Does everyone find Patatsfontein as happily hilarious a wine-name as I do, I wonder? For a start, I suppose, you’d have to be aware of the ubiquitous (celebratory, ironic, hopeful – or even despairing) role of “fontein” in Afrikaans place names in South Africa… “Sweet-potato fountain” is a remarkable (and amusing) enough name for a place, let alone a wine – and there can’t be many wines anywhere with a drawing of Ipomoea batatas on its label. And it is, in fact, the name of the farm in Montagu from which winemaker Reneen Borman and partners Fritz Schoon and Henk Kotze get the grapes for their white wines.
There is, it must be said, plenty of humour in their project – though it’s basically a very serious one. The trio of friends’ company name of is Ron Burgundy Wines (the current Platter has it as Ronnie B Wines, however – no doubt a half-way stage). As well as the inescapable allusion to a certain prestigious winegrowing area, there’s also one to the lead character in the American film comedy “The Legend of Ron Burgundy”. Says Reenen: “We kept joking to each other to start a company called Ron Burgundy and before we knew Henk went and did it!”
A more elaborate joke happens with the Sons of Sugarland Syrah (maiden vintage 2015 now sold out), whose back label tells the story of three war buddies – an entirely spurious tale, except for its loose linkage to the trio behind the wine. Sugar Land is a city in Texas, and Sugarland a country music duo – which of those is alluded to in the name, I confess I haven’t ascertained – perhaps it’s not crucial to the spirit of things? I do think that the combination of humour, friendship and seriousness is the essence of that spirit – and a winning combination it is.
I recently wrote about the Sons of Sugarland Syrah on Winemag – and, from the same Stelenbosch vineyard, the Epilogue syrah which Reenen also makes in his capacity as the somewhat revolutionising force behind the family farm Boschkloof in recent years. So I won’t say more about these here.
My tasting of all these wines happened last week in the Boschkloof cellar, alongside those of another good friend of Reenen’s good, Lukas van Loggerenberg – discussed here.
The Patatsfontein 2014 was actually made by Reenen together with Charla Haasbroek, now winemaker at Sijnn. It burst onto the local wine-scene because of its high quality – but one of its remarkable features was, in fact, its origins: Montagu, hitherto scarcely a blip on the screen for serious wine lovers. Reenen says that is was Chris Alheit – that famous lover of decrepit old chenin vineyards – who alerted Fritz Schoon to the potential quality of these 30+ year old vines owned by his father-in-law, which were at the time providing modest nourishment for the vast blending tanks of the local co-op.
The 2015 Patatsfontein Enkel Wingerd Steen (and how good to see that fine varietal name asserted again) is excellent. No obvious primary fruit, but a-touch of stoniness and a hint of spice and fynbos; supple, elegant, with a lovely texture, it has no aggression but plenty of character; long, long complex finish. Balanced acidity. It adds Montagu to the surprisingly long list of Cape regions which can make brilliant chenins.
The Patatsfontein Blanc 2015 is largely from an adjacent vineyard of colombard, also off the characteristic pure Karoo slate. Colombard! Another salutary shock to the system, to prejudices, as if the origins weren’t enough. Made in slightly bigger quantities (but alas also sold out) it has a similar initial stony resistance to fruitiness. But with a subtle perfume and spicy, characterful appeal. Again a sharp brightness with some tropical, fruity charm. Really attractive.
It’s starting to get boring saying it again and again – but when is this exciting, vital thing that is the continuing Cape wine revolution going to slow down? Thankfully, there are no signs yet of its doing so.