CAPELANDS WINE FARM
Friday 2 March 2018
Capelands? Capelands? Where the **** is Capelands? I hear you ask. I would have asked the same a week ago. It’s not a misprint for Cape Winelands. I’ll give you a clue. It’s in the Helderberg, not far from Somerset West. Think Helderberg and you’ll likely think of the big name vineyards North towards Stellenbosch: boutique Yonder Hill, Chenin Blanc-specialist Ken Forrester, horsey Avontuur, and contemporary Cavalli. Think East to Sir Lowry’s Pass and you’ll think of farmers’ market Lourensford, historic Vergelegen, olives at Morgenster, and the biodynamic ‘cellar in the sky’ Waterkloof. But Capelands? Let me put Capelands on your tasting radar …
Capelands Wine Farm is right next to Waterkloof. Indeed, the 2 entrances off the Sir Lowry’s Pass Road are closer together than the drive up to the elevated Tasting Room at Waterkloof. Capelands keeps it simple – with the focus on the wine – as I shall show you, and the better for it.
I arrived at the appointed time in the beautiful colourful Tasting Room to be met by Johann Innerhofer, co-owner with accomplished, artist, wife Laura Mauri from Milan, Italy. Johann was welcoming and friendly, tall and imposing. He heralds from Italy too, from Merano in the South Tyrol, close to where Italy, Austria and Switzerland meet. He speaks German and is as familiar with the wines of Germany as those of Italy, Austria, and France.
Johann came to South Africa, to Capelands, 14 years ago. His family followed 5 years later. Meanwhile, he tells me about running the biggest wine auction in Italy. He was the first, and is the Number 1, distributor of South African wines to China. This was long before relations with the West and the US started to thaw – I know, I lived in Hong Kong at the time – and years before the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
I could have chatted to Johann for hours – he speaks 5 languages – without even tasting the wine. He fascinated. I too am well travelled and, after tasting at some 140 wine estates and a year of Cape Wine Academy studies, I feel confident to converse about wine with someone as knowledgeable and educated as Johann.
Our time was limited as he was hosting a large group from Jaguars cars later in the afternoon. This made for a tasting that was more rushed than I would have liked. Even so, I was a little late for my tasting at Onderkloof Estate after. Capelands has just 3.5 hectares of 20 year-old, single vineyard, dryland Cabernet Sauvignon. Elsewhere on the property is an Italian/Mediterranean Restaurant, Guest House with 2 cottages, and olives. It surprised to hear that all the Cabernet Sauvignon – a typically late ripening cultivar – was picked before the end of January. Ripening is aided by the stony vineyard that reflects warmth from the sun back onto the grapes. In addition, the early harvesting at 24.0-24.5° Belling keeps the alcohol concentration down and maintains the natural acidity.
Capelands produces wines under 2 labels: Whitestone and Redstone. The focus is very much on red wines. Almost all the production (90%) is exported to Europe which is why you may not heard of their wines in South Africa, except perhaps in fine dining restaurants. Johann told me his target was to ‘produce great wines – and to bring them out to the World’.
The Whitestone collection includes a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chenin Blanc. The Sauvignon Blanc was not as acidic as some. The grapes are brought in from elsewhere and showed their warm climate origins by the tropical notes. They were reminiscent of a Chenin Blanc, without the honey sweetness, and included aromatic melon, lemon and sweeter kiwi. The wine was clean and refreshing on the palate.
I preferred, just, the Chenin Blanc. Shiny and deeper in straw colour, it invited me to taste without delay. I liked the intensity of sweet citrus, honey and nougat flavours. Medium acidity gave a clean mouthfeel and a strong finish.
Johann treated me to a ‘tank sample’ of Chardonnay that was a month away from bottling. He showed me too the artwork for the new label. The wine was similar in colour to the Chenin Blanc but slightly more yellow. This too had warmth to the bouquet. The fresh, mineral flavours of baked apple and luscious lemon were Champagne-esque in character. Less creamy than many a Chardonnay, the mouthfeel was vibrant, light, fruity, and clean with a long length.
Johann explained that the label for each vintage changes with new artwork from Laura. The original painting is later auctioned for charity. The white wines were superb but the red wines were even better. I was treated next to 2 tastings of the same wine – the Klein Redstone – the only difference being that one was bottled using a screw cap and the other with a cork. The second vintage Klein Redstone, Johann told me, was ‘baby brother’ to the Cabernet Sauvignon Redstone due to the 20% added Malbec.
Comparison of the two wines was fascinating. I scored them the same but they were not identical. Both were fuller than medium bodied and ruby red in appearance. Subtle differences showed on the nose and then the palate. The screw cap wine was more angular in character with smoky, red berry, mulberry and blackberry notes. The mouthfeel was light, fruity and smooth. The Klein Redstone sealed with the cork was less smoky but with smoother and stronger fruity aromas. Tannins were softer and silkier too, being more integrated, rounded and developed as one might expect due to accelerated micro-oxidation via the cork.
As if not enough, Johann gave me the chance for another side-by-side comparison: between the Redstone of 2013 and 2014 vintages. The Redstone is more a food wine as it is made in a bolder and livelier more European style. Matured for 30 months in French oak barrels, the wines showed a richness of fruity blackberry, cassis and mulberry aromas. These were ‘big’ wines in flavour but with contrasting freshness, elegance and lightness of touch on the palate. Don’t confuse the lightness with lack of weight for these wines showed finesse by their deft acidity, great tannin structure and fabulous length. It was hard – even when pressed by Johann – to choose a favourite. The 2014 Redstone just shaded it for me due to a greater concentration of flavour and all-round balance.
The Reserve Redstone, the first Reserve wine to be made, was exciting too. The bouquet was elegant and refined. Soft tannins were smooth in texture to give great balance between fruit and tannin and alcohol concentration. Johann explained how he uses Revolution barrels – these are refurbished oak barrels that have the staves shaved – which allow micro-oxidation and ageing but impart little tannin. This gives elegance to the wine. A further sign of his commitment to excellence is that the wine is bottled in April but not released until the subsequent May/June to avoid ‘bottle shock’.
The last wine of the tasting was a magnificent Redstone, from 1.5 litre bottle, of the maiden 2010 vintage. The first signs of ageing, a slight garnet colour at the rim, showed for this classic Cabernet Sauvignon. The aromas were deliciously fresh yet subtle. The wine excelled on the palate with an elegance of smooth (not too grippy) integrated tannins that held onto a firm finish.
Not to be outdone by the wines, Johann made me a tasty lunch of fresh home-made al dente pasta with vibrant pesto sauce, served with ciabatta and mortadella. He had asked me when I made the tasting appointment if he could make me a small lunch but I did not expect this, in perfect setting with the vineyard below and False Bay in the distance. Is it any surprise that we love Italian food?
I reflected on the tasting experience as I chatted with Johann before leaving. The conversation as we talked about the market in China, about winemaking in South Africa, and wine itself was easy. I was fascinated to hear his opinions on fine wines and their style. ‘It is easy to make powerful wines’, he said. ‘Anyone can do that. I just need leave the grapes on the vine a month longer before harvesting’. The trick is to make an elegant wine which is much harder to achieve.
The Capelands wines certainly showed great finesse. The Burgundy style combines an intensity of aroma on the nose with a fresh elegance on the palate. I was particularly struck by Johann’s strength of purpose and determination to produce the best of fine wines. He has the knowledge and experience too to achieve his goals, for I have rarely seen anyone so focussed on their dream. Capelands showed too – as did Rainbow’s End Wine Estate in the Banghoek Valley to the East of Stellenbosch – that big is not always (if ever?) beautiful. Quality here trumps quantity and the big name vineyards surrounding for sure.
Capelands is a hidden gem. It will be a challenge to find a better one in 2018, though that will not stop me looking. Meanwhile, put Capelands on your tasting map. Pass by the Helderberg wine estates with the larger reputations and you will not be disappointed. I promise.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2017 Whitestone Sauvignon Blanc – R100
2017 Whitestone Chenin Blanc – R100
2017 Whitestone Chardonnay – N/A (tank sample)
2012 Klein Redstone (80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Malbec) – R150 – screw cap
2012 Klein Redstone (80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Malbec) – R150 – cork
2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Redstone – R300
2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Redstone – R300 FAVOURITE WINE
2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Redstone Reserve – R600
2010 Redstone (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec)(1.5l) – R1000