Proudly Keeping it in the Family at Paul Cluver – or Not?
PAUL CLUVER ESTATE WINES
Sunday 5 March 2017
I must have passed Paul Cluver wines on countless times heading East on the N2 out of Cape Town. This was an estate whose wines I had heard of but never drunk and an estate I had passed but never visited. Not only was Paul Cluver very close to Oak Valley wines but it was open for Sunday tasting too.
The sign off the N2 took me through a forest of apple bins and pallets. So much so that I thought I was heading for an industrial estate and not a wine estate. The security at the gate was some of the strictest I had experienced. My licence disc was scanned by the neatly uniformed security guard (and on my way out too). I followed the directions and was soon passing a large dam edged with water lilies. The street sign beside the road warned of ducks crossing.
The sign was fitting as Dr Paul Cluver was a visionary environmentalist. Half of the estate’s more than 2,000 hectares form part of the UNESCO World Heritage site (the Kogelberg Biosphere) which is set aside for conservation in perpetuity. As with Oak Valley wines, the remainder of the farm is put to a range of uses that do not only include wine-making: apple and pear orchards, a Hereford stud, and eco-tourism activities. The 73 hectares of vines focus on Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir.
Paul Cluver is truly a family owned and run business: Paul Jnr is Managing Director; Liesl is Marketing Director; Inge is Financial Manager and married to the winemaker; and Karin is Production Manager (orchards). This must make for some interesting Board meetings!
Passing through orchards laden with ripe red and green apples, I parked in the shade. The sign for the Tasting room, close to the restaurant, was easy to find. Outside were tables made from enormous blue gum planks. Surprisingly for a warm Sunday afternoon, the Tasting Room was empty. I introduced myself to Ismain and asked her for ‘blind’ tasting. This was free, as with the wineries in the Wolseley area, and a welcome surprise.
I asked to start with three of the five whites. Naturally, I was interested to see how these ‘cool climate’ wines compared with those from Oak Valley. My tasting radar was no better attuned. To start, I mistook an appley, stone-fruited, simple, clean Sauvignon Blanc for a Chardonnay.
Next up was my favourite wine of the tasting and also one I correctly recognised. It was the latest Gewürztraminer and full of tropical mango, melon and peach freshness with overlays of honey and nougat. The palate followed through well (this does not always happen with the more aromatic and floral-noted wines) to balance successfully. The wine was low on acidity with good dryness and mouthfeel. I read afterwards that this grape variety is grown on 10% of the estate and that Gewürztraminer is a consistent award-winner for Paul Cluver. I am not surprised.
The wine that followed was another I thought was a Chardonnay but turned out to be a Riesling. I am unsure why as their profiles are not similar: Chardonnay is fuller bodied and less fruity; Riesling is fruity and with little body. Riesling is also more acidic and with less alcohol. The tasting notes for the Riesling describe the nose showing ‘ripe green apple, apple blossom, beeswax and fynbos honey’. These are classic Chardonnay characteristics and I picked out apple and citrus notes with a little sweetness. Oddly, the mouth felt slightly fizzy but this did not show up in the appearance.
I waited for the next two wines, the last whites, before two final reds. I looked around the Tasting Room. It was well decorated and with plenty of information. The Cluver family ‘pride’, described in a separate little label on each bottle, was evident. Tasting tables indoors were made of vast cedar planks, beautifully smooth and polished like an old friend.
There was a mix up with the final two white servings. I should have tasted a Spätlese or sweeter style of Riesling and then a Chardonnay. Instead, Ismain poured the dry Riesling a second time. My notes for the repeat tasting were not identical and it just goes to show how one is influenced by the wine being tasted alongside. I preferred the sweeter wine but I have yet to get a feel for Riesling as a wine grape variety.
Weisser (‘Rhine’) Riesling, as distinct from the inferior Cape Riesling that is anonymously used in blends, is made into three wines. I did not taste the third, a dessert wine, as this was sold out. The vines have been planted from 1987 to 2006 at between 300 and 400 metres above sea level and cover 14 hectares. Paul Cluver is the largest producer of Riesling in South Africa.
My last white was a delicious, flagship Chardonnay and my equal favourite wine. Unfortunately, I did not taste it at its best as all the white wines were served too warm. This never ceases to amaze – but no longer surprises – as tasting rooms should be the perfect showcase for wines from any estate or vineyard. Rant over.
The final two reds were both of the same variety, Pinot Noir, which I identified correctly. Picked just a year apart, they were a similar pale ruby in colour. The nose reminded of aromatic maraschino cherries mingled with red cherry and strawberries. Light, fresh and fruity, the tannin did not overpower. I preferred the first. It was better value for money too at R100 compared with R200.
Paul Cluver was not as I expected. It may have been that subconsciously one associates ‘big’ wines with ‘big name’ estates. True, I am finding my feet with Riesling and Gewürztraminer (although I am familiar with their German styles from living in England). True, the tasting went wrong. True, the wines inexcusably were served at the wrong temperatures.
There was something else missing at Paul Cluver and I cannot put a finger on it. Had all the wrongs been put right, I wonder whether I would have rated the wines much higher. I did buy two wines and that would make the family proud. Overall though, I do not think the Cluver siblings would have been so proud of my tasting experience.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2016 Sauvignon Blanc – R90
2016 Gewürztraminer – R100* FAVOURITE WINE
2015 Dry Encounter Riesling – R100
2016 Close Encounter Riesling – R100
2016 Chardonnay – R200
2016 Village Pinot Noir – R100*
2015 Estate Pinot Noir – R200