Visiting Stellenboschkloof (1): Super Single

The Stellenboschkloof was, apparently, the valley through which the first road from Cape Town to Stellenbosch made its weary way 350-odd years ago. For winemaking, it’s been a pretty good address for a long time. Super Single is a new name in the kloof (and a rather odd one!), but Canettevallei, the farm on which it is based, is not – it was part of the larger DeWaal estate, but went to Daniël when the three de Waal brothers did some splitting up and reorganisation in 2011.

supersingle

The tasting room at Canettevallei – pic from www.wine.co.za

Not that most of the grapes for the two Super Single brands come from the Stellenboschkloof – the Canettevallei farm has, in fact, only about eight hectares under vine. The original point of Danie and Ingrid de Waal’s wine business, and behind the significance of its name, was to look out for specific vineyard sites – often small ones, usually meaning small volumes.This remains the principle for the wines in the Pella range – all with Coastal origins, mostly Stellenbosch; but the Mount Sutherland wines come from Danie’s remarkable venture in what is now the deeply inland, high-lying Sutherland-Karoo District of the Northern Cape (though far in distance, conception and spirit from the bulk-wine vineyards along the Orange River).

All the wines are made in the DeWaal cellar – though the hope is to have an on-site cellar at some stage. So said Elsenberg-trained production manager Kyle Zulch, with whom I recently spent a few hours in the tasting room. The Pella range is set to expand, he added, using grapes from vineyards as far away a Elgin, Hemel-en-Aarde and Swartland. I was impressed by those of the existing range that I tried. The only white was a 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, where they were “looking for minerality”, said Kyle – and they found it. It seems to me an excellent example of the unfruity but subtly flavourful style, with the aroma and taste (!?) of wet pebbles; balanced and dry without any agression – just vitality.

pellaThe reds are made without acidification, says Kyle, and all very decent, aiming for savoury, dry elegance rather than fruitiness and power, with restrained use of oak. I can’t say that I am deeply versed in these wines over the years, but I rather feel that Danie de Waal has been moving in this direction, all to the good. The Merlot 2011 (R110) is certainly one of the better Cape examples, without greenness, though rather modest and simple. There’s more to the Malbec and the Petit Verdot (both 2012 and approaching R200), which are well structured and grippy – likely to mature beneficially for a few years.

Pella’s flagship, Thomas se Dolland Pinotage 2012 (R260) comes off a 1960 vineyard on the DeWaal Wines’ Uiterwyk farm. It’s big, with some typical sweet fruit, but also restrained, and bone-dry –  the latter a crucial element in the balance, allowing the wine to cope with the more generous elements. The tannins are beautifully ripe and smooth.

Mount Sutherland
mount sutherlandI must say I was even more interested in the Mount Sutherland Syrah (there are other varieties planted there in these largely disease-free, essentially organic, vineyards including pinot noir and riesling – actually I wonder why they didn’t plant the vines on their own roots, as phylloxera is hardly likely to be a problem; but no other wines have yet been released – it’s an exciting prospect).

The four Syrah vintages released thus far – 2009 to 2012 – showed a steady progress in quality. Of course, this must have something to do with the increasing maturity of the vines (which were planted in 2004), and Kyle says that we must expect very variable vintages from this site, but I’m sure, again, that a different winemaking approach is part of the success.

I remember being disappointed with the maiden 2009, when I first tasted it, as being boringly conventional in its extreme ripeness, bigness, sweetness, and obvious oaking. These factors came through again on this tasting. The tannins are substantial and rather dry (more oak than fruit) and I doubt if the wine will ever achieve harmony and grace.

2010 seemed rather dull, again quite oaky. Flabbier than the 2009 and a bit dilute – Kyle thinks the wine is in a bad phase and will develop well.

2011 is much better. More forward and rich, with beguiling notes of cherry and clove, and well balanced; the intensity shows on a longer finish.

2012 is a lovely, supple wine (and a good buy at R190). Fragrant, it has delightful pure fruit (dark cherries included) and spice. 100% whole-bunch pressed; 14 months in oak, 20% new. Good, subtle, elegant stuff.

What more can one ask of a wine, of a winemaker, of a vineyard, than that things get better? I look forward greatly to new releases of the Syrah and other wines from this pioneering site.

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