I visited Boekenhoutskloof this week and left with my admiration even increased. As for some others, I suspect, admiration had not exactly faltered over the past few years but had perhaps stagnated while so much exciting new stuff was dominating the Cape scene. But if supremo Marc Kent has anything to do with it – and he has everything to do with it – no slippage will be allowed. Quite the reverse.
What is Boekenhoutskloof, though? I have to remind myself occasionally that it is three things. Given the prestige of the name and the potential for confusion, some others might appreciate a summary (I hope I have it right). Firstly, Boekenhoutskloof the farm, its owners represented by the seven chairs on the label; the estate tucked into the far corner of the lovely Franschhoek valley, with mountains on three sides and organically farmed vineyards on the valley floor and climbing the lower slopes. The farming is taken very seriously, and the vines provide fruit for four of the six wines appearing under the Boekenhoutskloof label (that’s including The Journeyman, which it is hoped will be becoming a more regular commercial release from 2015 – a lot of the newest plantings are of cabernet franc to provide fruit for it). So the label/brand is thing two.
The other wines under that label come mostly from vineyards owned elsewhere by Boekenhoutskloof the business (thing three, which owns Boekenhoutskloof the brand). That business is completely separately owned and undoubtedly the most valuable of all the things that the name means. It is enormous and growing: it owns other brands too, including the wildly successful Chocolate Block, Porcupine Ridge and The Wolftrap, and the tiny-volume but prestigious Porseleinberg. And it owns the large, radically renovated Helderberg Wijnmakerij winery in Stellenbosch, where the bigger-volume wines are now all made, with the estate’s winery estate devoted to the wines that bear the Boekenhoutskloof name. I could write at length about what’s happening on the Helderberg – I hope I will, sometime.
The business also owns increasing numbers of vineyards, specialising in Swartland soil and Swartland syrah: I’d guess that Boekenhoutskloof is now the second-largest vineyard-owner in the Swartland. It has now something approaching 170 hectares, including a farm called Goldmine on the Riebeekberg near Riebeek-Kasteel, and Porseleinberg. From the 2015 vintage, the famous Boekenhoutskloof Syrah comes entirely from these two properties and is proudly Wine of Origin Swartland (as is Chocolate Block too, these days).
I sampled the Boekenhoutskloof 2015s the other day (Syrah, Semillon, Franschhoek Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon, Journeyman, with the Noble Late Harvest being from 2013 and the only one of this line-up that’s been released. The reds were only recently bottled, and I’m not going to say anything about them now (except “ah!” and “”oh!”) – I look forward to relating a proper assessment in a few months, and the NLH I might say something about sooner.
So much for the three Boekenhoutskloofs. What’s happening at the original one of them, the estate, is impressive and exciting – indicative of the remarkable energy and vision with which Marc Kent is directing all three aspects. (There is no one like Kent in the South African wine industry, one should come to realise despite his lack of overt showiness, in terms of what he has built and what he is building; I think perhaps of Charles Back, but Back’s achievement goes inextricably wider than wine, and he has never succeeded in achieving the wines of topmost quality that characterise the Boekenhoutskloof label and are a vital part of Kent’s vision and ambition. Boekenhoutskloof is far from being dominated by the wisdom of its accountants – however pleased they ultimately are, I suspect they might wince occasionally.)
On the less obtrusive side of what’s happening at Boekenhoutskloof and its cellar (leaving aside the vineyards), is the quiet, modest and smiling forcefulness and skill of Gottfried Mocke, who moved here from Chamonix in mid 2015 to take charge of, above all, the Boekenhoutskloof wines. When I originally reported on this move, I suggested that “a Kent-Mocke partnership could be extraordinary”, and there are plenty of signs (including the 2015 wines that he didn’t vinify, but brought up and bottled) that it’s proving to be just that.
If the arrival of Gottfried was a vital move in Marc Kent’s plan to take the Boekenhoutskloof label to new levels of achievement, it’s being accompanied by the expenditure of an enormous amount of money. An array of new curvilinear concrete fermenters has appeared since I last visited the cellar (more are to come), and there are already a number of oval oak foudres (2500 litres) along with all the different-sized barrels. A bottling line has been installed, and I saw in operation a remarkable new destemmer, which works as part of the berry-sorting process (Marc reminded me in this connection that Boekenhoutskloof introduced, for his famous 1997 Syrah, the country’s first mechanical triage table).
Most impressive of all, though, is a hole. A big hole at a little distance from the winery. This will be – by September, Marc says – a partly underground barrel cellar, accessed only by a 65-metre subterranean tunnel from the winery. It will contain 96 foudres, on two levels, and 1500 smaller barrels! It’s going to be a beautiful sight.