Devon Valley ward is one of the smallest of the recognised Stellenbosch wine-growing areas. Of the wards, it might be smaller than Banghoek, though it’s larger than Papegaaiberg (and whoever heard of Papegaaiberg?). And, it must be said that Devon Valley does not conjure up immediate images of quality as do, for example, the Simonsberg-Stellenbosch and Jonkershoek Valley wards, or the more vaguely delimited Helderberg, Schaapenberg and Stellenboschkloof areas.
Of the comparatively rather lacklustre bunch of Devon Valley estates the best in my opinion and experience is Meinert (Botanica’s grapes are mostly brought in from elsewhere), and even that makes a rather small impression on the world, I think. I tried again a few days back the Meinert Synchronicity 2009, a Bordeaux-style blend, and was impressed: it’s a little on the big side for my tastes, but is a serious wine, beautifully balanced on that scale, holding its mostly new oak really well and promising a long future – and I drank it with pleasure. (I suspect someone like Christian Eedes might find what I call a herbal character to be too implacably green, though.)
I was thinking about Devon Valley in general because of a recent visit I paid to Aaldering (vineyards previously owned by Hidden Valley, who decamped to the more illustrious Helderberg). The 24-hectare Aaldering is owned by Marianne and Fons Aaldering of the Netherlands, who seem genuinely intent on creating a fine estate. Meanwhile – and I’m not even sure that this is a factor which will actually help their ambitions – the Aaldering connections with the hospitality business in Europe are ensuring good exports and representation, far better than its local representation and reputation might suggest as likely.
But I suspect that Aaldering might prove to be a good test case for the inherent potential of the Devon Valley, about which some people do have doubts – based not only on track record, but on a suspicion that perhaps the soils are too generous, the vines too vigorous. A new GM, Guillaume Nell, is in place since late last year (the third winemaker since the property was acquired in 2004) and he impresses me with his determination to get the basics right: that is, the vines. He says that from the start he made it clear to his bosses that vineyard work was paramount, and got full support for this approach. Now, he says, “90 percent of my time goes into the vineyards”. And, “we fixed a few problems already”, he says with modest triumph.
It’s a focus that bodes well. As to the cellar, I get the impression that Guillaume (fresh from his first harvest) is moving a little away from the bold, forthright, powerful, rather oaky style established for the Aaldering reds, and he certainly recognises the need to get greater freshness into the wines.
On my visit I tasted wines which are bottled but not yet released: 2012 reds and 2014 whites (none of them, of course, made by Guillaume, let alone from vines he’s nurtured). I won’t say much about them here, as they’re not available, but they relate closely, on the whole, to the previous releases, which I tasted for Platter’s eight months or so back.
What is clear is that pinotage is a real strength on the farm. I didn’t taste a Pinotage Blanc as the 2014 was sold out already, but the 2013 was good, interesting and delicious. The Pinotage (rouge!) 2012 is full-bodied, very ripe and rather powerful (like all these reds), but has a real coherence of flavour and structure, sweet-fruited but sufficiently dry-finishing, the oaking integrated, and the balance convincing. Sauvignon Blanc clearly also does well here, and the blackcurranty, tropical 2014 is good, with a lovely ripe fruitiness – and a little sweetness peeking through the firm acidity. The Chardonnay is, really, neither here nor there: it’s pretty decent.
It was the Shiraz which seemed the most stereotypical of the house style, and, of the reds, most in need of more vibrancy. The Cab-Merlot is succulent and firmly structured, but rather too lush and sweetly oaky for my tastes (I sampled it over a few days at home, perhaps unfairly alongside the older Meinert Synchronicity, which shows more character and genuine concentration).
There something being built at Aaldering, with determination (I rather like the branding via the use of black, as on the handsome labels – even the cellar is painted black, which is surely a first), and I hope they succeed. It would be a good thing for the Devon Valley, too, to have them as a champion with clout.