Thursday 23 November 2017
Raka Wines was but a stone throw from Boschrivier Wines some 17 kilometres South East of Stanford in the Akkedisberg area, and one and a half hours drive from Cape Town. Family patriarch Piet Dreyer makes an unlikely candidate for the owner of a wine farm, for he was a fisherman all his life.
The vineyard is called Raka after Piet’s fishing boat with the same name. Piet’s father has seriously injured when he was 16 years old which led him to catch fish over weekends to support the family. Sea fishing for squid became his first passion and he skippered successively larger boats. Squid releases black ink and so Piet decided to have a black freezer vessel built so he did not have to repaint it so often. He named the boat after a half man, half beast creature called Raka who, in an Afrikaans poem, was as black as night and threatened an African tribe.
Winemaking became Piet’s second passion. He is well supported by his family. Eldest son, Gerhard, has taken over the fishing business, managing 8 boats and importing boat spares in Port Elizabeth. Middle sons, Josef and Pieter, are winemaker and viticulturalist. Meanwhile, daughter Jorika has completed her matric exams and will now focus on marketing and the Tasting Room.
Sixty two hectares of the 760 hectare farm are under vine, with red wines making up the majority (75%) of those made. Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier are planted, together with the main Bordeaux and Rhone grapes. Pinotage and, interestingly, Sangiovese make up the remainder. The vines are grown on either side of the Klein River Valley at 60 metres above sea level beside the river and rising up to 120 metres on higher slopes. The terroir is varied with North and South facing slopes. South-Easterly ocean winds bring cooling breezes in the summer whilst North-Westerly winds bring rain in the winter. The differing cultivars are matched to a variety of soil types: Shiraz on the highest sandstone slopes; other red cultivars on deep and shallow shale; and Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier on sandy soils along the riverbanks.
Raka was easy to find. The Cellar Building was completed for the 2002 harvest and is flanked by vines. Steps lead up from the car park close by the road to make an impressive entrance. The front of the building has a stoep with dappled shade from a vine-covered pergola from which to admire the views over the valley. I went into the Tasting Room to meet Melanie who was my tasting host. The high ceilinged room had the feel of a large cellar. Nonetheless, maritime roots remained close with life buoy and a ships wheel to decorate.
Tasting is just R15 for 6 mid-range wines. The Limited Selection of top wines, on open display in specialist wine cooler preserver, can be sampled at R10 each or R60 for the full range of 9 wines. It was getting late in the afternoon and so I decided on this occasion just to enjoy the basic tasting. I was the only taster and Melanie saw to me between tasks that made for a relaxing experience.
I began with the sole white wine, a Sauvignon Blanc that was very pale watery in appearance to the point of being almost colourless. Bottled 4 months ago, the youthful green fruity aromas were neither too herbaceous nor too tropical. Acidity was moderate and the mouthfeel average to make for a decent and pleasant wine.
The very affordable and fruity Rosé was made from the 5 Bordeaux grape varieties. Made in a dry style with average complexity that made it difficult to pick out the individual fruit flavours from the candy ones, this was another easy drinking wine.
The first red of the tasting was the Raka Spliced – keeping up the maritime traditions again – and made from a mix of Bordeaux and Rhone grapes. It was full bodied, a delicious deep ruby red in colour, tannic in character and with flavours of warm black berry and dark currant. I could see why it was popular in the local restaurants and as a braai wine.
My favourite wine of the tasting was a Sangiovese that I did not expect to be sampling. Italian cultivars are always a treat to try out. This was planted to recognise that the farm was previously owned by an Italian prisoner of war. The wine was medium bodied with classic sundried tomato, sweet-sour cherry and redcurrant aromas. The tomato flavours carried through well onto the palate. I especially liked the soft tannins mouthfeel due to malolactic fermentation and the use of Hungarian oak for maturation. I bought a bottle. Melanie pointed out how the cultivar and vintage are shown in the rear label, a clever yet simple move to reduce costs as only one label needed to be changed each year.
Next for tasting was the Quinary – named as it is made from all 5 Bordeaux grapes – and the first wine I have tasted with Wine of Origin Klein River. A Veritas Double Gold award winner, it showed a punchy nose of plum, cherry, blackberry and cedar. The palate was not as pronounced as the nose and a little overbalanced towards green tannins. I am sure it will improve with ageing.
I ended with the Biography Shiraz. ‘Big body, big girl’ was how Melanie described it. The wine had better balance than the Quinary and smoother on the palate. The aromas on the nose were similarly forwards with good complexity between spice and cassis, black plums and blackberry fruits. I do not know if it was coincidence or not, given the name of the wine, but Melanie chose this moment to show me a copy of the book of Afrikaans poems by NP van Wyk Louw that gave Raka its name. The 1941 book was found in a local shop and a set text for Melanie for her matric exams.
I much enjoyed the Raka tasting and the wines. There were mostly well made and well priced too. Melanie explained how Piet does not make expensive wines as he wishes everyone to be able to buy. That is an excellent and welcome maxim. I shall certainly look out Raka wine in the future and look forwards to enjoying my bottle of Sangiovese.
The farm has the motto ‘Born by the Sea, Guided by the Stars and Blessed by the Earth’. Now that sounds like a very poetic way to describe terroir! Either way, Raka Wines had no black marks …….
Wines tasted (bought *):
2017 Sauvignon Blanc – R65
2016 Rosé (Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc) – R50
2014 Spliced (42% Shiraz, 25% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec, 8% Mourvèdre, 4% Viognier) – R70
2014 Sangiovese – R85* FAVOURITE WINE
2014 Quinary (41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec) – R115
2012 Biography Shiraz – R130*