Elegantly Elgin wine tasting

As many of you will know, Etienne and I bought a 90Ha Elgin apple farm in mid 2005. We had been looking for the right cool climate vineyard for some time and had looked at many Elgin farms by then. The farm is located in the south-western corner of Elgin, high above sea level and close to False Bay (7.5 miles west) as well as Walker Bay (9 miles south).

The farm had 60Ha of old apple orchards and was quite rundown. But, it had a fantastic location along a high ridge, with slopes dropping down to the Palmiet River and the Kogelberg hydroelectric dam. The most important factor in the decision making process was the soil types found on the farm.

The two distinct soil types on the farm are Bokkeveldt shale and Table Mountain Sandstone (TBS) with a significant quartz component. The white quartz on the TBS soils are clearly visible around the dam in the Google Earth image above.

We renamed the farm Casey’s Ridge and started the redevelopment process immediately. The orchards were removed, nearly 16 Ha of vineyards were planted in the first year and long term  leases were established with Vrede en Lust and Rupert de Rothschild. Today Casey’s Ridge total vineyards cover more than 50Ha with about 30Ha in production. The vineyards should all be in full production by 2016.

We loved the TBS as it is a very lean, well drained soil that helps to produce high quality fruit by tempering the high growth character of Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz. Wine quality goes up when the vines have to work so much harder.

The large water body next to and above the TBS soils helps to moderate the climate and ensure cooler daytime temperatures during the ripening period.

We have also planted 2Ha Pinot Noir and 2Ha Riesling in the TBS, with a further 2Ha set aside for Grenache next year.

The shale occurs along the ridge at the top and on the warmer, north facing slopes, whilst the TBS is found along the Kogelberg hydroelectric dam and Palmiet River. The soils are ancient, deep and well drained.

The shale soils have gravel content of around 70%, which is really exceptional. Prior to planting, the soil test holes went down 3m without finding any clay! The deep, well drained soils are perfect for the likes of Chenin Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay and a selection of the Bordeaux red grapes.

In addition to small blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, we also planted our first block of Cabernet Franc in the shale soils in 2007. We should see it first harvest in 2012.

We have added 2Ha of Pinot Noir and 2Ha of Riesling to the shale slopes this year. We hope the combination of fruit from 2 very different types of soil, will add to the complexity of the resultant wines.

Getting the vines into production has taken at least 2 years longer than it would take on the warmer Simonsberg-Paarl vineyards at Vrede en Lust. The vineyard development process has been more expensive and time consuming than originally estimated, but the slow development stems from the cooler climate and leaner soils. The quality will hopefully make up for the wait!

In 2010 we upgraded our winery at Vrede en Lust so that we could better handle the grapes we truck in from our Elgin vineyards. It did not make much sense to build a smaller winery on Casey’s Ridge given the distance, plus the cost the cost and complexity of zoning requirements. We now have a top class dedicated white wine production facility that works well and that has added a lot of value to our overall facility.

Our commitment to Elgin runs deep and the more we learn there, the more excited we are about the future of our Elgin wines. At present we produce a Sauvignon Blanc and a Viognier from Casey’s Ridge, along with the Barrique, a more serious Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc barrel fermented white blend. We also produced a small run of Elgin Pinot Grigio. In 2010 we made a low volume Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay/Viognier blend from our Elgin grapes under the Artisan Range label, which is exclusively to our Wine Club members.

The 2011 harvest was a more substantial, mature harvest, which gave Susan and Ansone the opportunity to play around with some new blends from our Elgin whites. The blend we all loved from the start, will be released in November as the maiden vintage of the Vrede en Lust White Mischief. The 2011 White Mischief is made from five different white cultivars and we really look forward to public reaction to the wine. There is also a very beautiful shiraz maturing in our cellar at present, due for release in a year or two.

As a member of the Elgin Wine Guild, we are participating in the upcoming ‘Elegantly Elgin’ wine tasting on the 21st of October at the Newlands Sun hotel in Cape Town. Our winemaker, Susan Erasmus, will be there to personally show her Elgin babies!

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