One of the impressive things about Janine and Mick Craven (apart from such ordinary matters as youthful exuberance and energy, commitment, general personableness, etc) is that they go out of their way to be respectful about other ways than theirs of approaching Stellenbosch terroir. While very different from the standard Stellenbosch aesthetic (though it wouldn’t stand out in the Swartland) they stress that their approach is not an aggressive challenge to orthodoxy – it’s just an expression of the way they want to make wine, while they can respect alternatives. I haven’t spoken to them about cabernet, but I could imagine that they have a respect for the grape and its masters that might indeed stand out in some of the more hipster parts of the Swartland winemaking scene.
This is unsurprising, to an extent, seeing that both of them have day-jobs, as it were, with established Stellenbosch producers. Janine (who grew up in winey Stellenbosch) is the winemaker at Dornier, and husband Mick (an Australian) works with Adam Mason at Mulderbosch. Their wines – some from their second vintage have just been released – all aim at fresh drinkability together with unadulterated expression of site, and so are at the “natural”, hands-off end of winemaking (though not dogmatically so): early-picked and low-alcohol, with no yeast inoculation, no additives apart from a little sulphur at bottling, and no new oak. “A wine that intrigues – but you want the next glassful … drinkable but with quality” is the goal, said Mick at the launch in Cape Town last week.
Certainly, the maiden 2014 Clairette Blanche proved its drinkability to me last year, when the six bottles of it that I bought vanished remarkably quickly. It was both deliciously easy and interestingly characterful. That bottling was a blend of “normally” made white wine with an equal portion that had fermented on its skins for ten days, much in the manner of red winemaking. Released now is a bottling of the skin-contact wine only. Medium-deep gold (certainly not quite “orange”), the Craven Clairette Blanche Skin Fermented 2014 is obviously more intensely flavoured than the blend, perhaps a touch less fruity, a bit less easy-going, but gorgeously rich and tannic, as well as fresh and lively. Just over 11% alcohol. It costs around R150, which is not inconsiderable – but it’s tiny quantities, and it’ll go.
The Pinot Gris 2015 is another skin-fermented wine, and those skins gave it a remarkably deep red colour – apparently the pinkness of pinot gris varies from year to year, but I had no idea that it could ever give this degree of redness. It looks like a deep rosé or very light red, and tastes accordingly, with a fairly serious level of tannic grip. A curiosity, really, but pleasant enough – light, as are all these wines, but, as with the others, with good flavour, no sense of real unripeness, and a crisp, welcome dryness.
The Faure Pinot Noir 2014 is quite well priced, for pinot, at R135 from Wine Cellar in Cape Town. It’s a step up on the 2013, with a more specific pinot expression – rather deeper red fruit and some floral perfume, more intensity of flavour. Structured by acidity, but this in better balance than previously. Again, very fresh and light – less than 11% alcohol if you’re counting. The Cravens were just a bit humorously miffed that the rest of the vineyard, which goes into sparkling wine, was picked even earlier than is their own practice.
My favourite of the reds – and perhaps my favourite of all the new releases – is the Faure Syrah 2014. (Same price as the Skin Fermented Clairette: R150.) Whole-bunch-pressed, positively gushing at all of 11.4% alcohol. Beautifully clean and fresh and lively. I have no idea if anything will develop in this wine over the years; possibly not much, but it is pretty delightful now.
All in all, these wines cast a kindly light on the “natural” approach – there’s nothing remotely suspect, funky or dubious about them, so you can enjoy them without any ifs and buts and just revel in the story as well as the character and gluggability of the wine. And the labels are similarly fresh and appealing, with an honesty and unshowy integrity and reference to origin that matches the wines. An Oz-Saffer collaboration to welcome. I’m glad it’s located here.