Laarman Wines has unveiled the maiden vintage of its premium Focal Point collection, with the release of the Focal Point Chardonnay and Focal Point Cinsault, both from the 2017 vintage.
This follows the successful launch last year of the Cluster Series, a pair of wines inspired by the spirit of collaboration in the South African wine industry.
“The release of the Focal Point has been in the pipeline for more than 18 months, and I’m extremely excited to finally share this collection of premium wines,” says winemaker Arco Laarman, who spent more than two decades at one of the Cape’s leading wineries before embarking on his own in 2016.
While the Cluster Series paid tribute to cooperation and shared endeavour, the ethos behind the Focal Point range is to express the unique character of specific vineyard sites, showcasing the depth and variety of the Western Cape’s terroir.
“I want to see what we can achieve with different expressions of the same varietal, using different soils, different clones and different terroir in each vintage,” adds Laarman.
In the study of optics a ‘focal point’ is where a variety of light rays converge. In art it marks the point of interest, often highlighting the very essence of the work. The same applies in Laarman’s approach to winemaking, focusing the myriad influences of terroir, cultivar, vintage – and indeed the winemaker himself – to conjure a single image, a wine that reflects a specific place and time.
And when it came to choosing a white varietal to launch the Focal Point collection, there was only ever one option.
“Chardonnay’s in my blood,” chuckles Laarman, who turned to the pioneering vineyards in the southern Cape for the Focal Point Chardonnay 2017.
The region is known for its limestone soils, late ripening, and cooling sea breezes, and is fast becoming is South Africa’s bold new frontier of cool-climate winemaking.
“I’ve worked with Chardonnay from a warmer climate for so long, I was looking for a site that offered a different character,” explains Laarman. “There’s definitely a trend in the wine industry towards the cooler regions, and I found what I was looking for on the banks of the Duiwenhoks River near the small town of Vermaaklikheid.”
In the cellar, Laarman has been careful to preserve the freshness of these coastal vineyards while ensuring structure and ageability. A meticulous oak regime – the wine spent 11 months in a blend of new barrels and neutral oak – along with four different fermentation techniques has resulted in a complex Chardonnay that deftly marries minerality, texture and freshness.
A perfect partner to the Focal Point Chardonnay is the Focal Point Cinsault 2017, a varietal rapidly garnering attention both in South Africa and abroad.
“I wanted to work with a lighter red variety, and we have such wonderful old plantings of Cinsault in the Cape winelands,” says Laarman. “Just as Chenin Blanc has become the flag-bearer of South African white wine on the international stage, I think Cinsault could do the same for reds.”
Grapes for the Focal Point Cinsault 2017 were sourced from 35-year-old vines in the Bottelary Hills beyond Stellenbosch. Half of the harvest was whole-bunch pressed, with the rest de-stemmed before pressing. Natural fermentation took place over a two-week period. The wine then spent 10 months in neutral oak – “It’s all about bringing oxidation into the wine, and softening the tannins,” explains Laarman – before bottling.
The result is a supremely elegant Cinsault, “a floral fruit-driven wine that shows wonderful purity of fruit,” notes Laarman.
The striking bottle design of the Focal Point portfolio is also set to grab the attention of retailers and consumers alike. The sleek modern labelling is built around a series of lines converging on a focal point. It’s a subtle design cue inspired by the 11 influences Laarman brings together in the creation of each wine in the collection. From varietal to viticulture, topography to fermentation techniques, it is the skill of the winemaker in harnessing these individual inputs, and focusing their energies on a single goal.
Equally eye-catching is the unique bottle closure. In a first for the South African wine industry, each bottle is capped with an innovative cork capsule made by hand in the Cape winelands.
While wine drinkers too often overlook elaborate metal- and plastic-based capsules, and wax seals are proving both clichéd and time-consuming, a natural product using sustainably harvested cork, that can also be used to reseal the bottle if needed, made perfect sense
“I’m not an organic producer, but I definitely focus on sustainable winemaking,” explains Laarman. “I didn’t want additional metal or plastic on the bottle if I could avoid it, and cork proved to be the perfect alternative.”
With a Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 from Stellenbosch vineyards already maturing in bottle, Laarman is already looking to the future.
While he is thrilled with the sites selected for the maiden Focal Point release, his innate curiosity means he’ll be exploring further afield with the 2018 vintage. This year saw him harvesting Cinsault from Paarl vineyards, along with Chardonnay from Stanford in the Western Cape’s Overberg region.
“I might return to some vineyards for a few years running, but the objective with the Focal Point range is to really shine the light on unique vineyard sites with each vintage,” says Laarman. “Site-specific wines really tell the story of where the vines were planted. When you combine that with the character of each vintage, you have wines that are clearly rooted in a place and time.”