The Terroir is Honoured in the Bottle at Springfield
1 June 2017
“Save the best until last”, so they say. I did so today. Time pressed at the end of my first Wacky Wines Weekend experience but I made the most of it. Springfield had been recommended by a few wine aficionados during my travels. It was conveniently en route back to Robertson from Bon Courage Estate too. Springfield didn’t only live up to its recommendation. It exceeded it.
There are times when the approach and entrance to a vineyard confidently promise an outstanding tasting. Today was one of those days. The bold entrance and the tree-lined drive through autumnal vineyards, straight as an arrow, led to the French-styled cellar beside a lake. The scene was set as I entered the Tasting Room, complete with vaulted ceilings and barrels stacked high.
There’s much too that can be learned from a Tasting menu alone. I could tell by the detail before even tasting that Springfield wines were going to be special. The notes were made by a winemaker with an obvious passion – and not by a marketing guru holding a sack of flavour keywords. Intriguingly and unusually, the information on the Tasting Sheet and website, even bottle labels, does not mention wine flavours. I can’t recall this ever before. It is left for the drinker to discover.
The name Springfield stems from outside the Robertson area. Springfield rests deep within the Cape Agulhas Reserve and is one of the southernmost pieces of land on the tip of South Africa. It has sentimental connections for the present 4th generation wine farm owners, brother and sister team Abrie and Jeanette Bruwer. It is from rocks here that they fished.
Fishing for wine is a different but equally patient and delicate business. The current-generation owners have managed the estate for 21 years. The terroir of the 150 hectare farm is varied. Some areas are rocky (70% quartz) and some are rich in lime (as in Burgundy and Sancerre). Sandy, loam soil is found in the alluvial plains beside the Breede River. Whole blocks of vines have been planted and re-aligned from a North to South direction to an East to West aspect. This ensures more even ripening, maximises protection from the burning summer sun, and makes best use of cool South-Easterly breezes.
“Good wine is grown and not made” is a phrase I have heard before. This terroir driven philosophy is reflected in the winemaking. Springfield wines are made using traditional methods and with minimal intervention. Most of their wines are fermented with natural yeasts found in the wax layer on the grape skins. This is a risky process, volatile and unpredictable, and difficult to control. It is easy to lose an entire vintage using this method. The cellar, dating back to 1902, employs the same philosophy. Red grapes are fermented whole and transported using a gravity flow system. Pumps, crushers and presses are not used. Wines are bottled unfiltered and unfined wherever possible.
All well and good, but how were the wines? Six were available for tasting (the Méthode Ancienne Cabernet Sauvignon (R700) and Chardonnay (sold out) were not included). The 2 Sauvignons Blanc differed only in their terroir. Other than that they were identical in clone, viticulture and wine-making. I gave them the same total score too. Both wines were pale, watery straw colour, tinged slightly with green, in appearance. The nose surprised. I did not expect delicate tropical fruit salad aromas – guava, passion fruit, papaya, light mango – with restrained, sweet citrus undertones that emerged more on the palate. The Light from Stone, grown in rocky quartz soils, had great acidity and a smooth, crisp mouthfeel without being overly minerally. The Special Cuvée, from sandy soil by the river, showed less citrus but was more elegant and balanced on the palate.
Miss Lucy, named after the Red Stumpnose fish caught in Southern Cape waters, was superb. The complexity of the 3 cultivars in near equal amounts – with Pinot Gris unusually blended with Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon – together with 6 months in French oak delighted on nose. Warm tropical and herbaceous flavours mingled on the palate harmoniously to balance dry acidity. It made for easy and pleasant drinking, every drop to be appreciated.
My favourite wine of the tasting – and there were many! – and the bottle I bought was the Wild Yeast Chardonnay. Fermentation using wild yeasts, as the name proclaims, is slow and takes months rather than weeks. The wine is made in underground cement tanks and as close to natural as one can achieve: unwooded, unfiltered and unfined. The warm stewed apple and apricot flavours on the nose and expressive, balanced dry palate reminded me how good Chardonnay can be.
Red wines made up the rest of my tasting. The Cabernet Sauvignon was the sole single variety estate red wine. I was scoring high at Springfield. Full bodied and medium ruby, I noticed a slight tawny tinge to the colour, perhaps due to the natural process. There was no gradation, as expected for a 2015 vintage. I liked the dark red-to-black fruity character, full of blackberry, plum and mulberry. Oak flavours (12 months in new and 2nd fill French oak) emerged on the palate to bring a long finish. This is a wine that will keep and last.
The final Springfield wine I tasted was the Work of Time Bordeaux blend. Merlot-led and without Malbec, each cultivar brought fruity complexity. Blackcurrant Merlot combined with dark cherry, mulberry and earthy masculine Cabernet Sauvignon and feminine Cabernet Franc to excite the nose. The oak on the palate was silky and with softer tannins than the Cabernet Sauvignon, aided by 5 more years’ maturation.
One further wine was for sale: the Thunderchild. This was a similar Bordeaux blend but without Petit Verdot. I saw the wine offered later elsewhere. The vines were planted in 2003 on ground that housed the Die Herberg orphanage that was built by the Robertson community in the wake of the great ‘flu’ epidemic of 1918. The growing materials and irrigation were donated and the wine is made for free. All profits from sales are given to orphaned children. I enjoyed the cranberry, mulberry, dark berry aromas on the nose and drying palate.
The tasting at Springfield Estate was the highlight of my first ever Wacky Wines Weekend day. I reflected on the tasting on my way out in the setting sun as I went to see the springbok in the paddock beside the road. I didn’t notice them on my hasty arrival though had seen Felix, the Anatolian Shepherd, their guard.
I am surprised as I look back now at the affordable cost of the wines given their obvious quality. I should have bought more but I had bought several bottles already. The handcrafted, terroir expressive, French-styled wines were superb, every one of them. I am generally sceptical of vineyards that are traditional, natural, organic, biodynamic, unfined, unfiltered, at least until I taste their wines. Springfield showed that the hype can translate into the bottle. As the motto says, and every bottle label proclaims, Springfield wines are “Made on Honour”.
Wines tasted (* bought):
2016 Life from Stone Sauvignon Blanc – R98
2016 Special Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc – R97
2016 Miss Lucy (38% Sauvignon Blanc, 32% Pinot Gris, 30% Sémillon) – R103
2016 Wild Yeast Chardonnay – R109* FAVOURITE WINE
2015 Whole Berry Cabernet Sauvignon – R127
2010 The Work of Time (40% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Franc, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Petit Verdot) – R148
2015 Thunderchild (50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon) – R82