History and heritage characterise Chenin Blanc category at 2013 Nederburg Auction

June 11th, 2013 by karen

Beaumont Hope Marguerite09_lr

Press Release

Wine connoisseurs have to thank sentiment for the preservation of some special old vines resulting in a flight of extraordinary South African Chenin blancs on sale at the Nederburg Auction this ye

This follows the excellent showing of Chenins submitted to the 2013 Nederburg Auction, with almost the entire flight eliciting unanimous praise from the panel of local and international judges – wines made from rare vines that until a few years ago faced imminent destruction.

Of the 12 wines submitted, an unprecedented 83% were passed, an unusually high percentage when compared to the Auction’s overall 41% acceptance rate – the latter rate far more typical of a rare wine auction.

But the judges’ high praise of this extraordinary flight of whites is not unexpected, given the wealth of history and priceless heritage associated with the ten Chenins on auction.

Digging into the history of these wines in many cases reveals a story that in some cases almost reads like fiction – a singular viticultural lineage directly underlying the intense and complex flavours that earned the nod from the 2013 judges.

The Bosman Optenhorst Chenin Blanc 2009, for instance, is made exclusively from one of the very oldest chenin vines in South Africa; one that was literally spared execution by winemaker Corlea Fourie a number of years back.

This bush vine, planted at the Bosman’s Wellington estate in 1952, was destined for removal due to too low a yield for the cooperative wine production system when Fourie decided to give it one more chance. But this time, she says, she intended producing the wine herself – and was rewarded with the slower sugar accumulation of a distressed vine that had to dig deep to overcome the ravages of poor soil preparation and leaf roll virus infestations prevalent at the time.

“The poet in me says that something that suffered that much must emerge more pure. It’s a romantic view, I know, but the minimalist cultivation of those times – allowing nature to take its slow pace – gave us a natural fermentation and a wonderfully elegant structure that resulted in the Optenhorst.” It’s an honest wine, she says, one that saved the vine and now takes pride of place at the estate.

Stellenbosch dentist turned Chenin blanc activist Tertius Boshoff confirms that the lower yields of older vines work in the winemaker’s favour. His Nederburg Auction contribution, a Stellenrust Chenin 45 from 2009, is made exclusively from a treasured, low producing single vineyard planted in 1964.

He says the lower the yield, the lower the stress on the vine, resulting in better acid levels and more mature ripening of the fruit. This suits the winemaker, which is why Stellenrust decided seven years ago to preserve its older vineyards – and was rewarded with a high-scoring wine on auction this year. “It does not always make financial sense to retain older vines, but in hindsight, the value that the older vines add to your brand is immeasurable,” he says.

The average age of the vines used for producing the Raats Family Old Vine Chenin is 50 years, says winemaker Bruwer Raats. Two Chenins, a 2008 and 2009, will be sold at the Nederburg Auction this year – wines Raats says benefited not only from the age of the vineyards but also from grapes obtained from one very specific soil type situated close enough to the coast to ensure a cool growing period. These factors are responsible for the high natural acidity and low pH in the wine, which meant that the grapes could be harvested at a lower sugar level with high acidity, at full ripeness, he says.

The award-winning 2005 Welbedacht Chenin Blanc on auction this year comes from a single 40-year-old bush vine block that still produces some of the most intense flavours from all blocks on the estate, says Welbedacht winemaker Tiaan Burger. “We don’t get the best yield, only three tons per hectare, but will never pull out this almost heritage block because of the intense fruit flavours that we get from it.”

Both De Morgenzon’s Auction submissions, a 2005 and 2007 Chenin, are from a single vineyard block planted in 1971. Winemaker Carl van der Merwe says there is a significant increase in mouth feel from the older vine fruit compared to the more simplistic aromatic profiles of young vine fruit. His two Auction Chenins are a case in point.

This makes older vines so much more valuable, adds Morgenzon marketing manager Katie Barrett.  “These vineyards are suddenly becoming highly sought-after and gaining world recognition too.”

Small wonder that Remhoogte’s “honeybunch” vineyard is the only vineyard not replanted since winemaker Chris Boustred came to the farm in 1994. Remhoogte’s Auction submission, the Chenin Blanc Reserve ‘Honeybunch” 2010, is a single vineyard reserve made solely from this 28-year-old, low-yielding and “perfectly balanced” vine. Nor that Beaumont Wines’ Sebastian Beaumont only uses his own fruit from low-trellised vines planted near Bot River in 1974 and 1978 to produce his Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc. “We want this wine to be a pure reflection of this place,” he says of his Auction submission, the 2009 Hope Marguerite.

Ken Forrester, chairman of the Chenin Blanc Association (CBA), says the judges’ response to the 2013 Auction Chenin Blanc offering is not unexpected. “South Africa has extensive depth in terms of vineyards, terroir diversity and winemaking expertise. Our winemakers have started to isolate the very best Chenin blanc vineyards. The fact that we have such a library of old plantings has made a tremendous difference to quality, and more and more parcels of old vines are being sought by our younger winemakers, who are making incredible wines.”

With Chenin being such a versatile grape it also comes as no surprise that some of the sweeter styles scored extremely favourably amongst the Auction judges, with the Rjik Tulbagh Reserve 1997 and the Nederburg Edelkeur 2005 complete stand outs. The Edelkeur is of course the reason for the Auction’s existence, and to celebrate 39 years of Auction excellence, one case of the 1980 Edelkeur, produced by the legendary Günter Brözel, will be on offer at the reserve price of R3 000.

The CBA will again present a special collection of sweet Chenins at the Nederburg Auction: 5 x 6 bottle cases of 2007 and older sweet Chenin blancs, some of the very last stock of the producers.

The full 2013 Nederburg Auction Chenin blanc line-up consists of:

·         Beaumont Hope Marguerite 2009

·         Bosman Optenhorst Chenin Blanc 2009

·         De Trafford Straw Wine 2005

·         DeMorgenzon Chenin Blanc 2005

·         DeMorgenzon Chenin Blanc 2007

·         Nederburg Private Bin Edelkeur 1980

·         Nederburg Private Bin Edelkeur 2005

·         Raats Family Chenin Blanc 2008

·         Raats Family Chenin Blanc 2009

·         Remhoogte Chenin Blanc Reserve ‘Honeybunch’ 2010

·         Rijk Tulbagh Volsoet Chenin Blanc 1997

·         Rudera Robusto Chenin Blanc 2009

·         Stellenrust 45 Chenin Blanc 2009

·         Welbedacht Chenin Blanc 2005

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