Horsepower in the Vineyard
Monday 22 May 2017
The sky was cloudless at the Vineyard Hotel for the regular Monday evening wine-tasting. It was chilly on the back lawn and appropriately so as Waterkloof produces cool climate wines. I have yet to visit the vineyard, the best known of a handful of farms along the Sir Lowry’s Pass Road, midway between Somerset West and Sir Lowry’s Pass Village.
Nita brought 4 wines for tasting: 2 ‘easy drinking’ white wines made from grapes sourced outside the estate and 2 red wines from vines on the farm. She was keen to explain that Waterkloof is an accredited ‘biodynamic’ estate. I read after that biodynamic agriculture is similar to organic farming but that it includes esoteric concepts from Rudolf Steiner. In sum, the farm is seen as a whole organism, a largely self-sustaining system that produces its own manure and animal feed. Astrological calendars are used for sowing and planting. I knew Steiner’s name was familiar; he also founded the Waldorf schools, which emphasise the role of imagination in learning to integrate the intellectual, practical and artistic development of pupils.
Biodynamism at Waterkloof means viniculture and viticulture using minimalist principles to make ‘honest wines’. Home-made compost and microbial fertilisers complement cover crops and the use of horses to lessen soil compaction between the vines. Sixty-one of the property’s 146 hectares are under vine, with most of the remainder set aside for indigenous fynbos. In the cellar, the wine-maker uses only natural yeasts. Cold fermentation, skin extraction for whites, added enzymes and bentonite fining are not used either.
I was eager to taste but disappointed by the young Sauvignon Blanc and unwooded Chardonnay. The wines were reminiscent of those at Ataraxia in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, where I too struggled to form an opinion. The wines were ‘green’ in character, akin to the angular, awkward teenager. I couldn’t really decide if I liked or not. Were they just not my preferred taste for fruity wines? Were they light, elegant and refined? Or with (too?) good minerality? Or sharp and unpleasant? Or simply too crisp to drink alone and without food? I’d like to taste more Waterkloof white wines to be sure and for fair assessment.
The higher quality, premium red wines fared better. I liked the simple Merlot with its light-medium body, pale-medium ruby appearance and aromatic cedar fruity notes. Like the whites, it was light on the palate but not unpleasantly so. The name ‘Circumstance’ reflects the biodynamic approach to vine-growing and wine-making. The end result – dependant on seasonal and other ‘circumstances’ – is that different vintages taste different. That is a welcome (and, unfortunately, rare) trait among the more homogeneous wines usually produced by the larger vineyards. The Circle of Life – complete with circular bottle label showing the stages of the season – was spicier and more complex in flavour as expected from a Syrah-led blend. It was more dark berry fruity and fuller bodied than the Merlot and better for it.
I am appreciative of the chance to taste these unique wines. Even better will be a visit to see the estate and cellar at work in situ and to sample a wider range of wines in the place that they are made.
Wines tasted (bought*):
2016 Peacock Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc – R78
2016 False Bay Chardonnay – R58
2013 Circumstance Merlot – R185
2014 Circle of Life (56% Syrah, 27% Petit Verdot, 17% Merlot) – R150