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PIWOSA producer profile: Avondale

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Avondale in Paarl has embraced biodynamic farming, transforming its philosophy to focus on respecting the rhythms and needs of nature – encapsulated in its motto, ‘terra est vita’, or ‘soil is life’.

Not so long ago, if you talked about a winery having ‘undergone big changes,’ it would usually mean that they had removed ancient equipment, replaced it with gleaming stainless steel and a tonne of new barrels and, in all probability, hired a Rolexed consultant to advise on both winemaking and viticulture; it would mean they had gone full-on modern.

But Avondale are pursuing the twin paths of ancient and modern at the same time.

Jonathan Grieve’s family bought the (then quite rundown) farm in Paarl in 1996, and by the millennium were fully engaged in making big, powerful, oaky wines. But it was an experiment that only lasted a few years.

‘To me, it didn’t fit in with what we were trying to achieve,’ says Grieve, a trained artist who is rarely seen without his cowboy hat. They switched to organic viticulture in the early 2000s and by 2004 began to farm biodynamically in what Grieve describes as a ‘soil-up approach.’

The transformation has been dramatic. When the family first arrived the vineyards were, as Grieve puts it, ‘amazingly quiet’, with very little life. Now the rows between the vines are planted with soil-enriching cover crops for 95% of the year, a crack squad of ducks patrol the vine rows looking for snails and a herd of Angus cattle provides manure. There is, in short, life everywhere.

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The manure – while not exactly glamorous – is key to the estate’s biodynamic preparations. Combined with other natural ingredients such as crushed eggshells and basalt dust it’s mixed into barrels, covered and half-buried in the earth to mature. Months later, this results in entirely natural but carefully controlled biodynamic fertiliser.

‘Balance is achieved through everything,’ says Grieve. ‘Microbes, micro-nutrients, cover crops, predators…’

It’s all designed to keep the vineyard in sync with the rhythms of the seasons and the day.

So far, so timeless. So the winery itself, super-modern and spotlessly clean, is something of a shock – in a good way. As well as multiple small tanks (to ferment in small batches) there are barriques, 600-litre casks ‘for the Rhone varietals’, amphorae and 24 qvevris buried into the floor.

The combination of timeless vineyard practices and modern winemaking kit is clearly working. The wines – particularly the multi-varietal blends, which are consistently excellent, both reds and whites – are textural, complex and multi-layered without ever being particularly big or showy.

There is quiet ambition and real cohesion here – it’s definitely an estate to watch.

Avondale – Four wines to try:

Cyclus, Paarl, 2019

There aren’t many Roussanne-driven blends in the Cape, but this five-way blend (Viognier, Chenin, Chardonnay and Semillon are the others) suggests there maybe should be. An elliptical wine that starts with a bright point of citrus, broadens through flowers, greengage and kaffir lime, then tightens once more to a mineral, pebbly finish.
96 points
2023-2035 |
Alcohol 13.5%

Anima Chenin Blanc, Paarl, 2020

From 25-35 year old vineyards, there’s a 15% orange wine (skin contact in qvevri) component to this Chenin, plus 12 months in very old barrels. The result is a textural, multi-layered wine with creamy Mirabelle plum and pineapple flavours, underpinned by a salty minerality.
94 points
Drink 2023-2030 | Alcohol 13.5%

La Luna, Paarl, 2016

A Cabernet-dominant five-way Bordeaux blend, there’s plenty of trademark Paarl plum and cassis fruit in here. But coming as it does from ‘under the mountain’, there’s also more acid lift behind the plush fruit than you’d expect. Silky but with a graphite seam, it’s drinking nicely now, but still tastes younger than its years and has a long life ahead of it.
94 points
Drink 2023-2040 | Alcohol 14%

Qvevri, Paarl, 2021

Despite being fermented and aged totally in amphorae (qvevri), there’s an element of cru Beaujolais to this Grenache-focused red. It begins with juicy red fruits – redcurrants and strawberries – before taking a bit of a sideways turn into something darker and more structured on the palate, with a chalky finish. Attractive mid-weight wine with real personality.
93 points
Drink 2023-2027 | Alcohol 12%

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