Thursday, December 14, 2017

A visit to Waterford; vineyard tour, tasting and lunch

A Grand Finale to the year
How could we resist an invitation from Mark le Roux, Waterford's wine maker, to come, with other media members, to a tasting on the farm, of recent releases and some of his special selections from the Waterford cellar. We were also to do a short vineyard visit which would be followed by lunch. And they organised a pick up from everyone's home, so no problems with drinking and driving. Thank you Waterford
It is high summer, the weather is fantastic and Waterford is a green oasis They recycle all the water on the farm so they have enough to irrigate the gardens of lavender and citrus. Waterford Estate is in the Blaauwklippen Valley in Stellenbosch. They have 120 hectare, half of which is plated with vines, the other half is not, as they want to preserve and maintain the natural flora and fauna. You can explore yourself on their Porcupine Trail Wine Walk for R350 per person which includes a light lunch and a wine tasting.
The entrance with a welcoming hound and their iconic water fountain in the courtyard. All the Table Mountain sandstone on the building was taken from the land surrounding the farm. There was lots of it when they had to clear the vineyards when they began the building
A great way to start the day was a glass of Waterford’s 2009 MCC bubbly, clean and crisp, its 100% Chardonnay, a Blanc de Blanc. An amazing seven years on the lees and another year under cork, but still amazingly fresh
We had an early start, so a quick brunch of ham and cheese croissants was very welcome
Kevin Arnold who started the farm in 1997 from scratch with partner Jeremy Ord. Kevin is the managing partner and Cellarmaster
He welcomed us in the Tasting room
Then it was time for the vineyard adventure. We climbed on the estates Land Rover - you too can book to do this tour.
And others, younger and more nimble, climbed into the lug boxes on the tractor train
The team: Assistant wine maker Jamie Luckhoff, wine maker Mark le Roux, viticulturist Dawie van Schalkwyk
Off we go with the old girl in the front seat! Requires no climbing or clambering
Enjoying the bumpy ride through the vineyards are Fiona McDonald, Guy McDonald (no relation) and Lucille Botha
First top was high up on the mountain side in their special vineyard planted in 1988 which grows the Waterford Estate Single Vineyard Chardonnay
Mark told us all about the vineyard, the terroir and the plantings
It is an unusual clone of Chardonnay
Then it was time to taste it. Lovely to do this in the vineyard
Waterford Estate Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2015. The wine is crisp and lean, with good minerality and only a minute whiff of wood on the nose. It has a lovely silky mouth feel, with mixed citrus on a clean cool palate. Very French in style with restraint and minerality. They give it only 9 months in time in French oak wood, mostly older barrels, with 24% new. 12.6% alcohol. A thirst quenching delight and a great food wine.
Mark talking about his wine making, he prefers older barrels, and short exposure to wood and he tries to keep the alcohols low
We moved to a different vineyard and tasted the 2015 Grenache Noir. The colour is pale, like a Pinot, but the similarity ends there. This wine is full of vanilla and spice on the nose, cooked prunes and plums with just a little cherry. On the palate silky with spice and vanilla, then loads of warm fruit, red and black cherries and some typical Grenache wildness with long flavours and dark wood on the end with pencil shaving. Yum. And so nice to have the proper glasses for each wine
Mark talking about the Grenache vines and the wine
The berries are all pea sized at the moment, healthy and abundant. Looks like it’s going to be a good harvest. They have not had to drop berries or strip leaves
They had done a 'rip out' in the vineyard to see how the roots and soil are coping with the drought. The vines are not stressed; they put down long roots and find water. This showed us the different layers of the rock-topped soil, clay, chalk and finally rock at the base
Back to the farm and lunch was set out in the courtyard
But first a tasting of the wines. The first flight was from the Library Collection and we began with the 2015 Grenache Blanc
It is perfumed with sweet floral notes, then herbal and spicy. Full on the palate at first delicate then as it warms up the flavours of sweet citrus and grapefruit, white cherries, melon and lime on the end. A complete aromatic fruit salad. Probably go with smoked fish and possibly also with dessert
Our helpful pourers concentrating hard. Next came an oddity, an ancient Chenin, non vintage. Made in 2001 by a French intern, this is from one barrel of naturally fermented Chenin that lay forgotten until 2006. They have twice taken out some 50 bottles (37.5 litres) of the wine and bottled it, topping up the barrel with more Chenin, so almost a solera system going. There is some oxidation, but it’s not unfriendly or sherried; it has the perfume of yellow roses! Golden fruits, on the palate, loquats, peaches, mango, it is interesting. They plan to keep this going..
The first line-up. The red wine was the 2015 Cabernet Franc with 12.5% alcohol, it has wood wild red berries, vanilla and rose and yes, some wet tea leaves that Mark suggested we would find. Sweet red berries, cassis, tay berries, and a little morello cherry. Wild earthiness, dark wood and some sweet salty liquorice 'drop' on the end. A food wine
Mark taking us through the next three wines, which come from the Waterford range. All the grapes are bought in from other vineyards where they have long term relationships. We began with the 2017 Sauvignon Blanc from Elgin. Green and tropical notes on the nose of green pepper pyrazines and mango. The wine is crisp and slightly spritzy at entry with a touch of peachy sweetness, Kept on the gross lees for 6 months it is very satisfying. Then the 2016 Pinot Noir from James Downes at Shannon Vineyards in Elgin, a single vineyard wine. Spicy with wood smoke and vanilla and a red berry mix. The elegance on the palate belies the massive nose, Raspberries and soft cherry flavours, long, warm, with an end of toasted wood, soft chalky tannins and minerality . Very good indeed.
The last wines are all signature wines from Waterford. The Shiraz and Cabernet account for 75% of their local sales and dominate the market. First the 2014 Kevin Arnold Shiraz which Kevin says saved the farm. Spicy nose, with fenugreek, black pepper, clove and turmeric with a few green leaf notes. Juicy first, then full bodied, bold fruit, a big attractive wine, full of mulberries and cherries and delicious to drink. Then the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon with violets, incense French oak, roses cassis and mulberries, a very delicate and softly attractive nose. Soft sweet berry fruit with soft chalky tannins, some green cassis eaves, a food wine that says Feed Me NOW. One of the best South African Cabernets we have tasted. So buy some. They believe that the valley needs to upsell Cabernet, no longer the place for good value they are going to showcase them in the coming year. The style of the wines has changed a lot over the years; less wood is used and older wood, so wines are softer sweeter, more integrated. (Note: we have not mentioned fruit acid once)
Then the 2016 Grenache. Light in colour, bruléed fruit on the nose with wood. warm sweet fruit on the palate, needs time.
The final wine was the 2012 Jem, the name by which owner Jeremy Ord is affectionately known to family and friends. Elegant with good French oak, it has an intriguing nose, spice perfume, cassis leaves, vanilla, lactic, violets, red and black cherries, this is a blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Shiraz, 11% Merlot, 6% Mourvedre, 14% Cabernet franc, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Barbera, 2% Sangiovese. "Wow" said Lynne when she tasted it. Solid dark berry fruit, grippy chalky tannins, build to last and it is still got years. A silky mouth feel and dark toasted wood on the end. Kevin says they aim for 16 to 17000 bottles a year if they can. There was no 2008 Jem, a difficult vintage for them, as it is all about quality. He says he learned a lot from both Antinori and Mondavi. "It is all about quality, length, texture and finish and they are there". Mark says it is not about identifying varietals, but the whole wine
Time to repair to the courtyard and get some lunch
Laid out on the buffet for us to help ourselves
There were tarragon chicken breasts in a cream sauce
A tomato and broccoli salad with cream cheese
Roast potatoes
... and a mixture of raw old variety tomatoes with red onion and sprouts
And plenty of wine to go with the food. The Pinot Noir went very well with this food, so did the Chardonnay
Then a quick tour of the tank and barrel cellar
We saw the new porcelain tank in which Mark makes the Cabernet, as well as his egg fermenter and a glass ended barrel so they can watch fermentation
We had a sample of the wine from the egg
And went into the cool barrel cellar
Which is rather impressive
And then it was time to board our shuttle buses to go home after a really wonderful day and a great end to a very busy media season. Thank you all at Waterford and Emil Joubert for arranging it
John liked this. But he lost his Water.....

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