At the foot of towering mountains in the remotest corner of the Franschhoek valley Iies one of the most successful wineries in the Cape. Critical acclaim, both local and international, for Boekenhoutskloof’s wines is unstinting (it was ranked leading winery by wine professionals in the M&G’s 2012 poll), but such praise is not always accompanied by success in the market-place.
At Boekenhoutskloof it is – both for the top-label wines (bearing labels showing seven antique chairs representing the seven owning partners) and for the gentler-priced, bigger-volume wines in the Porcupine Ridge, Helderberg Wijnmakerij and Wolftrap ranges. These latter are not made at the home farm, unlike those bearing the seven-chaired labels – although the top wines mostly take in grapes sourced elsewhere in Franschhoek and beyond.
All this glory I knew, but it is good to probe one’s certainties occasionally, and I recently did just that at two lengthy sessions in the farm’s tasting room with cellarmaster Marc Kent – inseparable from the winery’s success, there from its founding in the mid 1990s. First, I sampled every one of the currently available wines in all the ranges. Next morning, the huge privilege of tasting some mature or maturing vintages of Boekenhoutskloof’s best.
The latter range included the rare Syrah 1997. It is one of the very few genuinely cultish Cape wines, helped by its superb quality (it raised the hair on my arms!) as well as by recalling that the Somerset West vineyard it originated in has long been lost to an industrial park. Ahead of its time, this was the first local shiraz to use only older French oak barrels, at a time when most matured in brash new American oak.
Boekenhoutskloof Syrah is famous everywhere, and sometimes unfairly eclipses the Cabernet Sauvignon, which for many admirers is often the finer wine – though arguably less distinctive, more “international” in its suave excellence. Of those currently on the shelves – from the generally less-than-superb 2010 (but just wait for 2011) – it is certainly the one I prefer.
Best of all the 2010s, however, is the most underrated of Boekenhoutskloof’s wines (because it’s white, I guess, and a lesser-known variety), the Semillon. Exciting, vibrant and superbly balanced, it is as likely to develop as brilliantly as the 2003 and 2004 that I tried the second day.
All the Boekenhoutskloof wines benefit from the attention to detail that Kent demands from his team. Intricate carefulness marks all aspects of production, whether it’s the small volume of Semillon or Noble Late Harvest, or the bigger, ridiculously successful run of rich, sweet-fruited but refined Chocolate Block.
Some of the barrels destined for Chocolate Block but not quite up to standard get added to improve the easy-going Wolftrap blend. Marc Kent is disarmingly proud of the cheaper wines under the wide Boekenhoutskloof umbrella. He rightly points out how much harder it is to perennially over-deliver large volumes at a cut-throat price than small volumes of fine wine.
Indeed, in perspective, one of the most impressive pairs of wines I tasted that day, looking out at autumn-bare vineyards and mountains glowing pink-gold in late-afternoon sunshine, was Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2012 and Syrah-Viognier 2011. Both bright and lively, with the subtly gripping character that their Swartland vineyards unmistakably give; both retailing at little more than R50. Serious enough, easy-going enough; what’s not for all drinkers to relish and admire?
First published in Mail & Guardian. 31 May-6 June 2013