Grape Expectations are Met at Zevenwacht
ZEVENWACHT WINE FARM
Thursday 11 January 2018
Zevenwacht sits almost at the back of the listings in my Platter’s Guide, not quite at the end as Zidela Wines, Zonnenbloem and Zorgvliet follow. The tasting visit was my last to the wine farms West of Stellenbosch, having sampled at Boschkloof, Mulderbosch and Saxenburg earlier in the day. It was by chance that I visited too, for had Nico van der Merwe Wines been open I would have run out of time.
Zevenwacht is one of the larger wine farms in the area with 100 hectares of the 473 hectare Maritime property under vine. All the noble grape varieties are grown on the South and South-West facing slopes of the Ribbokrant, with their varied soils and cooling breezes from False Bay. There’s a fair selection of minor cultivars grown here too – Gewürztraminer, Sémillon, Roussane, Muscat de Frontignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Primitivo – to make for an impressive portfolio. A second farm called Zevenrivieren, at the top of Helshoogte (‘Heights of Hell’) Pass, supplies additional grapes for the Cellar.
I gained some insight into the scale of the property by the long (2 kilometres) drive to the vast shaded parking area. I passed the Under the Vines 99-home lifestyle estate and signs for Vineyard Cottages, the Country Inn, Chalet, Cheesery and Spa along the way. It didn’t surprise me to read later that Zevenwacht was one of the first wine estates to establish a restaurant, hotel and conference centre on their property. As I approached the Tasting Room I saw the cute, perfectly symmetrical 1800 Cape Dutch Manor House from across a large lake. I recognised it from the photo in my ‘Exploring the Cape Winelands’ book but did not expect it to be so far away. Everything at Zevenwacht – meaning ‘Seven Expectations’ – was larger than life. Fittingly, the wine farm is open 7 days a week.
The many cultivars contribute to 4 ranges of wine for tasting: the 7 Even’s Range (entry level, mostly blends); the Tin Mine (a premium white and a red blend, named after mines that operated on the property until end of the First World War); the Flagship Wines (single variety whites and reds); and the Z Collection (mostly single block and rare cultivar wines). I chose 6 wines (R60) from the Flagship and Z Collections, ordering a mini, pre-packed cheese platter (R58) from the deli counter to stave off tasting hunger. The Tasting Room was open and set with large tables surrounded by a good selection of local craft, wine and other merchandise.
The 360º single block, barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc was superb, my favourite wine of the tasting and the one I bought (great value for money at R118). The black bottle and black label with a simple gold letter ‘Z’ was as elegant as the wine. Herbaceous aromas of asparagus, green pepper, lime, kiwi and gooseberry beckoned from the glass with a bright clear complexity. A fruity ripeness emerged on the palate to balance a smooth and mellowing acidity. Who says that Sauvignons Blanc cannot improve with age?
The bright, shiny Chardonnay was also barrel-fermented (12 months in 70% 2nd fill/30% 3rd fill) to give a delicate bouquet of roasted apple, caramel, nuts and lemon. Nicely chilled, the fruits were not overpowered by the oak on the plate and balanced well. Smooth and vibrant, this wine had good length.
Gewürztraminer is little grown in South Africa (0.1% by vineyard area) and always worth a taste. Unsurprisingly, the wine is the smallest production at Zevenwacht. Just two 500 litre barrels are made from the 29 year old vines. The wine showed all the classic floral fruity qualities of the cultivar. Rose petal, Turkish delight, potpourri, honeysuckle and lemon notes filled the bouquet. The aromas followed through well to the palate for a clean mouthfeel with moderate acidity and a decent finish. A perfect partner for my boerenkaas cheese, smoked salmon, or spicy Indian and Thai food.
I chose the Rhône Style Blend because it was of an older vintage (2011) and contained 2 of my favourite cultivars: Syrah and Grenache. This was another small scale production wine with 6 barrels of 500 litres being made. Both cultivars contributed and balanced to make another excellent wine, full in body and medium ruby in appearance. Black peppercorn spiciness led ripe red and dark berry fruits on the nose for good intensity and complexity. The ripeness followed through to the palate but tannins were less integrated than I would have liked.
These 2 cultivars, as single variety wines, made up my final 2 wines of the tasting. Both were of 2015 vintage. The Syrah was made in an Old World style with 18 months maturation in new French oak. It was a heady 14% alcohol on the nose, showing ripe aromas of black fruits and black/white peppercorns. It was let down by tannins that showed their youth, being tight and closed with a green olive astringency. It is far too soon to drink this wine.
The tannins in the Grenache were also bold but better balanced. The Grenache was bigger than expected, almost Pinot Noir in character. I rated it highly for its aromatic intensity and complexity of bitter-sweet cherry and white spicy plum notes.
Zevenwacht showed how modern practices can combine with a historic estate to produce excellent and interesting wines. The farm benefits from a long history and tradition, dating back to French Huguenot owner Jeanne le Roux De Normandie in 1688. Wine was first made from 55,000 vines in 1825. During the intervening years tin was produced (uneconomically) and the land reverted to farming. Winemaking was re-established by Harold and Denise Johnson who bought the Zevenrivieren and Zevenwacht farms in 1987 and 1982, respectively.
Good winemaking benefits too from continuity. The Johnson family (3 children included) have owned and managed the business for over 25 years. Winemaker Jacques Viljoen started in 2005 and viticulturalist Eduard van den Berg arrived even earlier, in 2001. The wines I tasted were well made and of decent quality, and priced to offer value for money. I greatly enjoyed my visit and look forwards to sampling the Sauvignon Blanc again. Meanwhile, Zevenwacht most definitely lives up to at least 7 expectations!
Wines tasted (bought *):
2013 360º Sauvignon Blanc – R118* FAVOURITE WINE
2016 Chardonnay – R89
2015 Gewürztraminer – R250
2011 Rhône Style Blend (60% Syrah, 40% Grenache) – R192
2015 Syrah – R91
2015 Grenache – R225