International wine critic and Master of Wine, Tim Atkin’s recent release of his 7th annual South Africa report raises the bar for local wines, as he scores the 2015 Kanonkop 100-points, a first ever awarded to a New World wine and praises both 2015 and 2017 as outstanding SA vintages.
Atkin’s thorough report not only highlights these vintages but scores important wines in the industry and focuses on ten of the latest wine trends in the country, including the impact of the drought, the Old Vines Project, and the burgeoning fine wine sector.
With this in mind, local, expert, Roland Peens of fine wine merchants, Wine Cellar, says the 2017 vintage holds an interesting contradiction: affected by South Africa’s worst drought in centuries and yet full of promise. We asked him to tell us more…
Q: It seems that a 2017 is set to be an exceptional vintage of wine. Why?
A: The word ‘terroir’ is often thrown around as the key to wine and its level of greatness. Terroir most notably encompasses the soil and climate, but in France it includes the winemaker and their culture too. In 2017 we enjoyed a dry, healthy harvest which led to concentrated, healthy wines. With very little fine wine culture and a relatively short period of winemaking in the Cape, we are still building on the human terroir factors. There is a revolution happening however, especially with rejuvenated old vines and energised young winemakers, meaning the industry is in a good era of winemaking. Our winemakers have a clearer idea of how to make the better Cape wines than ever before.
Q: Yield-wise, comparing 2017 and 2018 and taking the severe drought that SA suffered into consideration, how did the country perform in the 2017 harvest and what was the impact on the market?
A: The 2017 vintage surprised everyone with a healthy yield, similar to that of 2016. As a result of this yield, we saw both quality and volume. 2018 is however down considerably and we will see an impact on all sectors moving forward. Fine wines generally proliferate in dry conditions over the short term, leading to more concentrated wines. Over the long term, the vine will struggle however as it moves into desperation mode, producing less balanced wines. On the bulk wine side there is a serious shortage and I have heard that bulk wine prices have more than doubled since the beginning of the year. Along with the heavily frost-reduced 2017 European crop, a worldwide shortage for entry-level wines is on the horizon. Prices are set to increase.
Q: Any specific regions you’re looking to as the rising stars of this vintage and why?
A: There are so many good wines in 2017 that it’s impossible to point out a specific region. The key in 2017 is just how good the entry level wines are due to the dry healthy conditions. The winemakers who have farmed their vineyards to pristine health are the real stars. Wines are made in the vineyard, not the cellar.
Q: What should we be collecting and putting away from a year that’s set to showcase South African fine wines in a very favourable light?
A: Take your pick! The top wines, especially reds will only be released from next year. The whites will age well however.
Q: Any personal favourites from 2017 that you’re excited to present at Wine Cellar?
A: Chenin Blanc is on fire in 2017 and almost every wine we have tasted offers an extra gear in this vintage. From cooler climes to warmer outlying regions, Chenin Blanc offers uniquely South African flavours, wonderful natural acidity and a beautiful texture. Our pick is Attie Louw’s Opstal Chenin blanc from Slanghoek Valley on the Breedekloof Wine Route. It’s a beguilingly complex and elegant wine that could easily sell for double the price.
Q: Will this exceptional vintage go far to further place South African wines as a whole on the map internationally?
A: We are already the darlings of many international wine critic, as wine events such as the Swartland revolution and Wine Cellar’s very own Young Guns have built on the likes of icons including Klein Constantia, Kanonkop and Hamilton Russell. 2017 will push us further forward in discovering more diversity but also more identity and confidence in Cape Wine.
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