To paraphrase a French vigneron, the wine industry is not that hard, it’s just the first 200 years that are tricky. The thing is a grape picked from a vine wants to ferment into wine. It’s pretty spontaneous, with ambient yeasts ready to do the work. From here, winemakers can add less or more nuance to the process – and as you know, most of them add quite a bit, even when they say they are “non-interventionary” in their approach.
If you grow your own vines, it takes three to four years to get your first good wine-making crop. But it is only once the wine is made that the hard work begins of marketing and selling your wine in a very crowded shelf space. Getting your wines embedded is very rarely a quick process, it usually takes many years of “shoe leather” and building relationships to solidify a wine brand in the market.
So, you can very quickly conclude that winemaking is the work of a lifetime – and to be durable – the work of generations. In the Cape we have a number of these winemaking families that span generations, some up to eight or nine. One such winery that I recently visited is a project by Daniel de Waal, from the De Waal family of Stellenboschkloof.
It is called Super Single Vineyards, the name comes from their project of making wines from unique vineyard sites, not only in the Stellenboschkloof but also in the Swartland and – amazingly – vineyards outside Sutherland in the Great Karoo. These vines are on the extreme edge of viticulture, grown at 1,500m (about the elevation of Denver, Colorado) above sea level, and many winters the frost is just too intense for vines, which much prefer the moderate Mediterranean climate.
But when the “stars align” the Syrah made from these Sutherland vines is unique and very satisfying. This block used to be farmed by Super Single Vineyards and the 2018 is currently available in-store. It is brimming with inky spice notes on top of an intense purity of fruit. The custodian of this unique block is now Johan Kruger, and his first release of the Sutherland Syrah is the 2022, which will be in-store soon.
It is a remarkable wine, dark and deep in the most alluring way, and certain to age beautifully. If you are at all interested in the avant-garde of the Cape wine regions, it’s a wine to try. Next year Johan Kruger will also be releasing a Chardonnay from this vineyard – I, for one, really look forward to this.
Another vital component of multiple generations in wine is the farmer who grows the vines – for this farmer may not actually make wine but needs to believe in the crop as a viable product. Clearly, the main driver of belief is commercial, the price per ton, but there is a strong cultural component too. When great wine is a product made from your fruit, this carries its own value, a sense of pride and likely also prestige. Hard to get this from apples.