WILDEKRANS WINE ESTATE
Monday 14 May 2018
Wildekrans was just a short hop through the village of Bot River and across the N2 highway but it was like entering a different world to Beaumont Family Wines, where I had just left. The long driveway through the classic white sweeping entrance led past individually labelled trees and through vineyards lined with citrus plantings, past a Eucalyptus grove, before descending through more citrus and olive trees on a curved approach to the Tasting Room. Bench tables and chairs were set out on a tidy lawn at the rear of the large, traditionally furnished, Tasting Room, set against a mountain backdrop in the autumn sunshine.
Eugene greeted me as I entered, complete with dinner jacket and black bow tie which somehow seemed out of place. I was the sole customer, it being Monday lunchtime, and so had the Afrikaans music and silent sports TV that was showing reruns of the weekend soccer games all to myself.
Wildekrans wines fall into 2 main ranges: the Premium Barrel Select Range, made from vines treated with special care, and the Estate Range that heralds back to when the estate first made wines in the early 1990s. There’s an entry Caresse Marine Range (to reflect the summer breeze from the nearby ocean), two MCC, and a red and white wine badged with the Sharks rugby logo.
I opted for a standard tasting of wines from the Estate Range, less the Sauvignon Blanc that was not available but replaced by a Chenin Blanc from the Premium Range. It is perhaps never fair to compare wines between estates but as I sipped the Chenin Blanc I could not help but reflect on the 4 superb Chenins I had tasked at Beaumont barely an hour previously. There was no comparison, and this a wine priced at similar level to the flagship Beaumont wine. The Wildrekrans Chenin Blanc was clearly decent as evidenced by an array of 7 awards stickers on the bottle but I did not rate it highly. The wine was over oaked (12 months in new French barrels) to give prominent vanilla and butterscotch notes that largely masked those of fruity lemon, melon and baked apple. The wine was full creamy on the palate, showing little subtlety, with average complexity and a moderate finish.
It was the sole white wine of the tasting. Whilst waiting for Eugene to pour me the first red wine, I ordered a cheese platter (R130) that was nicely laid out with a generous helping of fresh ciabatta bread, goat’s cheese, blue cheese and brie, complete with sweet preserves, estate olives and farm vegetable pickle. The Cabernet Franc Merlot blend, the typical mix of a Right bank Bordeaux, showed its 2 components in equal measure: sweeter red currant and raspberry fruits together with plum, tomato and pencil shavings. The wine again was over oaked for my taste – 18 months in 2nd fill French oak – with bitter, moderately grippy tannins too prominent on the palate and an average finish.
The Deep Purple, another blend replete with award stickers on the bottle, was Pinotage-led. Full bodied in deep ruby to medium purple colour, the Cape Blend showed potent aromas of plum, cherry and currants. The wine was pleasantly lighter on the palate than expected though still with a full mouthfeel and a short finish. Each grape variety comes from a different vintage, hence the Non Vintage on the bottle label.
Wildekrans is an estate that has been owned for 10 years by the Harlow family. The 1,000 hectare property boasts a Restaurant (complete with an ‘Indigenous Dining’ experience as chefs forage from the surrounding pastures and farmers), 8 self-catering holiday cottages, and a venue for indoor or outdoor weddings. The farm has an interesting history that dates back to 1864 when it was known as ‘Keerwer’ or ‘Keerweder’. The whole area around the farm, including Campagni’s Drift Farm now owned by Beaumont together with the village of Bot Rivier, was used by 17th, 18th and 19th century travellers for their oxen and wagons. The name Bot River, or Botrivier, originates from ‘Butter River’ as this was the area where the local Khoi tribe sold butter to the European pioneers.
The rolling hills of the Overberg and the Hoew Hoek were known as ‘Canaan’ or the ‘promised land’, hence the name Wildekrans. Use of the land has changed many times, from sheep, cattle, grain and onion farming to fruits and grapes a hundred years ago. The original cellar and the concrete vats date back to the 1920s and 1930s. A new cellar and the present vineyards were built in 1982, later extended in 1997 to 40 (now 72) hectares of vines together with 30 hectares of plums and pear, and 14 hectares of olives. A total of 13 white and red grape varieties are currently grown, notably all the major cultivars together with Grenache Blanc, Hanepoot, Riesling and Sémillon).
The final 2 wines of the tasting were single variety wines. The Pinotage was full bodied and typical of its grape, showing ripe fruit flavours of red and black plum, black cherry and sweet Black Forest gateau. Like the Cape Blend, the wine was short on the palate with a moderate finish despite 18 months maturation in 2nd fill French oak. I rated similarly the Shiraz to finish. The wine was made with the same oaking regime as the Pinotage with spicy red to dark fruits of limited complexity, a simple palate and a short finish.
The Wildekrans winemaking philosophy is that great wines are made in the vineyard. There’s nothing new in that statement and it is a truism that great wines need great grapes as their key ingredients. The large size of the farm and range of soil types clearly support the large mix of cultivars that are planted. That said, most of the wines I tasted were too heavily oaked – new or 2nd fill and for 18 months or more – to show the subtleties of the individual grape varieties. I read that a new winemaker was appointed in 2017 and so I hope Wildekrans will reach its obvious potential.
Owner Amanda Harlow writes that ‘Wildekrans is unlike any other estate in the sense that we don’t just function as a wine estate but as a farm because we also focus on the production of fruit, olives and we tend to sheep’. This might just give a clue to the need for singular or greater focus on the wines. Remember there are cottages and a wedding facility too. I have no doubt that Wildekrans is busy at weekends and that the Estate wines are popular with its clientele. Meanwhile, it is fair to conclude that the wines were not of a style to my particular liking.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2015 Barrel Select Chenin Blanc – R245
2014 Cabernet Franc Merlot (50% Cabernet Franc, 50% Merlot) – R92
NV Deep Purple (63% Pinotage, 23% Shiraz, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon) – R85
2016 Pinotage – R99
2016 Shiraz – R99