CHENIN SHINING IN THE WELLINGTON WINE REGION

During the last decade South-African wines made a lasting impression internationally, scooping up awards, exporting to new markets as well as established markets which is known for old world wines with long standing histories of wine culture.  All of this has been largely due to the quality Pinotage and Chenin Blanc produced in South Africa.

Today we celebrate Chenin Blanc as cultivar along with the international wine drinking community, and while this fruity white wine may be associated with a hot summers day and crisp salad, the diversity of Chenin Blanc really comes to show when crafted as wine to age.  The days of Chenin Blanc being limited to single uses and based wine, often referred to as Steen, is long forgotten.

Just like Chenin Blanc, the history of the Wellington Wine region goes back much further than memory can serve.  While the region has gained much popularity over the last few years, not many will know that the first settlers established in Wellington dates back as far as 1657. It was then called the Limiet Valley.  This name sprouted from the natural limits set by the surrounding mountains prohibiting further inland travel.  Many years later, this same stretch of land has been developed into a region district in 2012 with demarcating of wards in 2017. This very same area prohibiting further travel is now the unique ward, Limietberg.

Doolhof Wine Estate is the only producer within the Limietberg ward. 30 ha of vines is farmed under the supervision of winemaker, Gielie Beukes.  The uniqueness of this ward is due to the high elevations, and dramatic drop in day night temperatures and much lower temperatures than the rest of Wellington.  The wedging position between two mountains on the eastern and western side of the property, has the farm enjoying a considerably shorter daylight day and as a result much less radiation during peak summer periods which allows for slower ripening for the production of ultra-premium wines, such as Riviersteen

On the bottom of the valley, next to the flow and on the banks of the Kromme River is a block of Chenin Blanc planted in a very mineral rich, sandy, alluvial soil on a bed of river rocks.  Although only nine years of age, three rows from this block is farmed in a way to obtain a very low yield to maximize optimal fruit ripeness with lovely fresh natural acidity and bursting with concentrated varietal characteristics.  These three rows have been identified because they experience direct sunlight for only about half a day and grow on this bed of river rocks to add to the minerality of this special wine. This, along with the traditional name associated with Chenin Blanc, inspired Riviersteen, one of three wines in the Doolhof Limietberg range. In 2019 the current vintage for sale was awarded with the trophy for the best Single vineyard wine in South Africa and also crowned the best Chenin Blanc in South Africa at the yearly terroir focused awards for wines of distinction from specific origins and special sites.

This barrel fermented Chenin Blanc is available from their tasting room and website (R450 per bottle).

4500 ha of the Wellington wine district is under vine production of which 22% is Chenin Blanc. With wine farming dating back to the 1750’s in this region, more than 1000 ha in Wellington is older than 30 years.  This makes Wellington the ideal visit spot for the wine connoisseur which is searching for slightly older vines.

One such older vine wine is the Welgegund Chenin Blanc.  This Chenin Blanc was made from selected blocks of dryland vineyard planted in 1974 with very limited yields of exceptional fruit, embodying the wine with finesse, great depth and subtle fruit aromas. Lightly wooded, the wine exhibits captivating complexity, with pineapple, citrus and apricots initially evident, followed by layers of stone fruit, pear, lime and white flowers. The palate shows richness, with creamy oaky undertones, with citrus, lemon and lime towards the end.  A portion of the wine was fermented in 500 l French oak barrels whilst others were fermented separately using different yeast, adding to the complexity of the final blend. The wine was aged for 11 months, with blending and bottling thereafter. The wine was bottled in January 2018.

Towards the foothills of Voor-Groenberg is the La Cave Chenin Blanc vineyards. This premium wine is produced by Wellington Wines. Grapes are hand-picked early morning at 23 degrees Balling and harvested from one vineyard block of 35-year-old bush vines.   The combination of the weathered granite soil, amount of sun and the height above sea level, gives a robust dry white.  The La Cave Chenin Blanc is fermented in new French oak barrels and aged in the same barrels for 12 months.   Apricot and guava aromas with a little pear is noticed on the nose, with hints of tropical bananas and herbs on the palate, finishes off with warm berry fruit.  This wine is well rounded with good tannin structure and a fully rounded mouth feel.  This wine has proudly taken its place in the Standard Bank Top 10 Chenin Blanc in 2018, received a 4-star rating from John Platter and gold at Michelangelo International Wine and Spirits Show.

‘SALT’ a premium wine produced by Jacaranda Wine Estate is made from a combination of 40 and 80-year-old (which sadly had to be uprooted) Chenin Blanc vines. These vines delivers extremely low yields of 3 tons/ha. The Mediterranean climate with warm and sunny days with cooler nights and light afternoon breezes from the Atlantic Ocean makes for ideal conditions to grow Chenin Blanc.

At Jacaranda Wine Estate the vineyard and cellar work are done according to organic principles. No weed killers are used, all weeding is done by hand and no heavy machinery is used to keep the soil light.  The farm chickens and guinea fowls take care of the snails and bugs in the vineyard. The grapes are hand-harvested in the early morning hours when the temperatures are still low followed by full bunch pressing and maceration for two days.  Natural fermentation takes place with the grapes’ native yeast for a duration of seven weeks. A combination of 500 and 300 l first and 2nd fill French Oak barrels are used, with 10 months barrel maturation.

Rene Reiser, the winemaker believes in making wine in the most natural way possible, to keep the characteristics of the fruit and soil alive in the bottle. SALT is a 90-point scoring wine (Tim Atkin).

Peartree Photography | 180830 Bosman | http://peartree.co.za/blog/

In the Bovlei region, the Optenhorst Chenin Blanc comes from the third oldest Chenin Blanc vineyard in South Africa.  The Optenhorst Chenin Blanc was planted in 1952, making it an Old Vine wine.  The Bosman team, from Bosman Family Vineyards, where planning to uproot the old Chenin vineyard on their farm Optenhorst, when Corlea Fourie, wine maker and cellar master, asked if she could be given a chance to produce wine from it.  The grapes were picked and pressed and tasted three months later from the barrel, leaving the team speechless. Pressing of whole bunches take place followed by overnight settling where-after the clear juice is drawn off in the morning.   Spontaneous fermentation occurs in both concrete tanks and old French barrels.  The wine is matured on the yeast lees for eight months to build mouthful whilst retaining freshness.

These above wines are a great testimony to the fact that Wellington holds a long history of producing excellent wines far exceeding the eight years of which this area has been a dedicated wine district.

For more information about booking of tastings, sales or to arrange your visit in the Wellington Wine Route region contact wellingtonwineroute@gmail.com. Follow us on social media on FB at @OldMutualInsureWellingtonWineRoute.