Ghostly Clouds Swirl at Spookfontein
Thursday 4 April 2019
My last tasting of the day was my first trip down the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, having worked my way up from Bartho Eksteen to Newton Johnson to Domaine des Dieux. The entrance led to a long, curving, sandy road past tall pines and fynbos to start but then fynbos and vines. The swirling, low clouds that had obscured the best views all day remained – perhaps a nod to the ‘spooks’ or ‘ghosts’ of the Dutch name of the estate. It gave a drab and rather stern approach to the natural stone Tasting Building that, with its large sliding front doors, could have been a large farm barn or industrial workshop. I am sure that architect D J Carr would disagree albeit the contrast on entering was impressive. The Restaurant-come-Tasting Room was open plan, indoor-to-outdoor light, airy and spacious. Every surface was curved, or rather swirled, to fit into the ‘spook’ theme. Large glass windows opened onto magnificent views down the valley, whether from dining table or relaxed tasting seating.
Nicole was my attentive tasting host as I selected 4 of the 9 available wines on the menu for tasting (R35, waived on bottle purchase over R100). I began with the only white on the list which was made from the only grapes not grown on the 313 hectare farm (14 hectares under vine). The very pale straw wine showed gooseberry, pineapple, mango and green pepper spicy aromas on the nose with a purity that made it almost New Zealand in style. The tropical fruits were more developed on the palate that was clean and crisp but with only a moderate finish.
The Pinot Noir had a similar shyness, light style and short finish, being matured for 15 months in 2nd fill oak. It was medium bodied with little depth and flavours of smoky cherry and leather. Firm acidity helped strengthen the light mouthfeel. Cabernet Franc is also grown on at Spookfontein – together with Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon – and was my next choice of wine. It was unusual in that meaty aromas and liquorice spiciness overpowered the fruits of redcurrant and cranberry. Braai smokiness followed through to the palate with cherry flavours with those of green olives emerging for a green style. Tight tannins gave grip from 14 months in 40% new and 60% 2nd/3rd fill oak barrels.
Spookfontein dates back to 1847 and was purchased by nature lover Mike Davis, founder of Ocean Eyewear and Dragon Sports, as a retreat for lazy family weekends. The first vintage was made in 2005 and the Tasting Room opened in December 2013. There are 2 self-catering cottages that sleep up to 4 guests as well as the Restaurant.
I ended with the Merlot-led Bordeaux-style blend, the Phantom, which was my favourite wine of the tasting. The wine showed the characteristic house smoky style with a good mix of cherry, cassis, currant and berry fruits beneath on the nose. Each cultivar contributed their own fruit flavours to the oaky palate with closed, drying tannins and a high acidity.
Spookfontein did the basics well and without fuss. The new wine labels with their ‘spook’ swirl in different colours for the cultivar are elegant and striking. No doubt there are better Sauvignons Blanc, Pinots Noir and Cabernets in the Valley but not with the same tight, green and smoky style. I would like to return to sample the Restaurant fare or even stay in one of the cottages, if only to experience the superb views without the swirling ghostly clouds below …
Wines tasted (bought *):
2017 Sauvignon Blanc – R98
2016 Pinot Noir – R195
2016 Cabernet Franc – R135
2017 Phantom (50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon) – R145 FAVOURITE WINE