Chamonix Estate, a leading wine producer in the Cape’s Franschhoek region, has joined South Africa’s pioneering Old Vine Project (OVP) committed to conserving the country’s old vineyards and to promote the unique quality of wines made from mature vines.
To honour this, Chamonix will thus year release its first Chenin Blanc in 14 years, a wine made from a vineyard planted in the mountains of Chamonix in 1965. The vineyard was planted some 35 years before the late Chris Hellinger bought the estate. He set about implementing his vision of creating a wine estate on the mountains of the Franschhoek Valley and accordingly had to remove a lot of fruit-orchards and plant new vines, as the farm had never in its history focussed on wine production.
Chamonix winemaker Neil Bruwer says no-one quite knows why the flamboyant Hellinger decided to keep this one Chenin Blanc vineyard. “Some vintages of Chenin Blanc did appear under a Chamonix label, but were always second fiddle to the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for which the estate has become known. The last bottled Chenin Blanc appeared in 2006.
Bruwer has, however, become so intrigued by this old vineyard that he and Chamonix CEO Stefan van Rooyen decided to revisit the Chenin Blanc vineyard and produce a wine from it to add to the momentum of South Africa’s Old Vines Project.
“All we know of the vineyard is that it comprises a Jacquez rootstock,” says Bruwer. “No mention of clones exist in our records. The vineyard is planted at 320m above sea-level in apedal soil, rich in lime with sandstone origin. Farmed dryland, this vineyard comprises .58ha, and we can count 1732 vines. Due to its elevation, we can only guess what of nature’s elements it has had to endure. Pummelling rain and thrashing wind – not to mention the advances of troops of hungry baboons.”
And yet, this Chenin Blanc vineyard is producing grapes of exceptional quality bearing the complex characteristics and singular personality only and old vine vineyard can give.
Bruwer says, “You just have to walk through the vineyard to realise how special it is. Each scion, tendril and leaf carries the characters of age, heritage and a life well-lived. These emotions are then also experienced when sampling the wine from the grapes it has offered us, delicious complexity echoing the voices of ancient soils and exposing the drinker to the philosophy that says good wine is a timeless thing.”
Van Rooyen commends the Old Vine Project for creating the opportunity to resurrect Chamonix’s Chenin Blanc vineyard.
“It had been moth-balled, and could have removed were it not for the OVP initiative,” says Van Rooyen. “The old vines of South Africa are suddenly at the top of the international wine world and we must protect this heritage and make wine from these vines that can claim a truly unique selling point.”