The old and the new

It’s been a busy week for me, with much travelling – some of it between the past and the present. Three wineries: one grand and great old one, one great and slightly more modern one (though with old roots) and one promising a fine future.

That one was on Monday, when Chris and Andrea Mullineux officially opened their winery in the little town of Riebeek-Kasteel in the southern Swartland (I wrote before about the significance of their basis there). There’s usually something particularly pleasing about an urban winery, and this is one of the most pleasing –  if one can really class Riebeek as an urb: it’s in a converted hardware shop, but the design is so dead right that I’m sure it had ambitions all along to store barrels and bottles, and is now really satisfied and happy to have Chris and Andrea there.

They’ll be making their wines at Quoin Rock in Stellenbosch for the next few years at least, however, and bringing them here for maturation.

And then on Wednesday to Kanonkop, to sample the new Pinotage from their oldest vineyard ­- all described so well by Angela that I will do no more than touch upon it. The wine seemed to me very good indeed – though not really qualitatively better than the 2007 standard Pinotage, and in terms of straight value – well, no. I do wonder at these ambitious prices. For R1000, frankly, I’d rather have 6 bottles of the standard Pinotage at R170 each, or, for example, a bottle of top quality Burgundy, or two bottles of the excellent René Rostaing Côte-Rôtie 2007 that the Mullineuxs generously poured alongside their own fine Syrah. (The Rostaing is R455 from the Wine Cellar in Observatory, by the way, and the Mullineux Syrah 2008 is R178; I vouch for both; the Kanonkop black label Pinotage is already unavailable, unless someone is already selling on….) If it seems a bit curmudgeonly to make this point, remember that (sadly, to my mind) Kanonkop is, by its pricing and sales policy, deliberately inviting one to speculate with this wine rather than drink it. The prices of their other wines are admirably modest in relation to their quality, however.

One of the things that makes Kanonkop such an outstanding property is its consistency as a maker of fine wine over the past generation or longer. True the styles have been tweaked a bit, and certainly the Pinotage is a far more sophisticated wine than the deliciously rustic one that the 1976 was on Wednesday revealed to be, but Kanonkop is still Kanonkop.

That’s not entirely true of Rustenberg, the oldest and grandest estate of my week’s visits. The revolution that was inaugurated in the mid-1990s is continuing, I think, but maturing into something exceptionally good – and hopefully consistently so. I’ll talk more at some other time about the Rustenberg wines, but now, to cap the theme of old and new, I’ll just mention three wines that I did not taste today – wines that, owner Simon Barlow assured me, he was talking about to an outsider for the first time.

In fact I saw one of them in the magnificent Rustenberg cellar today, in grape form (inaugurating their 2010 harvest): the maiden vintage (for Rustenberg, if not the Brampton label they formerly owned) of an unoaked Chardonnay. Another new wine for Rustenberg is a forthcoming Sauvignon Blanc – though half the grapes are being brought in from Elgin. And there’s even a new red wine to be launched later this year, a 2009 blend of cabernet and shiraz (proportions not yet decided) to be named R.M. Nicholson – after Reg Nicholson, the first winemaker after Peter Barlow reunited Rustenberg and Schoongezicht. Nicholson was the son of Alfred Nicholson, the English immigrant who helped John X Merriman pull together the derelict old Schoongezicht component of the then divided farm together, after Merriman bought it in 1892; he then owned it after Merriman’s death, before selling Schoongezicht to Peter Barlow in 1945, who already owned Rustenberg.

So this property which was granted in 1682 is paying tribute to the memory of another man who helped restore its glory in the twentieth century – John X Merriman already has a modern Rustenberg wine named after him, of course.

It’s good to have a history, and to honour it. They’re doing it all over the place – at Rustenberg, at Kanonkop and – in a very different way, pregnant with the future – at the Mullineux cellar in Riebeek Kasteel.

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