Chenin and a touch of madness

Making chenin blanc seems to go well with mild eccentricity. Or so it suddenly seemed to me as I wandered among the stalls tasting the stuff, at the amazingly successful Cape Wine 2012 – the bi-annual showcase of local wine directed at the international wine community, held in Cape Town in September.

Some cheninistas are pretty straightforward, but some are wonderfully not – judging in admittedly superficial manner. Take Ginny Povall. It surely counts as eccentric as well as brave for an American woman to take refuge from New York corporate (and personal) life to indulge her love of wine by selling up and plunging into a Stellenbosch winefarm. Actually it was a flower farm she bought in 2008, and the vines she planted are still immature, so Botanica Chenin Blanc comes from a vineyard in the mountains near Clanwilliam. Old, unirrigated vines whose meagre yield Ginny turns into a wine that is not eccentric at all. The next release is 2011, and as lovely as the others. With herbal and peachy notes, and a graceful, almost undetectable sweetness balanced by steely acidity, it’s fresh and understated. One of the finest Cape chenins around, and worth every bit of R148.

Johnathan Greve, owner and viticulturist of Avondale, is another candidate for gentle eccentricity – would that his respect for soil and nature were more common. Avondale Anima Chenin Blanc 2010 (R165) is named for the vital life force or soul that “animates everything on earth, from the minerals, through plants and animals to humans”. Totally organic, as you might expect, with some mystical biodynamic bits stirred in (my prime evidence for eccentricity), and as naturally made as you get. Another elegant, supple wine, stony and subtle, its drinkability enhanced by coming with a modest (by today’s standards) alcohol of 13%.

I have hopes that Krige Visser will turn out to be one of Cape wine’s great eccentrics. Neither winemaker nor viticulturist, he’s a passionate inspirer of interesting, fine and non-mainstream wines. He’s based at Meerhof Winery, just outside Riebeek-Kasteel in the Swartland, so he’s not alone, in that currently most dynamic and nonconformist of wine areas.

Meerhof was a Swartland also-ran until recently when a new regime, guided by Krige it seems, took charge. Some more new-look, naturally made wines (no yeast inoculation, no additives, etc) should be appearing soon and as a teaser we have the delicious, fresh AnteBellum Chenin Blanc 2012, more modestly priced than my other examples here, at about R80. (There is, of course, plenty of cheaper chenin about, with some excellent bargains: try Neethlingshof at R38, for example.)

Another, very ambitious, label for wines made in the Meerhof Cellar is Mount Abora (named for a fantasy place in Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”).Krige Visser is part-owner and, again, inspiration. For both labels, Johan Meyer is the young winemaker, doing a great job. He made the Koggelbos Chenin Blanc 2011 (pricy at R180) in pretty unorthodox style. This meant, for example, a deliberately hot fermentation (most winemakers try to keep the fermentation cool, to accentuate fruitiness) and using whole bunches of grapes, rather than crushing them and removing the stalks. A little tug of tannin is one of the results, along with a brilliant, vibrant acidity – and no shortage of flavour. Fine wine, but perhaps not for the unreflective quaffer;   pay some attention, though, and all the attractive fascination of eccentricity is there.


FRom Mail & Guardian, 9-15 November, 2012

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