ALMENKERK WINE ESTATE
Sunday 6 March 2017
It was late on Sunday afternoon that I arrived at Almenkerk. It was the final vineyard that I visited on my day out to the Elgin Valley having already been to Oak Valley, Paul Cluver and Charles Fox. I am always struck how individual wine farms are and the interesting story behind them.
It is quite a change to come to a region where the wine farms are young. I am much more familiar with the Constantia Valley vineyards that stretch back almost 350 years to the time of Simon van der Stel. Almenkerk, like Charles Fox, was bought by newcomers to the area little more than 10 years ago.
The Belgian-Dutch Almenkerk family moved to South Africa in 2002 and bought the fruit farm in 2004. Four hectares of apples and pears remain but most of the land, 15 hectares, is now is under vine.
The approach to the farm is up a sloping road. The Tasting Room and Cellar are on the top of a hill. The views from the beautifully designed building across the Elgin Valley and the Kogelberg Mountains are stunning. Surrounded are many pieces of sculpture and artwork that deserved in themselves special attention.
Closing time was imminent so I went into the Tasting Room and introduce myself to Susan. As with Oak Valley, I felt as if I was entering someone’s house. The seating was comfortable and there was more artwork on display. I decided to taste just 3 wines (half the tasting selection) from the Flagship Range, and to do so ‘blind’.
The first was, as I identified correctly, a Chardonnay. It was one of the very best I have tasted. Medium straw in colour, it had notes of apple and citrus laced with vanilla and caramel. The palate balanced perfectly, full and complex. I immediately said I would buy a bottle.
The two red wines totally confused. I struggled to pick them out. I don’t know if it was because it was late in the day after a lot of tasting or if the Elgin wines were of an unfamiliar style. Both wines were medium-bodied and medium ruby in colour. The noses were red cherry and fruity, the first with a hint of spice and sweetness, the second more aromatic. The first had more tannin but was less complex and balanced than the second.
As I was trying to work out the grape varieties, Joris (the winemaker and, as I read later, one of the family members) came over to chat. He told me the wines were a Merlot and a Shiraz. Joris explained that the cooler climate softened the spiciness and brought out different notes to the Shiraz. I have so much to learn!
After, and although it was after 4 o’clock by then, Joris took me into the Cellar. He showed me the large stainless steel tanks. There were concrete ‘egg’ tanks that I had never seen before. Beside, was a plastic bin about a metre cubed in size and full of dark grapes. Joris tells me that these were picked just 3 days ago. The skins and flesh are floating on the top to form a crust. I had read about this – and how the pulp needs to be mixed to ensure maximum contact with the juice – but never seen. Joris ‘punched’ down the grapes into the juice.
I am utterly fascinated and could have stayed for much longer. I realised I had stayed on well after closing time. I bought my bottle of the Chardonnay and took one last look around the Tasting Room. The sun was lower than I arrived and the light looked beautiful through the large windows.
Almenkerk was short but sweet and somewhere I shall return to before long. I so have much more to learn about the ‘cool climate’ red wines.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2015 Chardonnay – R220* FAVOURITE WINE
2013 Shiraz – R220
2013 Merlot – R220