Frustrated that their valley is not always taken seriously as a wine appellation, a number of producers are prouder than ever to put Wine of Origin Franschhoek on their bottles. Joanne Gibson reports...
Franschhoek: Six wine names to watch
Black Elephant Vintners
Founded in 2013 by financiers Kevin Swart (whose surname means ‘black’ in Afrikaans) and Raymond Ndlovu (‘elephant’ in the Nguni language), BEV’s aim is to create ‘exciting, premium and distinctive’ wines from Franschhoek – but ‘we’re new so we can’t compete with the valley’s top Chardonnay, Semillon and Cabernet yet’, says Swart. But winemaker Jacques Wentzel’s Two Dogs, A Peacock & A Horse Sauvignon Blanc 2013 impresses, while his basket-pressed Amistad Syrah packs a peppery punch.
‘Chardonnay is the wine of the valley,’ says winemaker DP Burger, who makes three different expressions at this boutique winery in scenic Robertsvlei, a distinct valley within the greater Franschhoek area. Burger’s small range of handcrafted wines (fewer than 10,000 cases a year) also includes a creamy, full-bodied Semillon: ‘We only make four barrels, mostly sold from the tasting room. It’s a real food wine.’
La Bri Estate
‘I believe in Franschhoek Cabernet but my real passion is Syrah,’ says winemaker Irene Waller, whose glossy Syrah 2011 was crushed and cofermented with 3% Viognier (another passion), the herbs adorning its label hinting at its complex thyme, rosemary and oregano notes. Dating back to 1694, the estate’s renaissance started in 2008 with the unveiling of a new 120-tonne cellar. Waller’s arrival from Graham Beck Wines in 2010 ushered in a new, award-winning era.
Former engineer Dieter Sellmeyer uprooted table grapes to establish his vineyards, first harvested in 2002. He specialises in red wine, most notably his seamless, richly layered, varietal Cabernet Franc: ‘I originally made it as a blending component but found a couple of barrels were too good to blend away.’ He also makes a floral, subtly oaked, viscous Viognier: ‘Personally I don’t like Sauvignon Blanc and there are already too many good Chardonnays in the region to compete with.’
Owned by the Friedman family and located at the end of the aptly named Happy Valley Road, Môreson (‘morning sun’ in Afrikaans) has been associated with Chardonnay ever since Clayton Reabow was named SA’s Young Winemaker of 2009 for his Premium Chardonnay 2007. Several accolades have followed, also for bought-in reds. ‘But as a farm, we are best known as a producer of Chardonnay, as well as Chardonnay-based Méthode Cap Classique.’
Stony Brook Vineyards
Nigel and Joy McNaught bought this small farm in 1995, son Craig recently stepping up to help craft ‘top-quality wines that reflect the unique microclimate of this southernmost corner of Franschhoek’. The fruit intensity of the sold-out Semillon 2008 augurs well for new-release 2009: ‘It’s a wine for people who see its value in five years’ time.’ The Cabernetbased Ghost Gum flagship spends 32 months in new French oak.