Wines Spencer Bay Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 R75
3. ♥♥♥♥♥ Bellpost Shiraz 2008 R71
4. ♥♥♥♥♥ Lutzville Diamond Collection Shiraz 2010 R65
5. ♥♥♥♥♥ Lutzville Diamond Collection Chenin (wood) 2011 R55
6. ♥♥♥♥ Lutzville Diamond Collection Ebenhaeser 2010 R85
7. ♥♥♥♥ Namaqua Wines Spencer Bay, The Blend 2008 R75
8. ♥♥♥♥ Fryer’s Cove Sauv Blanc 2011 R90
9. ♥♥♥♥ Lutzville Pinotage 2010 R40
10. ♥♥♥♥ Stellar Organics Sparkling Wine 2012 R55

Budget Top Ten

1. Namaqua Pinotage 2010 R25
2. Klawer Cellars Chardonnay 2011 R28
3. Klawer Cellars Pinotage 2011 R28
4. Klawer Cellars White Muscadel 2008 R30
5. Klawer Cellars Red Muscadel 2009 R30
6. Klawer Cellars Hanepoot 2008 R30
7. Lutzville Diamond Collection Chenin Blanc 2012 R33
8. Namaqua Red Muscadel 2011 R35
9. Stellar Organics Chenin Blanc 2012 R35
10. Stellar Organics Rosé 2012 R35

Best Wine Empowered Establishment: Die Keldery Restaurant at the Namaqua Wines Cellar in Spruitdrift offers a cross-section of wines from across the appellation for sale. Now when did you last see the competition’s products offered for sale in a Stellenbosch tasting room? Which confirms the common sense approach to wine followed in Namaqualand.

The bright restaurant offers fresh bistro food. The pickled fish is recommended as is the bobotie.

Open: Monday-Friday 8am-5pm; Saturday 9am-3pm.

Tasting Charge: free.

Directions: GPS coordinates: S 31.40.50 E 18.30.55.

Head north for Klawer on the N7 from Clan William. In K-town, it’s a case of “all roads lead to Rome” as you’ll see Vredendal signposted straight ahead on the R363 as well a right turn onto the R362. Don’t turn, stick to the R363 and the cellar will appear on your left, 3km before Vredendal, with stainless steel tanks looking like a mini sensory Sasol.

Contact Details:; Tel. 027 213 1080.

For evening dining Paiters Grill (027 213 1877) is located above Capitec Bank in downtown Vredendal and their Roquefort salad mixes black olives with tinned pineapple and peppadews. It is brilliantly complemented by a bottle of Sir Lambert Sauvignon Blanc 2011 for R95 which echoes the flavours. The salad comes in two sizes, small (R50) and large (R60) which is family friendly. The schnitzel special offers two small for R100 or two large for R120 which, with a polystyrene doggy bag, provides tomorrow’s lunch. Probably one third the price of a Cape Town equivalent.

Best Bed: Voorsorg Guesthouse (027 213-2243) is on the right between the Namaqua Wine Spruitdrift Cellar and Vredendal town. It is one of those conglomerations of face brick chalets beloved of Afrikaans cultural movements in the seventies. Clean and great value.

Wineheart: Gideon Theron, cellarmaster at Lutzville Cape Diamond Vineyards.

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Neil: How would you describe Namaqua terroir?

GIDEON: We have quite a variety of different soil types. The producers plant cultivars on these selections due to the direction the product will be utilised. Grapes planted on the alluvial silt and alluvial sand soils are mainly utilised for supply to rebate wine production for distillation as well as dry white in bulk sales. The wines that we do bottle and sell as cultivar wines are mainly from two soil types namely:

1. Deep red sand on specific rootstocks.
2. Broken-heart pan with lime.

In the Namaqua region, each sub-region has pockets where the cool west coast climate has a direct influence. We then plant selectively in these areas. The wines are also treated separately. Our row selections is important as for the cool breezes to be effective during night time. Surely in our region it is a combination of soil with weather patterns that have the influence on selection for planting cultivars. We do not have problems regarding diseases during ripening as our rainfall is in the average of 110 mm / year. We are totally reliable on water supply by the channel system. The farmers can control the irrigation.

Neil: Positive things about making wine in Lutzville as compared to Paarl?

Gideon: Once again I must state that each wine region have something different and the producer must then utilise this to his best on his wines. Our biggest advantage is that we have moderate temperatures during daytime which ensures a constant ripening process, but then the night temperatures drop down to between 8 to 10 ° Celsius. The grapes turn into a total resting phase and the carry on with the ripening in day time. Our ripening period is longer than normal. Although we start harvest by end January we only finish by mid April. By that time we struggle to complete our red wine fermentation in the stainless steel tanks outside due to the temperatures dropping at night time.

We have close relationships with our producers and all the vineyard blocks graded as Reserve and Premium receives detail attention along with our Viticulturist. Prior to harvest we visit these vineyards, and decide on the receive date of these grapes. This ensures that we do receive the grapes at optimal ripeness. We have all the required and state of the art equipment to produce high quality wines. The emphasis must be on the control from the vines to the vineyards and then selective actions in the Cellar. Our wines develop with maturation, whereas the wines from Paarl have a fair amount of yeast influence. This is very positive, as our wines then compete better on submissions. With the stretched out harvesting detail focus can be kept on practices on cultivars.

Neil: Negative things about making wine in Lutzville as compared to Paarl?

Gideon: This is always a difficult one to answer. Two factors:

1. We miss out on the wine industry activities, due to the distance.
2. We also miss out on regular exposure and trends within the industry.

Being at a big winery with a daily crush of 1 000 ton, one can easily drop back into a mode of producing wine on a bulk level. One must work on the fact that each tank is special and must be treated as such.
On a lighter side, I do have a less social programme and consume less wine than in Paarl, but the positive is that you spend much more time with your family.

Neil: Your favourite wine style?

Gideon: On the white side it is definitely Sauvignon Blanc as I have always had a passion for the wine. The wine must be crisp, clean and fresh with the typical cultivar flavours supporting the wine. The acidity must be well balanced. One must feel like having another bottle after the first one.
For reds, I used to be a fan of Shiraz, although I have changed to any well-structured red. I prefer it to have the varietal aromas complemented with soft wood. The wine must have tannins, but no green tannins or overpowering ones. The wine must be able to mature as well.

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Five Terroir-driven Sauvignon Blancs

♥♥♥♥♥ Sir Lambert 2012. Tangy ruby grapefruit with a finely judged balance between sweet and sour and huge length.
♥♥♥♥ Fryer’s Cove 2011. Fine gooseberry white peachs and tropical fruit. Serious palate weight with a tangy finish.
♥♥♥ Lutzville Diamond Collection 2012. Grass, green pepper and asparagus, sweetly fruited. Smoky minerality.
♥♥♥ Stellar Organics 2012. Floral nose, tropical fruit palate with some lemon zest.
♥♥♥ Sir Lambert 2011. Sweetly fruited gooseberries with some vegetal notes.

A Quartet of Orgasmic Organics

♥♥♥♥ Stellar Organics Sparkling Wine 2012. Chardonnay & Chenin Blanc. Fine mousse. Ripe white ripe, citrus zest, hints of medium pastry, Creamy, sweet, round easy going fizz.
♥♥♥♥ Stellar Organics Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2012. Floral nose with some tomato leaf, fresh and typical. Grippy and fresh, long lasting.
Stellar Organics Chenin Blanc 2012. Racy, fine palate and some sweat. Pithy finish.
Stellar Organics Rosé 2012. Tangy strawberries and some spice, great summertime tipple.

A Terror Trio of Syrah

♥♥♥♥♥ Bellpost Shiraz 2008. Stone fruit and rooibos herbal liqueur. Extra spicy with a rocky minerality. Mouth filling and fresh with a lingering finish.
♥♥♥♥♥ Lutzville Diamond Collection Shiraz 2010. Chocolate mint berries, orange marmelade, toast and extra spice, elegant, fresh with a grippy palate.
♥♥♥♥ Stoumann’s Shiraz 2010. Good Rhône-like character with a refined elegance.

A Trinity of Sweeties

♥♥♥ Klawer Wines White Muscadel 2008. Tropical fruits with hints of honey. Sweet with a round palate.
♥♥♥ Klawer Wines Red Muscadel 2009. Herbal rooibos tea, apricot jam, honey and caramel, Creamy, mouth filling, sticky sweet.
♥♥♥ Klawer Cellars Hanepoot 2008. Citrus pulp and zest, roses, ripe white fruit, hints of honey. Sweet, round and appealing.

A Pair of Punchy Pinotages

♥♥♥♥ Lutzville Pinotage 2010. A real crowd pleaser. Toasty, green banana, ripe red fruit, sweet spices. Elegant, sugary and fresh.
♥♥♥ Namaqua Pinotage 2010. Toasty, green banana, candied red fruit, sweet spices.

A Duo of Blended Reds

♥♥♥♥ Namaqua Wines Spencer Bay “The Blend” 2008. Bordeaux blend showing sour cherries tobacco with a flinty minerality.
♥♥♥ Lutzville Diamond Collection Ebenhaeser 2010. Exotic nose, complex palate, well balanced.

Best Cabernet Sauvignon

♥♥♥♥♥ Namaqua Wines Spencer Bay 2008. Dried stone fruit with chocolaty nose, sweet spice, dried bell peppers. Complex, round and mouth filling, grippy.

Best Chenin Blanc

♥♥♥♥♥ Lutzville Diamond Collection Chenin (wooded) 2011. Citrus pulp and zest, fresh grassy notes, ripe white fruits with hints of sweet pastry. Creamy, fresh and elegant.

Best Merlot

♥♥♥ Bellpost 2011. Savoury red plums.