“Bring your camera”, said Neil Moorhouse, winemaker at Zorgvliet, “we’re going right up the mountain in a 4×4”. And climb we did, to an altitude of 535 metres, and the views were indeed great: the Banghoek Valley and its splendid mountains in one direction, and on the other, looking across above the vineyards of Thelema and Tokara far below us, we could see, it seemed, virtually the whole of the Cape Peninsula.
There on the mountainside Neil showed me the Klipkop vineyard (as stony as the name implies and perhaps the highest in Stellenbosch) – a hectare of sauvignon blanc struggling against the wind and coolness to the extent that although it’s eight years old it has been so slow to establish itself that there have just been just two harvests from it.
The 2009 grapes from the top 13 rows of the vineyard – the ones at 535 metres – have been kept separate. The fermented juice is now ageing in a single 500 litre new oak barrel in the state-of the-art Zorgvliet cellar. When it’s good and ready, it will be gently allowed to flow unharried, mechanically unmolested, straight from the barrel into bottles and be labelled as Five Thirty Five Sauvignon Blanc – and sold at no doubt a handsome price.
It’s going to be a very good wine indeed, judging by the sample Neil drew from the barrel. Remarkably there was no obvious wood flavour (the capacity of good sauvignon to effortlessly absorb new oak always amazes me, and is one of the factors that most prods me in the direction of respect for the grape – it most recently did so with the truly brilliant Sauvignon Reserve from Reyneke). Plenty of other flavours, though: fragrant pineapple, a hint of passionfruit, blackcurrant, lemon , grapefruit….). The wood was undoubtedly influencing the texture, which was all soft silk – shot silk, perhaps, with a vibrant shimmer of acidity.
Neil’s wines – red and white, and including this excellent sauvignon – are all notably ripe. This was obvious when he gave me a tasting of his reds, for example, including the expensive flagship Richelle. The price inevitably paid for this is high alcohols, but it must be said that these are well balanced by intensity of fruit. It’s a stylistic choice, perhaps: if elegant delicacy is what you’re after, look elsewhere, but Neil is a serious winemaker, making seriously good wines in this big, dense style. What he is after above all, it seems, is great finesse of tannin structure: “I look for a lot of tannin”, he says, “but exceptionally fine tannin. And tannin ripeness happens at the end of the ripening process”. Hence the alcoholic power.
Neil’s passion for fine tannin has actually lead him to turn Richelle from being a “Bordeaux blend” with all five majore Bordeaux varieties into one that moves across Bordeaux’s boundaries towards the Pyrenees, where the tannat grape thrives in Madiran. Zorgvliet makes one of the very few varietal Tannat wines in the Cape (a bold, chewy, tasty red – at 15.5% alcohol!) and Neil’s included some tannat in the 2007 Richelle – for the sake of its contribution to the tannic structure, of course. The 2007 hasn’t yet been released – but it promises to be the best of the vintages from 2004 till then, a most impressive wine.
Richelle doesn’t go into screwcap, but (in line with Neil’s love of pure varietal fruit expression) many of the other wines do – and the new Five Thirty Five Sauvignon Blanc will too. But these are not just ordinary screwcaps that Zorgvliet uses. The winery did trials in South Africa for the “threadless” WAK closure, and are amongst the earliest here and internationally to make use of them. They are not threadless, of course, but the thread (the bit that screws onto the bottle itself) is enclosed within the cap, and invisible from outside. You can see the difference in the pic, with the standard screwcap on the front bottle and the WAK on the one behind.
They look much better, to my mind, than the standard version, and are also much less tinkly to use, because the thread inside is made of some sort of polymer rather than metal, making the whole thing just a bit more substantial. If screwcaps are the answer (and they probably are the answer in at least some circumstances) then this version of the screwcap is far and away aesthetically preferable – and Neil tells me it is also stronger and more reliable. All the more reason to keep a look out for his new Sauvignon. Not that the standard Sauvignon is to be ignored – it’s pretty delicious too.