SUPER SINGLE VINEYARDS – PELLA & MOUNT SUTHERLAND WINES
Thursday 27 June 2019
It is rare for me to find a wine estate I had not heard about before but Super Single Vineyards, the natural home of Mount Sutherland and Pella wines, was one. I have usually read about, seen on a map or sampled wines at a festival or annual competition tasting. But Super Single Vineyards, nothing. The name even was tantalisingly cryptic let alone that I had passed the winery many times before en route to nearby De Morgenzon, Jordan and a good friend at Sanddrift Guest House within the Stellenbosch Kloof on the ‘ou Kaapse hardepad’ (Afrikaans for the old Cape hard road).
The narrow entrance led down a sandy road over a rise and to a small parking area besides a white painted building with large old trees towering over. I was greeted by the aromatic scent of lavender as I opened the car door. There were no vineyards to be seen but instead low, soft mounded rows of lavender bushes with their purple spiked flowers. Canettevallei Lavender is the other side to the wine business. The bushes were planted in 2005 following a holiday to Provence in the South of France and used to make a range of products, including essential oils, dried sachets and bags, soaps, traditional Moskonfyt syrup, honey and fresh flowers.
I digress as I was super excited to see and taste the wines. Owner and winemaker Daniël de Waal met me in the small, comfortable Tasting Room in the converted outbuilding that also houses the boutique cellar. He explained that trips to Europe led to an interest in wines from Continental climates that contrast so much from the ever present Maritime and Mediterranean climates of the Western Cape. The Super Single Vineyards wines thus fall into 2 distinct ranges: the Pella Coastal brand and the Mount Sutherland Wines. Common to both collections is the search for exceptional single vineyards with perfect balance between cultivar, bush versus trellised vines, vine age, the right slope, soil depth and clay content, microclimate and other terroir elements.
Consequently, the Pella range – Pella means ‘place of gathering’ to signify the equilibrium between terroir and wine – contains a wide range of small batches of single variety wines from very specific, diverse locations that are made using common and less common grapes. The small quantities, ranging mostly from 400 to 900 bottles, meant that not all wines understandably were available for tasting or with bottle purchase limited to 1 bottle per person.
I began with the only white wine of the tasting, the Kanniedood Chenin Blanc from the Swartland. The ‘can’t die’ or ‘die hard’ Afrikaans name is well suited to the old dryland bush vines that yield only 2.5 tonnes of grapes per hectare. The shiny, medium straw coloured wine had delicate but intense aromas of fruity lemon, lime, pineapple and melon with white honey. The follow through was good for a fresh palate with a bright acidity and a creamy texture from malolactic fermentation, monthly lees stirring, and 12 months maturation in French and Hungarian oak.
Next was a Cinsaut, also from dryland, Swartland bush vines, that were grown on sandy, shale and clay soils on East-facing slopes. I had recently drunk a bottle of Bellevue Cinsaut but this was very different. Full bodied and deep ruby red in appearance, this wine was far from a low acidity, spicy Pinot Noir in character. Heavily extracted aromas (whole bunch fermented) of dark as well as red cherry, cranberry, blueberry, raspberry, cassis and white spice well balanced the emerging cedar and oak flavours on the palate, that was lighter than expected from the full bodied appearance.
The Verlatenkloof ‘desolate pass/valley’ Merlot was similarly interesting. I cannot recall having heard of non-irrigated Merlot bush vines before and these were some of the oldest in the country (planted in 1982) for highly concentrated fruits. The wine was unusual in having a green, almost minty character that complemented the pronounced red berry and currant fruits on the nose. The wine was powerful on the palate with plenty of fruity flavour (noting the stellar 2015 vintage) and rich mouthfeel and long finish.
Conversation with Daniël was easy as he explained the thinking and practice behind the making of each wine, together with the obvious temptation to experiment. The Merlot was styled on those from St-Émilion following time spent to study winemaking at Château Angélus. The last wine I tasted from the Pella Range was the Oukliprant Malbec from vines grown on an ‘old stone ridge’ in Stellenbosch in vineyards riddled with old Acheulean hand axes and stone artefacts. The cool climate and deep, weathered granitic soils make for a low yield (4 tonnes per hectare) and a full-bodied wine with a classic blue-purple colour. Intense red and dark plum, cherry and currant notes mingled with those of toast and cedar on the nose, aided by 15 months maturation in French oak that balanced well on the palate. This was another excellent wine and one for drinking with food.
The only wine available for tasting from the Mount Sutherland wine range was the Syrah that likewise was unusual and interesting. The Sutherland project is a fascinating story in itself as Daniël searched for a cool continental terroir. Vines were first planted in 2004 on a sheep farm at the foot of Sneeuberg near Sutherland in the arid Karoo. The farm is 350 kilometres from the ocean and 1,500 metres above sea level to make it the highest and coldest wine region in Africa, higher even than Cederberg Wines and Abingdon Wines (KZN Midlands) at 1,063 and 1,140 metres above sea level, respectively. Spring frosts risk damaging the young vine shoots (the first harvest was lost to frost) whilst the high altitude, high winds and clear skies keep temperatures below 32°C in daytime with significant diurnal variation (to as low as 5°C at night). The remoteness, dry conditions – snow melt water is plentiful from the Sneeuberg Mountain – and low winter temperatures mean there are no diseases and hence no need for pesticide or insecticide. I was surprised when Daniël compared the climate to that of the Rhône but interested to hear of his belief that the region is well suited to the famous continental European varieties. Small plantings of Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay have followed the initial plantings of Syrah.
The Syrah was my favourite wine of the tasting and quite different to any other South African Syrah or Shiraz I have tasted. Yielding just 3 tonnes per hectare from deep volcanic soils, the wine showed unusual smoky, graphite aromas and flavours to complement those of black plum, dark cherry and spicy, white pepper. The wine was very dry on the palate with a good balance between fruits and tannins. Youthful now (2016 vintage), it will age well.
I thoroughly enjoyed my tasting of Super Single Vineyards wines with Daniël. Other winemakers make small batches of reserve or limited release wines from their best grapes as part of their wider collection but I cannot think of another winery whose entire production is based on small quantities of such a wide range of varieties. It makes for a garagiste approach but at a very different level to that of small-scale Sonklip, established Bemind Wyne, value-for-money volume Leopard’s Leap, global brand Kumala wines at Flagstone, or even blend-specialist Paserene, all of whom buy in all their grapes. I particularly liked the detailed notes on each wine label as well as the level of information given on the website (akin to that of Jordan wines a few hundred metres away where I had tasted beforehand). The R80 tasting fee, which was waived on bottle purchase compared well with that of Spier (R90), my first tasting of the day, and like the wines offered excellent value for money. I shall certainly enjoy the wines I bought (I could have bought far more – I bought a rare wooded Riesling too that was not for tasting) and shall visit again. Meanwhile, I shall watch the Mount Sutherland project with much interest.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2017 Pella Kanniedood Chenin Blanc – R160*
2014 Mount Sutherland Barrel Fermented Riesling – R220* (not tasted)
2015 Pella Cinsault – R160*
2015 Pella Verlatenkloof Merlot – R220
2014 Pella Oukliprant Malbec – R190
2016 Mount Sutherland Syrah – R280* FAVOURITE WINE