Flair in Franschhoek

Pressed against the mountain high above the Franschhoek valley, with deep terraces cut into the still-raw red-earthed steepness, is the new vineyard site from which – in four or five years – Gottfried Mocke hopes to make a fine Pinot Noir. Vines have only recently been planted in the stony ground, each with its own pole to be trained on – as shown in the photograph alongside, which Gottfried sent me yesterday. In their early years of struggle to establish themselves water will be piped from a lovely waterfall nearby, the pump powered by a turbine driven by the force of the falling water itself.

It’s the sort of natural solution to wine-growing and wine-making challenges that Gottfried likes. He has been winemaker and viticulturist at Chamonix wine farm just over nine years now and has moved the vineyards substantially towards an organic orientation. Similarly, natural and non-interventionist, principles guide the winemaking – like fermentation with “wild” yeasts and an avoidance of additives.

There’s been much hard work and hard and intelligent thinking in Gottfried’s strategy to make Chamonix wines both excellent and reflective of their origins. There’s flair too. The combination puts him among the Cape’s most respected young winemakers (and even at their head, according to some of his peers), and it’s pushed Chamonix firmly into the leading ranks of producers. (In the poll I conducted earlier this year among a few dozen wine professionals , Chamonix was there in the Top 20; and the Chardonnay Reserve was amongst the Top 10 white wines.)

Progress has been most noticeable with the red wines. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc have always been good at Chamonix. Both are made in standard and Reserve versions, with the former definitely not to be sniffed at, and not exactly cheap – the Sauvignon at R75 ex-farm and the Chardonnay R100; the Reserve versions are a bit less than double the price.

Mostly, the standard versions are designed for earlier drinking, while the Reserves, especially the Chardonnay, will keep and improve for many years. Actually, as so often, if you intend to open the bottles soon, you will waste your money buying the Reserve wines: the standard versions will generally be more pleasing in their youth, with the Reserves tight and unexpressive. The nervy Sauvignon Reserve, with an admixture of around 10% semillon, is one of the few Cape examples matured in oak barrels, which gives it a degree of interest and complexity that I find in few of the sauvignons that live their lives in stainless steel before meeting their destiny in glass.

Chamonix reds come in just one version of each. The straight Cabernet Sauvignon and the blended Troika are both good, improving each year, it seems, since Gottfried has been guiding them from vineyard to bottle. The starriest performer, however, is the Pinot Noir Reserve, which now stands on a par with the best of the Hemel-en-Aarde region and Elgin. It tends to be, I find, more serious-minded and less aromatically, simply charming than many others, but promising fine development over a few years. The 2009 is perhaps the best yet, firmly structured by recessive tannin and lively acidity, more herbal (with a pine-needle note) than fruity, through there is clear cherry fruit on the palate. A profound wine, that will repay keeping for a good few years

If not as ultimately fine, but intriguing and evidence of thoughtfulness and flair in the cellar as well as painstaking work in the vineyards, is the Greywacke Pinotage (named for the soil type on which it characteristically grows). A complex vinification process (“invented” for the 2007 vintage, but the superior 2008 is worth waiting for) starts with different pickings of the grapes: half of them at an early stage of ripeness (these then undergo carbonic maceration to give pure fruit flavourts), half of them allowed to dry out. This latter fruit is added to the fermented juice of the first part, and a standard fermentation follows – the process akin to the way in which “Ripasso” Valpolicella is made in northern Italy.. The element of refermentation takes away any hint of acetone character, Gottfried thinks. Certainly this cleverly managed union of opposites (under-ripe and raisined fruit) gives a characterful, slightly rustic and totally delicious wine which should give pause to any disparager of pinotage.

As to that new, high pinot vineyard – one always fees that a magical setting should produce a magical wine. It doesn’t always, of course, but this time I reckon there’s room for hope.

 

  • An aside: Even more excitingly new for Gottfried is a baby daughter born last week, the first child for him and his wife. Scarcely older are the new twins of a pair of winemakers – Bertus “Starbucks” Fourie, and Corlea Fourie (Bertus at present consulting, while Corlea is at Bosman Family Vineyards). We at Grape wish them all joy.

 

This is an extended version of the article published in the Mail & Guardian, October 15-21 2010

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