Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A grape to glass day with Van Ryn brandy

Another early rise for us on Wednesday to get to the Van Ryn distillery near Stellenbosch by 8am and then into a bus for the trip to Opstal Winery in Slanghoek valley to see the brandy grapes being harvested, taste the must and some of the rebate wine from the tank from an earlier picking during the week. Then it was back on the bus for 2 superb brandy tastings and lunch at Van Ryn. It’s a hard life...
Bleary eyed journos were delighted to find small scones and muffins with good coffee awaiting us at Van Ryn before we boarded the bus to Breedekloof.
The Van Ryn tasting room, empty at this early hour
We grabbed some quick refreshment
and arrived at Opstal an hour later to be welcomed by owner and patriarch Stanley Louw
Opstal make award winning wines including the Platter 5 star Carl Everson Chenin blanc made by Stanley’s son, winemaker Attie Louw, but their main crop goes into fine brandy and they have a contract with Distell to supply it as Rebate wine. It is mostly Colombard and Chenin. It is the top quality and goes to Van Ryn
The surrounding countryside is breathtaking.
Vineyards from mountain to mountain all across the alluvial valley, where there is good elevation and a great variation in soil types. From clay, black alluvial, river sand and Kliprug to name a few. They grow 16 cultivars for wine, but that is a small segment of the business, with most of the bulk wine (5 million litres) going to Distell.
We were fascinated to see a mechanical picker in action
It goes rapidly through the vines and two experienced harvesters follow it to pick any bunches left by the machine
It is a very complex machine but, because it is so efficient, it is replacing workers. The economic factors and the need for a speedy harvest make this a necessary piece of equipment
John was invited on board to take photographs
Another Louw son runs the machine and he explained how it works
A beautiful ripe bunch of Colombard grapes. We tasted them on the vine and they are not pungent or even very sweet which, apparently, is very good for Brandy. No sulphur is used at all in brandy making.
And there are lots of bunches on each vine. The machine demonstrated picking two 90 metre rows of grapes – they picked 2.7 tons in about five minutes, it was extraordinary
The mechanical harvester underway and the harvesters following to get any stray bunches
Grapes are gently shaken off the vines and come into the hopper fed by an Archimedes screw. The loose leaves and other detritus are blown off and separated
at the press of a button
Piles of pips and grape stalks that will become compost
Then a hopper is driven to the machine
and the grapes are offloaded and sent immediately to the cellar
where more leaves and stalks will be removed
The hopper tips the grapes into the destemmer
A worker makes sure the area is cleared of the stems as the destemmer works. The remaining grapes and juice then go through a cooler system into the press and then into fermentation tanks.
We taste the rebate wine, which is fermented for 12 days, but is not clear as this is how it goes into the brandy making system. It was floral, with peaches and jube jubes on the nose, grassy and tropical with a dry finish on the palate, so you can see hints of what it might become as brandy. Then some of the juice from the grapes we have just seen picked. It was nice and fruity but not as sweet as wine grapes, which need more sugar
Winemaker Attie Louw tells us what they do with the juice next. Next to Attie is William Stacey, who sources grapes for Distell
Time for a glass of Opstal’s Sauvignon Blanc Sec Sparkling wine with brunch
Some lovely mid morning snacks to fill in for the breakfast we had no time for
served in the restaurant area at Opstal, which is used for functions
The Platter 5 star award for the Carl Everson Chenin blanc
And then it was back on the bus to Stellenbosch and the Van Ryn distillery
We meet the Master Distiller Marlene Bester
The original Potstill is still (sic) in operation
No brandy was being produced that day, as they were awaiting the delivery of new harvest rebate wine, but the pot stills had all been cleaned and polished
The distillery filled with pot stills and one column still at the end of the room
Make a trip to Van Ryn just to see one of the experienced coopers ply his trade of making barrels. It is so skilled and so interesting.
Trimming a barrel stave by eye with a very sharp adze
And it fits the form perfectly. Years of experience here
How they steam the barrels to get the staves to bend
And he plays us his tune as he knocks the hoops on to the barrel.
Into Die Paradys executive tasting room used only for very special occasions. They know how to make us feel special!
We taste the five stages of brandy making from L to R. From the low wine after distillation with water and solids removed. 2. After the unwanted heads and tails are removed. 3. Matured for 3 years. 4. A 10 year old at 38% alcohol. We have not done this tasting before and it was very instructional. Especially as you can see the growth of the aromas and flavours and the depth of what the low wine will eventually produce.
Brink Liebenberg, the Group General Manager of Spirits Production, tells us about Van Ryn as a company
We stopped for some lunch
Mini bagels, mini pita breads filled with chicken and tzatsiki, and spinach stuffed buns
Wraps, olive tarts, fruit tarts and chocolate brownies
And finally, the piece de resistance. We tasted through a selection of Distell brandies. All Potstill brandies, except for the first one which was a 3 year old blended Viceroy brandy. Van Ryn have won the Best South African Brandy award 11 times. This is judged by international judges
Lots of sniffing and gentle sipping. We tried to guess which brandies but no one was that experienced. John did guess Flight of the Fish Eagle correctly! Dayne Stern who handles the Van Ryn PR account for Corporate Image is on the right next to Lynne
These were the brandies we tasted, in order of tasting, L to R. They are all quite different and we all had our favourites. Unfortunately, it is difficult if your favourite costs R1500 a bottle: the Van Ryn 20 year old, which was remarkable. It has wood smoke, salt, honey and milk chocolate on the nose. It’s liquid honey and citrus on the palate with warmth on the edge of one’s tongue; long, complex and many layered. The 12 year old Van Ryn also charmed us with its dark caramel toffee nose with complex berries, cherries and chocolate. On the palate, layers of brandied fruit, sophisticated and complex with wood smoke, herbs and honey with a dry finish. At R570 a bargain for a 12 year old. Both were awarded 5 stars in Platter
We had a marvellous Day. Thanks to all at Van Ryn and especially for the 12 year old Van Ryn Brandy we were given to take home
© John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus 2015

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