Like the title suggests, something is brewing (or rather fermenting) on the other side of the mountain with the official launch of two new Chenin Blanc wines from Spioenkop. Well known winemaker Koen Roose, who epitomises the old adage “dynamite comes in small packages”, has taken a leap of faith and landed solidly on his feet.
Before you shrug your shoulders and ask, “Another Chenin Blanc, so what?” realise that this varietal is quite the novelty in Elgin. When asked if Spioenkop is the only place in Elgin that grows Chenin Blanc, Koen said that he knows of only one other farm where this varietal can be found and that no wine is produced there. But if you know Koen, you’d know that he obstinately follows his own path and you’d also be familiar with his ability to punch way above his weight. In this case he’s planted a knockout punch with his two new Chenins.
In a time when increasingly more Elgin farmers are contemplating replacing their vineyards with apple orchards, Koen embraces the cooler climate, among other things, that the Elgin terroir offers viticulturists. “Every time I walk through my vineyards to think and to recharge my batteries I realise again how special Elgin is. Sure, there are a lot of challenges and some people might be overly pessimistic, but I always say to them that the proof is in the bottle. Although the soil in Elgin is quite fertile the challenge is to search out marginal pockets of poor soil.”
“For me it goes much further than knowing and understanding my vineyards and soil, I want to have a conversation with my vineyards! This is not crazy, this is how you make great wine. Take for instance Pinot Noir … she demands nothing less than obsessive attention and this is why there are only winners or losers with this wine and nothing in between.”
While Koen agrees that there is very little affection for Chenin Blanc in Elgin, he’s unconcerned and remains focused in his own way. “I’m not interested in copying anybody or any other region when it comes to my wines. In particular Chenin Blanc. Treat your vines and wine well and Elgin will reward you with a wine that tells an enchanting story about the region where it comes from. You drink wine between the ears.”
Although the 1900 Chenin Blanc from Spioenkop achieved critical acclaim (the 2015 received 5 stars in the 2016 Platter’s wine guide), the decision was made to focus on the Chenin Blanc vines (eight years old by now) growing on the steep slopes of Spioenkop.
The Spioenkop Sarah Raal 2016 comes from vines on rocky ferricrete soil (B1 and B4) at an altitude of 270-290 m. The wine reflects Elgin’s cooler climate and purity and has a pale lemon straw colour. Linear purity of fruit is complemented with pineapple, pear and citrus on the nose. On the palate apple, spices, grapefruit pith and white citrus blossoms added to the wine’s fresh minerality. The wine is crisp yet balanced, and shows finesse while being restrained and understated. Truly a breath of fresh air!
The Spioenkop Johanna Brandt 2016 is planted on shale soil (B1 and B4) at an altitude of 200-270 m. While the previous wine was matured on its fine lees for nine months and got no new wood maturation, this wine spent 11 months on its fine lees and had 25-30% new wood, which clearly shows in this bolder and nuttier wine. This wine has depth and like the Sarah Raal is balanced, crisp and elegant. On the nose I picked up citrus and floral notes, as well as quince. On the palate I experienced apple, citrus, spices, pineapple and minerality. Truly sublime and a powerful indicator of Elgin’s potential.
Towards the end of the wine tasting quirky Koen said, “I like history and even more so telling stories. In the end you should be able to taste a bit of my personality in my wines.”
And yes, his wines did tell a story and we all listened. In true raconteur fashion Koen enlightened us with many interesting stories and concluded with a rhetorical question, “Do you taste Elgin in the wine?”