The South African wine industry today is without a doubt the most exciting in the world right now, compared to benchmark European vineyards as well as our “neighbours” in the Southern hemisphere.
We are right there with the very best in the world with much progress happening in the last ten years for an industry that celebrated its 359th vintage on 2 February.
It is vibrant, dynamic and constantly reinventing itself to align with the best global practices in sustainability, showcasing a diversity of styles and grapes option.
It seems wherever there is enough sunshine, properly drained soils, adequate water, Vitis Vinifera vines - where majority of wine grapes originate - can find roots and produce grapes with enough sugar to turn into wine. This explains the odd places in the world today where vineyards can be found. They can be found in far-flung places such as the French Polynesia atoll of Rangiroa in the heart of the Tuamotu Archipelago, the South Pacific Ocean - more than 5,000 kilometres away from the nearest continent - with its all-year round summer climate, barely five meters above sea level. It’s probably best suited for the cultivation of pineapple, coconut and bananas, yet Vin de Tahiti of Domaine Ampelidacees are crafting eminently drinkable and refreshing white and rose wines made from ungrafted Carignan and Muscat de Hambourg grapes. Some 30,000 bottles are produced a year, out of 6 hectares of vineyards, in the middle of the ocean.
That’s the beauty and mystique of wines, which have inspired mankind since the dawn of time over 8,000 years ago around Georgia – the place where most leading experts believe is the birthplace of wine. This is due to the evidence of cultivated grape pips, which probably was the thinking back in 1655 when the first vines were introduced to South Africa. Amongst them was Chenin Blanc, a white variety making the great dry, demi sec and botrytised as well as some Cremant sparkling wines of the Loire Valley on the Western side of France, seeing names such as Savennieres, Vouvray, Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume on labels is an indication it is 100 percent Chenin.
South Africa has more Chenin Blanc vineyards than any other country, with 18.5 percent of our 95,775 hectares dedicated to the variety, versus its birth place of France, where the variant barely exceeds 8,000 hectares.
In recent years, the Chenin Blanc Association largely driven by Ken Forrester through his Stellenbosch winery, has become without a doubt the greatest ambassador, both nationally and internationally. His Dirty Little Secret 2015 is consistently world class. The FMC 2016, two distinct styles, are a very fine expression of how the industry have changed in recent years.
The CBA, who alongside with its 120 strong members’ winery, have done an outstanding job in creating the necessary awareness for consumers to discover and embrace the diversity of Chenin Blanc as a signature South African variety, hashtag #DrinkChenin is one of their way to share their love.
Comes in Breedekloof district and Slanghoek ward, Chenin Blanc’s home ground, where 18 percent of all South Africa’s vineyards are located, these two areas have 15 percent of all Chenin plantings in the Cape and supplies 21 percent or one-fifth of all wine made from Chenin, yet they are rarely in the limelight.
The Breedekloof makers, purveyors of Chenin Blanc, was established in 2014 to raise the variety profile in the area, supported by 12 wineries. It is the brainchild of Attie Louw of Opstal Estate. Quietly and unassumedly with his vision and drive, he is leaving a profound legacy for his children and for generations to come, however the winner here is the valley and Brand South Africa. Actions like these are monumental to the future of the Cape wine industry as well as the appreciation and growth of fine South African Chenin on a global stage.
Discover five outstanding Chenin Blanc from Breedekloof and Slanghoek:
Jasons’ Hill Beatrix Barrel Fermented 2016 MC 93 Points
From 13 years old vineyards, confident style, ripe, impressive purity of fruits, subtle touch of wood, structured, lean and racy packed with energy, precise freshness on a nutty mid palate with lemony farewell, need time, best from 2020 if one can resist, may be kept up to 2024.
Cellar Price: R180
Opstal Estate Carl Everson Chenin Blanc Single Vineyard 2016 MC 94 Points
5th vintage, from vineyards planted in 1982, spontaneous took 8 months to ferment, ripe Golden delicious apple, camomile and honey, rich style with a broad mouthfeels, blonde toast character, expansive, impressively long length, now until 2022.
Cellar Price: R175
Olifantsberg Chenin Blanc 2017 MC 93 Points
Pure, delicate, ripe stone fruits, fleshy textures, bright acid, racy freshness, very Savennieres Loire like, crunchy and lemony, engaging length, now until 2025
Cellar Price: R90
Deetlefs Estate Reserve Chenin Blanc 2017 MC 93 Points
From two of the oldest block on the estate planted in 1987 and 1993, this is textbook classic and expressive Chenin Blanc, bright racy and precise, touch of wood adds complexity, only 2500 bottles produced, drink now up to 2023
Cellar Price: R175
Stofberg Family Vineyards Mariette Chenin Blanc 2017 MC 93 Points
Ripe,showy bright and racy with green apples note, grapefruit and citrus medley, structured and precise, touch saline, persistent length, now until 2024
Cellar Price: R175
* Miguel Chan is the Group Sommelier for Tsogo Sun