Where Eagles Care
ARENDSIG SINGLE VINEYARD WINES
2 June 2017
Arendsig Wines was barely 8 kilometres from De Wetshof Estate and on the South side of the Breede River. Arendsig is Afrikaans for `Eagle View’ and so perhaps quite likely that the bataleur at De Wetshof could have been seen from Arendsig too. There’s more similarity between the 2 estates as their terroir-driven philosophy seeks to gain the very best from each vineyard block. Rock, limestone, clay and sandy soils bring their individual flavour components. So too does slope aspect. The vines here are planted East to West towards the afternoon sun.
Fifth family generation farmer became first generation winegrower and winemaker in 2004, Lourens van der Westhuizen told me. Twelve of the 95 hectares are now under vine. Lourens carefully sought out specific, small, pocket vineyards on the farm in the Valley that suit to plant each grape cultivar. All Arendsig wines are made from one specific block. Minimal interference is also large in Lourens’ philosophy. Natural yeasts are used during fermentation in old, neutral vessels and without enzymes. Little more than the terroir and harvested grape make the wines. Unusual waxed cork tops provide for reduced oxidation and hence less sulphur needs be added to the wine.
Located off the R317 loop to Bonnievale, Arendsig estate is usually open by appointment for tasting. Wacky Wine Weekend signs were abundant to direct me down the 1 kilometre dusty gravel drive past cellar buildings and to the Tasting Room. The simple entrance sign and the approach reminded me of Elgin Ridge Wines. There was none of the grand gold-lettered entrance gate as at De Wetshof. The diversity and individuality of the near-1000 wine producers in South Africa constantly fascinates.
Lourens was pouring with a big smile behind the tasting counter set up outside in the winter sunshine. The views over russet-coloured vines across the Valley and towards the Langeberg mountains were spectacular. Six of 7 wines were available for tasting. I picked 3 each from the Arendsig range (R130) and Inspirational Wines range (R150).
The white wines showed a freshness and vibrancy not solely due to their 2016 youth. The Arendsig Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, together with the Inspirational Batch Chenin Blanc, were well balanced and with high to medium-high acidity. Delicate fruity elegance stood in the place of the brashness and ‘bottle-shock’ that I often taste in 2016 and 2017 vintages. Each wine had its own distinct flavour: grassy, herbaceous, light fruity Sauvignon Blanc; stewed apple, pineapple and lemon Chardonnay; and white peach, apricot and honey Chenin Blanc. My favourite, red wines included, was the unwooded Chardonnay. The palate was fresh and light buttery.
The Arendsig Shiraz brought peppercorn, earthy spiciness balanced with dark mulberry fruitiness on the nose that melted on the palate. Tastings were brisk and Lourens had his work cut out pouring. I was pleased to have come to Arendsig today as I was still able to chat with Lourens about the estate and each wine.
Grenache is one of my favourite wines. Often paired with Shiraz and Mourvèdre, it is one of the main players of the Rhône Blend. It is relatively uncommon to taste as a single variety wine (Anura, Diemersdal and DeMorgenzon come to mind; Ken Forrester and Waverley Hills use in their Rhône Blends) but I have always enjoyed. The grape reminds me of a grown-up Pinot Noir. I like the extra fruitiness (sweeter strawberry and plum without the bitter cherry), greater body and higher tannin levels. Acid levels are a shade lower that makes the wine less sour. Not for me is Grenache the “poor man’s Pinot Noir”, as Lourens described the cultivar.
The Inspirational Batch No 2 Grenache was superb. I scored it well for each characteristic: pale to medium ruby in Appearance; fruity red cherry and red plum on the Nose; and smooth with moderate tannin and acidity on the Palate. I bought a bottle.
I finished my tasting with the Inspirational Batch No 9 Mourvèdre. It had the purple-tinted medium ruby colour and dark mulberry, blackcurrant and blackberry fruitiness of a Shiraz/Syrah but without the spiciness. The medium-high tannins were drying and gave structure to the wine. As I finished my glass I checked the Tasting Sheet to see if Arendsig made a Rhône Blend. Surprisingly given that the estate grows each major cultivar component, it doesn’t. Perhaps a blend is too far from Lourens’ philosophy of carefully handcrafted individual wines made from terroir-matched grape varieties.
Hunger got the better of me from this excellent wine tasting (and the one before at De Wetshof). I sat beside the irrigation channel that brings water from the Brandvlei Dam to water the vines. I ordered a wholesome cheese/meat platter (R150) which was one of the best I have tasted. It may have been made for 2 but I ate it all. I needed more bread to go with the generous portions of cheese – rather more cheese than bread to start – and extra was provided. I liked the extra touches of beetroot salad, oil/balsamic vinegar dip and dark chocolate.
Arendsig well deserved the recommendations from other wine enthusiast Wacky Wine Weekenders that made me visit. The vineyard is certainly worth making a tasting appointment to see. The wines are sold at boutique estate prices but are well worth it. Arendsig wines have a natural simplicity that does not mean they lack in balance or complexity. Lourens pointed out that the “soil is the heart of the vine”. Kevin Grant at Ataraxia Wines in the Elgin Valley has a like philosophy: the winemaker’s mission is to “get our dirt into the bottle with minimum intervention”. Arendsig wines have similar character but with slightly less minerality. The care with which they are made – from vineyard block planting through to winemaking – make for excellent wines to taste and savour over and again.
Wines tasted (* bought):
2016 Arendsig Sauvignon Blanc – R130
2016 Arendsig Chardonnay – R130 FAVOURITE WINE
2016 Inspirational Batch No 3 – Chenin Blanc – R150
2016 Arendsig Shiraz – R150
2016 Inspirational Batch No2 – Grenache – R150*
2016 Inspirational Batch No 9 – Mourvèdre – R150