BEAUMONT FAMILY WINES
Monday 14 May 2018
The rampant lion on the Beaumont family crest is simple and distinctive. It makes for a memorable brand on the wine label that cries boldness and poise, an air of confidence too. The motto below is ‘Erectus non Elatus’ which literally translates as ‘exalted not elated’. For Beaumont it means ‘proud but not arrogant’ – such a beautifully balanced combination – that translates into all this Bot River winery does. I had tasted and enjoyed Beaumont wines before, I cannot remember when though likely at a wine festival, but never visited the vineyard. I was thrilled to be able to do so today, and just a 5 minute drive from Luddite where I started my first ever foray to taste the wines from Bot River.
The gate entrance showed the 1750 legacy of Compagnes Drift, the farm bought by Jayne and Raoul Beaumont in 1974. Wines had been made here before, in the 1940s, but faltered in the late-1960s. The vineyards lining the short, narrow drive were in their autumn colours in the bright sunshine, long since harvested. The road opened out as I parked and walked to the classic white-washed Overberg farm buildings with their black tin roofs. The rural and peaceful setting made for a relaxed start to my tasting.
My eyes took a moment to adjust as I entered the new Tasting Room that was modern yet elegant, blending form with function, with the maturation cellar alongside. I was met by oldest son and second Beaumont winemaker (since 2004) Sebastian. I knew I was in for a treat when he offered me a tank sample of unwooded Chenin Blanc from the recent harvest. Sebastian is known as the ‘Chenin Dude’ in the industry – perhaps a nod to his other passion of surfing – as Beaumont specialises in Chenin Blanc. It’s the largest variety of wines produced, some 60,000 bottles, with over half the production for export and mostly to Germany. The tank sample was from grapes from relatively young vines – under 20 years old – that were picked in early February. Cloudy and just 2 weeks from bottling, the ‘wine’ was fresh with green rather than tropical aromas and flavours, showing a distinct minerality picked up from the old concrete tanks it was fermented in. I could tell it will make a quality wine.
The 2017 vintage was excellent and at R98 a bottle too good a chance to miss. It was unusual for a Chenin Blanc being dry, clean and fresh, pale straw in colour, with aromas of fruity lemon citrus and refreshing lime, a distinct minerality, and high in natural acidity. I could understand a novice thinking it a Sauvignon Blanc, or it being thought so in a blind tasting, but the acidity was less bracing and better integrated to make for a fine wine.
The flagship Hope Marguerite, named after grandmother Hope Marguerite Beaumont, was even better. A consistent Platter 5-star winner, hence 3 times the price of the wine tasted previously from the same vintage, it is made from old bush vines and part naturally fermented in old barrels. It is later matured for 12 months in 20% new wood to add just the right amount of weight for perfect balance. The wine was the opposite style to the previous Chenin Blanc: with more classic rich, aromatic honeyed citrus, lemon, litchi and guava notes, together with a delicious subtle creaminess on the palate for a long, clean finish. I was surprised to see on the label, given the intensity, that the wine contained just 12.5% alcohol.
I was in for a further treat as Sebastian offered me a taste of (son) Leo’s Chenin Blanc that was not for public consumption. One barrel of the wine only is made, bottled in Magnums, and so rare indeed. This Chenin Blanc was richer and more intense still. Medium straw in colour, the tropical style showed from notes of nutty lemon, melon, and guava. The grapes are fermented in their skins to provide for wine with a full and inviting mouthfeel, creamy and with a prolonged finish.
Meanwhile, Sebastian explained a little more of the history of the farm. The historic 500 hectare property, originally established by the Dutch East India Company, grows pears, quince, almonds and olives. The farm is closer to the ocean than those in the Elgin Valley and the winds thus too harsh for apple growing. The vines were replanted by his parents in the 1970s with wines produced under the Beaumont family label since the early 1990s. Mother Jayne still lives and works on the farm and makes artisanal Pinot Noir. The 31 hectares of vines grown on the slopes include Chenin Blanc, Pinotage, Mourvèdre and Shiraz.
The red wines were served as a single flight which is an uncommon experience for a vineyard tasting. I sampled first the Pinotage, made from 44 year old vines. Unsurprisingly, given the excellent Chenins Blanc, it was one of the better ones I have tasted. There are few Pinotage I truly like but I enjoyed the full and ripe (yet still fresh) intensity of complex red cherry, mulberry and red plum aromas on the nose, with hints of white peppercorn spiciness. Tight tannins, not too bitter, came to the fore on the palate to balance the fruitiness for a lengthy finish.
The Dangerfield Syrah was a deep ruby purple colour due to extra skin contact. The wine showed medium complexity and moderate intensity of cassis and dark berry notes together with the slight perfumed violet aromas that give clue to cool climate Syrahs. The fruit-driven character followed through to the palate. It was lighter and smoother than I expected, more Rhône in style, with elegance and finesse. Mourvèdre is a favourite minor cultivar (barely 0.5% of vineyard area in South Africa) and a component of many a Southern Rhône blend. It is a grape big in body, flavour, tannin, acidity and alcohol and well adapted to the summer droughts in Southern France. Big the grape variety may be but Beaumont managed to bring elegance and refinement, carefully taming the high acidity and tannins, for a slightly spicy earthy red/black berry and currant wine with good intensity and balance.
The final red wine, a flagship red blend called Vitruvian and named after the 200-year old water mill on the farm (one of the oldest working mills in South Africa and still used to grind wheat into flour). Mourvèdre is the lead cultivar but in much smaller proportion (40%) than many a majority blend variety. The trick of blending is to make a wine that is greater than the sum of its parts. Complexity of aroma usually tells me whether the trick has successfully been pulled off. Does the nose show a lively complexity from all the different grape varieties? Or merely red fruits or dark fruits or even just fruits? The Vitruvian well passed the test as I detected dark ripe fruits of black plum, mulberry and red plum together with sweeter notes of banana and redcurrant. There were hints of white peppercorn spiciness and herbaceous fynbos too. The palate matched the nose being well balanced with a fine follow through and with integrated tannins.
My tasting was near complete but not yet over. I ended with 2 excellent dessert wines. The first, a Noble Late Harvest made from Chenin Blanc, was as refined and delicate as many of the red wines. This is no easy task for Noble Late wine and the ‘deliberately’ lighter style – as Sebastian explained – gave a poise and balance that I rarely experience. That is not to say that the refreshing flavours of apricot, raisin, dried orange and cinnamon were weak. Far from it, for they were subtle and restrained, delicate yet clean to make a wonderful wine.
I finished with the non-vintage Cape ‘Port’ that was cheekily called Starboard. The unique Port style wine is non-vintage because it is a blend of 5 vintages (2005/7/8/9/11). It is a 5-star Platter winner too as well as holder of the inaugural Platter ‘Fortified Wine of the Year’. ‘Never produced before and probably never again’, Sebastian told me as he explained how the 5 barrels of wine is a foot-stomped blend of Tinta Barocca and Pinotage – the most unusual of bedfellows – with grape spirit from an Elgin distillery to bring the alcohol level to 18.5%. The nose showed the warming effect of the raised alcohol with aromas of blackcurrant and cassis, dried fruits and nuts. The Starboard was fruity and rich, smooth and elegant, on the palate. I had no hesitation to buy a bottle.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to taste Beaumont Family Wines. It is always a privilege to sample wines with the winemaker and a rare treat, even more so when not pre-arranged. There was not a bad wine in sight as all were superbly made. I could have bought each one – the Chenins Blanc showing great individuality, the red wines showing their cultivar expressions to the full, the dessert wines rare power with elegance (think Capelands Wine Farm in the Helderberg). The Platter’s plaudits came as no surprise – there’s more red than black ink on the Beaumont page – with a superlative three 5-star awards and many wines rated at 4½ stars too.
I have no hesitation in awarding a Cape Wine Lover’s Society perfect pairing of 5/5 for the tasting experience and 5/5 for the wines. Beaumont is added to a short list of vineyards whose wine I would readily buy without prior tasting, and knowing that I will enjoy. The wines do not come cheap but then quality rarely does. I sensed on leaving that the maverick and the adventurous was tempered by a healthy respect for traditional, artisanal winemaking too. There’s obvious passion yes but a charm too from simplicity. Beaumont shows that it is not simply getting the winemaking basics right but getting the right basics better. It’s a rare and winning combination. High 5’s all round indeed!
Wines tasted (bought *):
2018 Unwooded Chenin Blanc – tank sample
2017 Chenin Blanc – R97*
2017 Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc – R290
2011 Leo Chenin Blanc (Magnum) – not for sale FAVOURITE WINE
2015 Pinotage – R175
2014 Dangerfield Syrah – R195
2014 Mourvèdre – R270
2014 Vitruvian (40% Mourvèdre, 20% Pinotage, 20% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec) – R385
2016 Gouette d’Or Chenin Blanc Noble Late Harvest (375ml) – R185
NV Starboard Cape Port (375ml) – R155*