Tag Archives: cabernet sauvignon

The Springfield Summer Games:

Where winemaking is an adrenaline sport

“So there I was in the helicopter, while Abrie was running around below with a thermometer finding patches of the vineyard where the air was below zero. All we needed to do was find the temperature inversion, fly the chopper in low enough, and then whip up the freezing air, mixing it with warmer air.”

And apparently that’s just how one deals with black frost in Robertson.

Mad max and Coca-cola

I had been chatting to Jeanette Bruwer, co-owner of Springfield Estate, and brother to winemaker Abrie Bruwer at one of the tastings of Springfield’s “Lost Vintage” release; the Methode Ancienne 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon, and we’d gotten to chatting about the perils that await anyone who would try their hand at vinegrowing by day and frost fighting by night.

“Well, we don’t always do it that way,” responded Jeanette with Wind in the Willows-worthy wistfulness. “But Abrie has built us a big metal contraption that looks like something out of Mad Max, with flames and fans up at the top, that one can drive through the vineyards…”

She perked up again at the thought.

“It’s important to build fun into your work,” she continued. I don’t want to be making wine like they make coca-cola; picking grapes, adding yeast, putting it into a bottle. Again and again and again. Who wants to do that?! You must keep the fun in there. That was why we dropped those bottles into the ocean. That, and to give us another excuse to go fishing.”

But before learning about how Jeanette and her brother dropped 600 bottles of wine into the ocean, and then spent 3 and a half years trying to find them again, perhaps you deserve a little backstory:

“When I was a young warhog…”

NINETEEN ninety seven was beautifully cool vintage in Robertson; ideal for producing incredible grapes, and therefore superlative wines. There is the common misconception that it’s tough to produce great wine in Robertson because of the heat, but the reality is that the nights are incredibly cold, allowing nocturnal respite for the vines.
“Back then you had to be a really shitty winemaker not to make something incredible,” continued Jeannette. “Not like 2015; that was a very tough year.”

The question I was wondering was, “if 1997 was such a great year, why on earth would you have to wait two decades for this guy to be ready to sing?” It certainly doesn’t improve your cash flow to have to wait 20 years before seeing a return on your investment…So, as Austin Powers is fond of asking, “What does it all mean, Basil?!”

Native yeast: how to have less cowbell in your wine

“So here is the thing,” answered Jeanette, “We really love to drink, but we hate getting drunk, so we decided the obvious solution was to make lower alcohol wines. The shift to native yeast (over inoculated yeast) was an obvious way to do this.
“When using natural yeast, you need more sugar to create 1% alcohol than you would need with cultivated yeast. With natural yeast, you have a much longer fermentation (five days can become seven weeks!) and so the longer period of time means that more volatile alcohol evaporates. The end result; lower ABV.”

“But,” Jeanette continued (with what turned out to be a twenty-year-long “but”), “the skins are in contact with the juice for all that time. Take into account that we still crushed the grapes in those days, and add the fact that we used all new oak barrels and you have one helluva blockbuster wine. In the worst sense possible.”

It was like the Mars Volta of wine; massive, complex, layered, masterful, unbearable…and almost certainly contraindicated for anyone with a pacemaker. Proof that sometimes you can have too much awesomeness.

In the Drink

So, with the Springfield team unwilling to release the wine, and loathed to turf it, most winemakers would have resigned themselves to the long wait. But as we have seen thus far, life at the Bruwer house is hardly an episode of Leave it to Beaver. Hell, if anything, it’s more like the opening credits to Danger Bay.

Having read about the possibility of a lengthy ocean dip speeding up the aging process, the Springfield team decided to continue the Danger Bay theme by welding together some metal cages, filling them with 600 bottles of the yet-to-be-lost vintage, and then sinking them to the bottom of the ocean.

“It should be added at this point that large sharks are not uncommon in Struisbaai, and strong currents are a regular affair”

“We waited for the stormiest day, because we didn’t want anyone else out there seeing what we were doing,” continued Jeanette. “We were all ready to dump the bottles – it was 1999, by the way. We had just got a fancy new GPS, and Abrie turned to me and asked, ‘where’s the pen?’ As if we always carried pens with us when we went out fishing in the middle of the storm! Obviously, I didn’t have one, so there was Abrie desperately carving the co-ordinates into the side of the boat with his knife.
Then, with almost Old Testament storytelling aplomb, she paused to add, “They are still there to this day.”
“By the time he was done, we had drifted terribly, of course, so, when we started looking for the cages six months later, they were nowhere to be found.”

It should be added at this point that large sharks are not uncommon in Struisbaai, and strong currents are a regular affair, which goes someway to explaining why the immediate search was not more thorough. But as fortune would have it, three and a half years later, on a New Year’s Day, while the family was out on a leisure cruise, that the metal cages just happened to be poking out from behind a rocky crag!

“Caloo Callay,” chortled winelovers in their joy. The prodigal vintage that was lost, and had now been found! It was Nemo, Lassie, and Free Willy all rolled into one joyous aquatic frollick…

But sadly that all went down in 2003, and as history has shown, the wines that emerged from Davy Jones’s cellar were far from ready.
“The whole adventure had sped up the aging process by about five or six years, but they still weren’t ready.  Funnily enough, now [in 2017], those 600 bottles are ready to be drunk, whereas the rest of the 1997 vintage will still continue to improve until 2020 at least. The idea was to use all those things that could ordinarily ruin a wine…movement, UV light, a slightly elevated temperature…and I guess it worked.”

“But, but, but….aren’t you going to sell those wines that you sunk?” I asked, desperately curious to know if I would be able to taste the sea spray, or pick up subtle complications of barnacle and Great White.

“But why?” retorted Jeanette. “It’ll be much more fun to drink them all on the farm!”

Fair deuce.

I want it all, and I want it now

For winelovers looking to do more than imbibe a good story, you can order your “Lost Vintage” Methode Ancienne 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Springfield website for R700.00, or make the drive out to Robertson and pay them a visit in person. You might even get to taste Captain Ahab’s share of that fateful batch…

Here’s my full review on the Springfield Methode Ancienne 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon.








Private Vintners Beyers Truter Bordeaux Blend Cabernet Merlot 2000

The Headlines: //

The nose is gargantuan. Like the nasal love child of Andre-the-Giant & Bette Midler. Pungent dried violets, raisins, oak, & cellar must.
On the palate, marginally overbearing port notes, though the acidity has lasted surprisingly well. As for tannins…well, what tannins, right? Soft as silk.
While the wine itself may be a touch past its best, Beyers Truter, when he is “a touch past his best” is still twice the winemaker of many a mortal. And his wines follow suit. If you have some cellared, drink them now.

Quality: 15/20 (purely due to over-aging)//
Price: Unknown //
Value: N/A //
Ponce factor: High//
Occasion: Dinner with your Grandpaps//
Key words: aging, tannins, acidity, Beyers Truter//
Vivino rating //

To fill those awkward silences…

T.A.R.A – the four secret ingredients to wines that age well

Because there is nothing like an ironic acronym to help one remember important details, I’ve developed what I like to call the TARA technique to assessing a wine’s aging potential. It involves the study of the following four elements:
Residual Sugar.

(If the irony of TARA being used as an acronym to unlock the secrets of graceful aging is lost on you, download the season of Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars).

In the matter of Science vs. Booze…

But why do we need an acronym? Can’t we just check the wine’s “Best Before” date? Alas, no. Because, despite the fact that wine has been drunk for thousands of years by hundreds of very clever, curious, well-funded and highly-motivated individuals, no one has discovered a sure-fire way to predict exactly how long a wine will take to reach its peak. Or reduce itself to vinegar.

“If wine was a poor inner-city neighbourhood, oxygen molecules would be juvenile delinquents looking to break stuff…”

Perhaps part of the reason is because, while it might be possible to punch variables into a complex algebraic equation and decipher a best-before date, it’s more enjoyable to punch a hole in a cork and decipher the location of your nearest glass. So no one really bothers.

Which brings us back to T.A.R.A.

By examining the prevalence of tannins, acidity, residual sugar, and alcohol in a wine, we can at least make snappy-but-educated guesses as to how long a wine may continue to improve…or at least survive. (This info is almost always available under “technical specs” on the winemaker or estate website).

If wine was a poor inner-city neighbourhood, oxygen molecules would be juvenile delinquents looking to break stuff, and tannins would be those selfless social workers, who keep them out of mischief by teaching them to knit, or play badminton.

Tannins form part of a group of compounds called polyphenols that bond to a whole bunch of other chemicals in weird and wonderful ways. One of the chemicals they like to bond to is oxygen. These delinquent oxygen molecules would otherwise set about wreaking havoc with certain elements in the wine, but INSTEAD, the oxygen hangs out with these phenolic compounds and can, given the right opportunities and a good education, actually become healthy citizens, who contribute to society.

While tannins may busy themselves with both each other, and youthful, anarchic oxygen molecules, acidity’s trump card is its ability to make life awfully unpleasant for any bacteria that may cause wine to spoil prematurely.

If tannins are social workers, Acidity is Simon Cowell on X-Factor destroying the self-esteem of young hopeful bacteria everywhere. It does this by shifting the pH of the solution down the scale to a point where bacteria cannot survive.
“In general, a wine should have a pH of somewhere between 3 and 4 to be stable and not allow bacteria to grow and thrive,” Max Meindl, all-round organic chemistry biscuit, and superbly knowledgeable founder of Max on Wine.

If bacteria are high schoolers on prom night, sugar is the semi-palsied history teacher monitoring the distance between adolescent bodies on the dance floor. “Always leave room for the Holy Ghost”, says Professor Sugar, totally cutting the grass of every bacterium looking to get a legover before Jocund Day can stand tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.
There are various mechanisms by which sugar creates highly unromantic settings for would-be bonking bacteria (they don’t actually bonk), but the only mechanism I’d suggest further reading on at present is that of water activity.
If you want to learn more about how sugar reduces water activity, and therefore stops bacteria from having a right old time, this is as good a link as any to start you off. And here is piece from admirably conscientious Royal Coffee on role of WA in green coffee beans. In case you were looking to branch out.

While the aim of this piece has been to avoid getting technical, I just think it’s cool the way that alcohol deals with bacteria. Alcohol acts like the blob from the 80s horror film “The Blob”. It dissolves lipids in a bacteria’s outer membranes, and then, when the poor little critter starts to bleed out like a doomed high school cheerleader in the back of jalopy, the alcohol rushes into the cell and starts denaturing proteins. Meditate on that one when you’re next hungover, and you’ll realise, “heck, I got off pretty darn lightly with nausea and a headache!”




Kleine Zalze Barrel Fermented Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

The Headlines: //

Like an emotional weightlifter – solid legs, followed by thick tears that run for days.
Colour is a medium intensity deep ruby hue, with medium+ viscosity.
Lovely open nose of pencil shavings, eucalyptus, and a hint of sweet plum.
On the palate, cassis and black cherries, with moderate acidity and pleasantly grippy tannins. I’m sure this will soften further with time, but I wouldn’t wait past 2018.

 Price: R120 (as of Sept 2016) //
Quality: 16/20//
Value: 3/5 //
Ponce factor: Moderate //
Occasion: Friday Dinner //
Key words: Consistency//

Vivino rating //

To fill those awkward silences…

Kleine Zalze is on fire right now

So you are struggling to maintain dinner guest interest with your passionate monologues on US politics? Why not try something a little closer to home; like how the combination of winemaker Kobus Basson and Kleine Zalze are a powerhouse combination to watch. Just have a gander at the little pretties they have produced over the last few years:
– a Platter 5-Star rating for their 2012 Barrel-Fermented Cabernet Sauvignon (R120.00),
– Chardonnay-du-Monde Top10  spot for their Vineyard Selection Wooded Chardonnay (R80.00),
– a Concours Mondiale Bruxelles Gold Medal for their 2015 Unwooded Chardonnay (R47.00)
– TWO Top10 spots in the Standard Bank Chenin Blanc competition (their Vineyard Select Chenin retails for about R80.00)

The list actually goes on for a lot longer, but what I wanted to focus on was the prices. If you look at the wines listed, none of them go over R120 per bottle, which is worth noting (as many of our 5-Star Platter wines and Chardonnay-du-Monde winners retail for between R250 and R450.00).

While it is kinda boring to faun like a schoolgirl at a Bieber concert, I do want to laud Kleine Zalze for their ability, not only to produce consistently great wines across a wide range of red and white varieties, but to deliver value to the customer, despite opportunities to sell wines for triple the price in foreign markets.

To be fair, that though was only marginally more than US politics. I apologise for over promising and under-performing.

To try and make up for that, and hopefully this will salvage your reputation as a conversationalist, I will leave you with one last Cab Sauv Moderately Fun Fact.

While Cabernet Sauvignon feels like a Big Daddy of a wine that will knock the socks of an unsuspecting winedrinker, it is actually the fortuitous little baby lovechild of a passionate night in the vineyards between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.

Which I guess makes it all the more suprising to see how the wee lad turned out. When you have light, dry, minimalist mother, and a rather effeminate and perfumey dad, the apple could hardly have fallen further from the tree.