New South African Preview: B. Vintners
Last February a small group of Liffordites headed to South Africa to see what all the fuss was about. One of the most exciting finds was B. Vintners. I feel so lucky to have been on this trip. To have met these humans. Huge thanks to Jamie Goode for knowing what I like and pointing me there. :)
We walked into the tiny B. winery in the heart of Stellenbosch not knowing what to expect; the winery was small, the tasting room doubling as the winemaker’s living room. Then Bruwer Raats walked in, hands soil-stained from a day of harvest. In all my years of wine tasting around the world - can I say that? am I old enough? I don't care I'm saying it - seldom have I left a tasting so incredible charged and inspired. Bruwer is an incredible man making important wines.
About Bruwer: Bruwer Raats and his family have been in the Cape of Good Hope a long time. They were part of the region’s first Dutch settlers, Stellenbosch was always their home. He received international fame with Raats, focusing on Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc - I get to work with these wines in Ontario! Another story! The way he speaks about Cabernet Franc though! The texture and soul he finds in Chenin! Ahhhhh sharing for soon. He also collaborates with Mzokhona Mvemve - South Africa’s first accredited black winemaker - to produce one of the world’s most famous Bordeaux blends, MR de Compostella. Seeing Bruwer speak about this project with Mzokhona it is impossible not to be moved. You can't go to South Africa and not be faced with deep, human questions of race. What divides us. What brings us together. What are we made of.
It is hard to imagine that most of the country has such vivid memories of apartheid. Industries are tied up in it, wine is no different. The fractures of race are fresh. The country is still dealing with its legacy of systemic racism, it will be for awhile, (won't we all) and how to move beyond that. How openly this movement is happening, the rawness of the emotions, there is something deeply achingly hard, but powerfully inspiring there. How something like wine, meant for sharing, meant for transporting, meant for expressing, fits in is not so hard to see. That one of South Africa’s most famous blends is such an honest coming together of friends, of friends from different backgrounds whose life and worth was measured so differently in youth, but now can come to be respected as equals means something. We need these stories. But I am getting off track! Maybe one day I will have an allocation of this to share with Canada. :) I was offered one case this year... ha... but only if I came to South Africa. I was tempted.
How B. Vintners Came to Be:
As the world discovered the beauty of Stellenbosch wines, the region’s vineyards became more expensive. Unable to afford the top sites, many young ambitious winemakers headed to Swartland to find plentiful, cheap land. So many have planted roots in the sandy, broad landscapes that the Swartland Revolution is a real thing and includes great producers like A.A Badenhorst, Sadie Family Wines and Porseleinberg. Swartland is one of those places where the sky seems bigger. Bush vines of Chenin Blanc mix with farm land as the cars kick up dust on long stretches of straight roads. Funnily enough, we had a great Italian meal in the region’s heart? I wish I remembered the name of the restaurant, but I was too busy eating garlic bread and smiling at everyone. (seriously this was a great day!)
It seems too hot and dry at first, but there is something special in these soils. In this place. Swartland is making some great wine. But the terroir is different, the climate different than close-by Stellenbosch. Bruwer looked out at these rumblings and was inspired, he too wanted a quality revolution rooted in place. In heart and soul not oak and smooth edges. Rather than seek something new, Bruwer and his cousin Gavin looked to their birthplace to express the powerful granite story of Stellenbosch. And so B. Vintners, a vine exploration company, was born.
Winery Philosophy: Their singular aim is to tell the story of the heritage of South Africa from the most interesting vineyards in the Cape. This is a celebration of heritage and terroir with minimal intervention, allowing the varieties and soil to shine.
The prime focus is on vineyard sites in Stellenbosch whose story have not yet been told. This is not your oaked Chardonnay or international-style Bordeaux blend that could be from anywhere. How boring. How soul-less. These are true wines of place, showing a lighter side of a famous region by focusing on high-lying areas, close to the ocean on weathered soils. The wines speak softly. They're delicate, but precise. They tell a story for those willing to listen.
Wines on offer:
Haarlem to Hope, $24.52/ $28.71 x 12 packs
This is a (delicious) nod to history. A blend of Chenin Blanc, Semillon and Muscat, the first grapes to be planted by Dutch settlers in the 17th century and the cornerstone of grape growing in the Cape of Good Hope for more than three centuries.
This wine is a celebration of 350 years of heritage, in a land of hope. All the vineyards are planted in the Stellenbosch area, on old and weathered soils of decomposed granite and table mountain sandstone, in close proximity to cooling False Bay. The old vine Chenin Blanc reveals fruit complexities, the Semillon adds spice and rich texture, while the small amount of Muscat gives floral lift to the wine. A pretty old perfume on a favourite sweater.
Winemaking: Minimal intervention. 10 months old oak. (older!)
Liberté, $29.50, $34.52 x 12 packs
This is the wine that most blew us away during our tasting. Bruwer served it to us blind. “What is this?”, he asked. None of us guessed Pinotage. Why? It has a terrible reputation of course. Two important things you need to stop believing.
1. Pinotage does not taste like bandaids and tar. After Apartheid ended, a swath of cheap wines flooded the market. Cheap wines mean cheap winemaking techniques. Inexperienced vintners sprayed their poles with tar to protect them from rot. That taste of tar? That is literally tar that has seeped into the ground and back into the vines. We know. It’s crazy.
2. Pinotage does not taste like a Bordeaux varietal. Pinotage was born in the 1920’s from the crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. These are both light, spicy grapes. Pinotage, without new oak and winemaking technique aimed at extraction is a light and spicy grape. We know. It’s crazy.
Also can we talk about how delicious old vine Cinsault is!!! I promise we will. :) It's my favourite. I wish to bathe in it.
Why this wine really matters: Pinotage is of great importance to wine making in South Africa and a huge part of the country’s rich heritage. Pinotage must be celebrated and liberated from its undeserved reputation. Liberté is a new Pinotage. The liberation of Pinotage. Je me souviens what Pinotage used to be! Make Pinotage great again! Should I keep going!
Soil: The old vineyards are planted exclusively on decomposed granite soils, they are high- lying and in close proximity to the ocean. This combined with a philosophy of balance-seeking has created a Pinotage that speaks to its classy parents: Pinot Noir and Cinsault.
Winemaking: Liberté was made with minimal intervention to allow this African variety to show its sense of place and character. 14 months oak, 10% new.
Taste: Elegance, freshness and finesse at the forefront. Fresh cherries, blackcurrant and potpourri. Dried herbs and a spice you wish you could smell of always. A lightness on its feet. A nobleness of structure. A playfulness of spirit.