This Vineyard Touched My Soul (aka, I Bought My First Bottle of Petrus)
HOUT BAY VINEYARDS
Monday 16 January 2017
This vineyard touched me.
Little known and by appointment only (Cathy, 0837903303), my partner and I struggled to find the entrance to Hout Bay vineyards. The cellar is not open to he public for long enough for signage from the main road. We made our way up Hughenden Street, took a wrong (right) turn to the top of Hughenden Street, retraced our way back down and then along Whittlers Way and Grotto Road, to meet Cathy and Ben (family dog) at the gate.
We walked up the short, steep slope into the cellar. There was stainless steel wine-making equipment under canvas shading at the entrance ready for the 2017 grape harvest. Entering the cellar was an experience in itself. I feasted on the polished tanks and machinery, wooden barrels and bottles stacked high for ageing.
We walked up wooden stairs to the small tasting area with sandstone walls and an arched ceiling. Cathy told us that the storage temperature was a constant 18°C. The cellar kept cool because the building was set into the mountainside. The intimate space and soft lighting was very reminiscent, but not as damp, as a French ‘cave’.
I was already excited and intoxicated by Hout Bay vineyards and I hadn’t even started to taste. We began with the ‘Klasiek by Catherine’ MCC that was served at just the right temperature. Made from the classic ‘champagne’ grapes that enjoy the cool Atlantic Ocean climate – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – it had tropical notes of melon, peach and apricot. These were matched by a creamy, yeasty, crisp dry taste with the very fine bubbles rising from the pale straw-yellow wine in the glass. I scored it highly for all criteria and decided this was one bottle I was going to buy.
I soon realised, as I tasted the ‘Blush’ rosé, that this was no ordinary tasting. The delicate pale strawberry, coral colour reflected the second pressing from the Cap Classique grapes. I sensed strawberry salmon on the nose and was pleasantly surprised by the strength of taste. Crisp and dry, this rosé was full in the mouth (far better than the blander rosé from the opposite side of Constantia Nek) and with a lingering finish.
As we sipped the different wines, Cathy told us about the wine estate. The estate wines were planted in 2003, mostly for the MCC, but that pockets of vines from the Constantia Valley and even close to Llandudno were also used. What Cathy didn’t tell us was that disaster struck just as the first grapes were due to be harvested. Herbicide was used to spray the vines instead of pesticide and the crop was ruined. Three years of hard work was ruined and the vines had to be ripped out and replaced.
It soon became clear how personal each wine was and how privileged we were to be hosted by the wine-maker.
The last white, an unwooded Sauvignon Blanc, was equally fresh and vibrant. Colour, nose and palate perfectly matched to produce another attractive and highly drinkable wine. The personal touch was even more apparent when we turned the three bottles round and saw the hand-written labels on the back of each bottle. Each one giving the year, cultivar, wine-maker and wine of origin. 17,000 labels are hand-written each year, Cathy told us, with babysitters even being pressed into good use in previous years to label.
I was eager to try the three reds and they too excelled. I was enjoying them so much, the conversation too, that I kept forgetting to enter the scores to my tasting notes. The first two reds were single variety wines: a Merlot and a Shiraz.
The Merlot was easy to identify with all the classic hallmarks of good ruby colour, medium-full body and aromatic cedar with red berry nose. The flavour was fulsome and well-balanced. Cathy told us how she uses 500L oak barrels as the surface area: volume ratio imparts enough tannin without overpowering the fruitiness.
The Shiraz excited and was another bottle to be bought. Deep ruby in colour and full of dark berries – dark cherry, blackberry – it had a white-pepper spiciness to the nose. It tasted balanced, rounded and complex on the palate. This was more subtle than many of the other Shiraz from the Constantia Valley and the better for it.
We ended with the ‘Petrus’ blend. I recognised the name but this was not its superior Château Pétrus cousin from Pomerol, Bordeaux so favoured by the A-List celebrities. Instead, it was a shiraz-led Rhone style blend with equal amount of Grenache, mourvedre and carignan grapes. This gave the wine an impressive full body and dark ruby red colour. The nose and palate perfectly matched: aromatic cedar, plum and blackcurrant gave a sweeter, fruity taste with a velvet tannin finish to show its age. This was another bottle to buy. Cathy pointed out the Afrikaans label on the bottle in case I confused with the ‘other’ Petrus!
Hout Bay vineyards was another gem that few know about. The wines produced are sold in the stores and restaurants in Hout Bay with little marketing. More than 30% is sold at two open days each year.
I was thrilled by my visit and tasting. I was very struck by the individual nature of the wines, helped considerably by Cathy’s detailed explanations. Every wine was different and distinct – fruity, fresh and playful, and cleverly balanced between fruit, acid and sweetness/tannin. The comprehensive range from this small estate was impressive too.
And yet, there was a common thread through all the wines. Simplicity embraced complexity in a personal and refined way. It seemed typical that all wines were priced either R80 or R130. These were some of the very best local, quality value-for-money wines I have tasted.
Hout Bay vineyards questioned me in an unexpected way. It made me think. It challenged my perceptions and assumptions about big name, historic estate, and famous producer wines. I shall look at the ‘boutique’ wine cellars in a different way. Incidentally, ‘boutique’ means both a fashionable store and ‘a business serving a sophisticated or specialised clientele (as in “California’s boutique wineries”).
Hout Bay vineyards touched my soul.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2013 MCC Klasiek by Catherine (50% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier) – R130*
2016 Blush Rosé (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Viognier) – R80
2016 Sauvignon Blanc – R80
2014 Merlot – R80
2014 Shiraz – R130* FAVOURITE WINE
2011 Petrus (50% Shiraz, 50% Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan) – R130*