I first tasted the Carinus Family Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2016 when I visited Lukas van Loggerenberg 10 months ago in his shed atop a hill in Stellenbosch’s Devon Valley – a visit that made a remarkable impression on me (see here). Lukas was making the maiden vintages of his own wine in this simple, makeshift cellar on a Carinus farm, the hospitality in exchange for also taking in hand the Carinus wines. Who got the better bargain, I’m not sure, but everyone seems happy, and certainly Lukas has done a first-rate job with his host’s wines – two chenins from the Swartland, and a Stellenbosch syrah.
My second visit to the delightfully named Fransmanskraal farm came last week, when Christian Eedes and I visited the little bistro recently established there, to taste the wines (and later have a tasty lunch) with Lukas and the two Carinus men involved. The likeable Danie and Hugo are both scions of their respective farming families (though only distantly related, surprisingly enough), both immensely interested in wine, and happy to see some fruit off their extensive vineyards carefully, and with minimal intervention, ushered into bottle by one of the most interesting and promising young winemakers coming to the fore in South Africa today.
That’s Lukas in the pic on the right – and if you look closely and then wonder why his expensive Zalto burgundy-shape glass on the left of the pic is at a strange angle and a bit close to the table, it’s because it had had its foot broken off at some previous drinking session, and Lukas was resting the glass by fitting its stem through the usefully sized gap between the table slats.
When I mentioned extensive vineyards, it was no idle phrase. There are some 500 Carinus hectares in the Swartland –amongst the largest blocks of single-owner vineyards in the southern hemisphere, says Hugo. (Willie Dreyer owns more than double that in Swartland and Voor-Paardeberg – but in more scattered fashion.) And I was amazed to learn of the extent of irrigation for the vines, given the general lack of water in the Swartland. Apparently, Malmesbury’s effluent water is cleaned up and piped all the way there! I think Hugo said 16 kilometres – but here’s the point where I have to admit that I have seriously mislaid the notebook in which I scribbled down some of what I heard, and notes on what I tasted.
Anyway, the vineyard whence come the grapes for the two chenins is not irrigated; it’s an oldish one, about 36 years. Part of it was especially carefully tended to produce the more serious of the chenins, going by the farm’s name of Rooidraai [red bend/turn], with the word beautifully placed alone on the front label, in the colour of the earthy red of the soil. It’s another fine Swartland chenin, certainly amongst the best of the 2016s (not the best year for Swartland wines in many instances, partly due to lower acid levels) – but this wine has some freshness as well as finesse, clean and penetrating, rounded and textured by its time in older oak barrels, with a long-lingering, supple finish. Just 700 bottles made, and not cheap – but not unreasonably priced at R250.
At a bit less than half of that is the straight Chenin Blanc, making it pretty good value, for it is a delightfully drinkable, but characterful and emphatically not trivial wine.
The Stellenbosch 2016 Syrah comes predominantly off Danie Carinus’s Polkadraai Hills farm, where some pretty smart producers also get grapes, including Raats, Alheit and DeMorgenzon – and Lukas for his brilliant Breton cab franc. The remainder comes from Hugo Carinus’s Devon Valley farm. It’s a typical new-wave light red wine, stressing perfume, youthful charm and drinkability; earlyish-picked, all whole-bunch-pressed, matured for a while in old barrels. A neat tannic grip controls the offering, but doesn’t dominate. It’ll be even better after a few softening years in bottle, but I suspect it would be less of a sin to drink it now than to leave it for ten years.
Welcome Carinus. It’s been around for a year or two, but this is the first vintage that, it seems, is getting out into the big world. I’m not sure when (or where) it’ll be available, but do bear the name in mind (and if you’re in a hurry, try contacting Danie).