Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Vertical pinotage tasting at L'Avenir with Francois Naude

To have the opportunity to go back to 1996 and taste all the eight L’Avenir Pinotages which have reached the top 10 in the ABSA Top 10 Pinotage competition over the last few years was a very special opportunity. We were very fortunate to have Mauritian-born former owner Marc Wiehe with us. He bought the farm in 1992. It had been growing grapes for Nederburg in Paarl. Pharmacist Francois Naude, who had more passion for making wine than for pushing pills, was hired as winemaker and a legacy was born. By 2004, no Pinotage had been named in the top ten in the annual Top Ten Pinotage Competition as frequently as L'Avenir, with seven out of eight vintages in the Top Ten.
Marc Wiehe sold the farm in 2005 to French winemaker, Chablisien Michel Laroche. In 2010 Laroche merged with the Jeanjean family and L'Avenir fell under the umbrella of the AdVini group, one of the largest wine producers in France.
We started with the 1996, which still shows soft fruit, soft tannins and has the Pinot parent peeping through, more than the Cinsaut. It still has some time to offer! It’s an old style, but has lovely fruit. We then tasted through 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 & 2011. All these Pinotages were made by Francois Naude, who guided us through the tasting, with the exception of the 2011, which was made by the current winemaker Dirk Coetzee. You can see the progression of these wines as the vines aged and matured and the change in style as the years went by and more was learned about how to treat this difficult grape, in the vineyard, in the cellar and in the bottle. L’Avenir produces great Pinotage.
The tasting was held in their tasting room and it was followed by supper on the terrace – thankfully with lots of space heaters. The food had been catered by Bertus Basson’s staff and was delicious.
Pieter Louw welcomed us with a glass of the new L’Avenir Blanc de Blanc Methode Cap Classique or the better-known pinotage-based Rosé
The wines we tasted
Tables all set up in the Tasting Room
Current winemaker Dirk Coetzee introduces Francois Naude, who joined Marc Wiehe when he bought the farm in 1992. It was Francois' first wine job; he was trained and had practised as a pharmacist, but wine was his passion. He inherited a 50 year old block of bush vine Pinotage on the farm and had to learn how to work with it. They also planted new pinotage vines. The old vineyard has now gone. Francois was also able to plan the farm as he wanted and has played a huge part in the style of L’Avenir’s wines. He made the first pinotage in 1994.
Mark Wiehe who sold the Farm to La Roche in 2005. It is now owned by Advini
Francois tells us about his time as winemaker at L’Avenir. He is now a consultant to the farm. He says he looks for good balance, good fruit and consistency in wine
We began with the 1996
The tasting proceeds. We could see the progression through the years as the vines matured and the new pinotage took centre stage from the older one. The description of warm sweet fruit kept recurring. 2000, 2001 and 2002 are showing really well. The 2000 is almost Cabernet-like on the nose, but big, intense, spicy and plummy on the palate. Lynne scored the 2002 18.5 and her description is: Violets, macaroons, raspberry and cherry on the nose. Very elegant, pretty and quite French in character. It shows some forest floor, warm sweet fruit with lovely spice and pine nuts. Elegance and depth. Very close to a good Pinot Noir with some cassis on the end. (And this from a cautious Pinotage drinker)
Sales and Marketing Manager Barend Barnard
The line up
Christian Eedes, Co-owner and editor at Winemag.co.za with Francois
Time for dinner. The menu
Another L’Avenir wine for tasting with dinner, their excellent 1992 Cabernet
Chef lines up the food to go out
First course:  a well flavoured steak tartare topped with radishes beetroot , pickles and spicy nasturtium leaves
Dinner was set up on the terrace
Barend brings us more L’Avenir wines to drink with dinner. Thank heavens we were staying the night in the Lodge
Francois with photo-journalist Samarie Smith
We all get to know each other
Dessert was a vanilla pannacotta topped with zesty lemon and orange ice cream
Winemakers discussing the wines at the end of a great evening
M. Wiehe in fine fettle
and comparing stories of the old and new
© John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus 2014

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