Wine-making is a lot more than growing grapes and fermenting the juice. If that was all there was to it, the wine industry would look a lot like the milk industry,where the product is sold in cartons and there is little difference between suppliers
A lot of the old-fashioned wine industry used to be like that with so-called jug wines in four-litre containers. I once saw thousands of these discarded glass vessels heaped behind a winery in Argentina which was transitioning to modern wine markets and beginning to export to Canada and the rest of the world.
The transition to the consumer market for wine has followed the desires of the purchasers, who have proven they are willing to pay more than jug prices for wines of some character. People have developed a taste for decent wine and the wineries have had to respond with better quality.
These improvements of quality and value would not be possible without the passion of individual wine-makers. That passion was plain to see in a wine tasting I attended with wine-maker Estelle Lourens of Cape Legends in South Africa, who produce the Uitkyk and Flat Roof Manor brands available here.
Perhaps the best evidence for that passion came out in our discussion on the making of the Uitkyk Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (NLC $16.48). First was a description of the climate of the Stellenbosch region in which the vineyards are located, and the specific elevations and slope facings used to reach the desired levels of ripeness. Seven different clones of sauvignon blanc are planted using several rootstocks, some showing more tropical fruit in their flavour profiles and others with more green tones.
The mix of clones, slopes and similar factors means that not all bunches ripen at the same time, which complicates harvesting and fermentation plans. To top it off, Estelle explained that she trims back the canopy of a few rows on the edge of the vineyard so that the grapes have a slight raisin effect from the extra sunshine, leading to further complexity and richness in the final product.
After the harvest, the work continues in the cellar where great care is taken to achieve the optimum mix of flavours, acidity and structure. The result is a wine that Estelle feels displays a unique South African expression of the sauvignon blanc variety.
It is hard to believe that so much thought and effort goes into making a wine that costs only $16 — only a passionate wine-maker would do so much.
My first impression upon tasting this wine was juicy citrus fruit with an element of flint or minerals in the aroma, from which eventually emerged hints of tropical fruit. The wine was fresh without teeth-aching acidity.
The Flat Roof Manor brand was created by Estelle to show a more new world style with wines which are a little fruitier and lighter than the more traditional Uitkyk labels of the company. The Pinot Grigio 2012 (NLC $14.70) had an abundant aroma of citrus blossoms, good acidity and a noticeable finish. Score: 15/Very Good.
The Flat Roof Manor Merlot 2012 (NLC $14.70) also contains a little malbec to boost the fruit flavours. The blend shows sweet plummy fruit and red berries supported by a little cedar and earth. The wine is nicely balanced with just enough tannins for some grip and a good finish. Score: 15/Very Good.
The tasting finished off with the Uitkyk Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (NLC $21.21). This wine combined spiciness from the shiraz with an earthiness that Estelle believes reflects the terroir of South Africa and its complex soils. This is accentuated by aging in French oak for more than a year followed by more than two years of bottle aging. This is a big wine from a good year in Stellenbosch and an excellent value. Score: 16/Very Good.
Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society. Email him