A group of Franschhoek winemakers has collaborated on a single-vineyard wine that honours Sémillon while embracing modern winemaking techniques and wine styles.
The GD1 Project, named after the South African clone Groendruif 1, is an initiative spearheaded by 10 Franschhoek wine producers. Craig McNaught, one of the founders of Stony Brook Wine Estate, says these winemakers are passionate about Sémillon as a grape variety and wanted to create a style that would represent the region.
He believes this is a typical old-school style variety consumers associate with Franschhoek, as it is distinctively alcoholic and oxidated. “We wanted to develop something more approachable for the average consumer and that we felt could represent Franschhoek.”
At the start of the project in 2018, the winemakers identified a single block of Sémillon in Franschhoek. Each producer was tasked with a slightly different production route to take the grapes from the vineyard to wine. “In April we tasted the individual components and decided on a blend to bottle. We marketed it as a Franschhoek product that we don’t want the area to lose. We’re trying to create something indigenous,” says Craig.
Valley added variety
The idea is to create a roadmap for anyone interested in creating this style for Sémillon. “We can almost effectively give a recipe for how to produce a wine we feel represents Franschhoek.” He says this goes from the harvest to sugar levels to the winemaking process, technical details to nail it down and share it with anyone who has an interest.
The winemakers were part of a wine-tasting group and were inspired by a tasting in Hunter Valley, Australia. “We thought we could probably do something similar in style because it’s a lower alcohol wine between 11 and 12%,” he says.
Additionally, the wines are not priced too high so there isn’t a huge barrier to entry. Roughly 700 to 1000 bottles are produced each year and the wine costs R125 per bottle and can be purchased via the website.
The founding members include winemakers Clayton Reabow, Craig McNaught, Mark van Buuren, DP Burger, Wikus Pretorius, Dustin Osbourne, Wynand Grobler, Marozanne Bieldt, Rob Armstrong, JD Rossouw, and Tim Hoek. The membership has expanded and another two winemakers, Irene de Fleuriot and Donavan Ackermann joined the project.
Eventually the group hopes to get all Franschhoek producers on board. “We are passionate about how Sémillon put Franschhoek on the map so we want to attract people with a similar interest in Sémillon. Although we choose our members carefully, we try not to make it exclusive.”
The winemakers are still deciding on the ultimate direction for the project as the bulk of the wine are sold at members’ tasting rooms.
Craig says the primary objective of the initiative is to nail down the style of wine. “We want to get a wine bottled for next year that’s close to the one we bottled this year. Low alcohol, precise, as well as a wine that can be enjoyed while it’s young but also one that can age for years.”
As a variety, Sémillon is tricky to understand for some consumers. “It’s obscure and neutral when young and you must be educated to understand it. It’s like a white Bordeaux. They give so much when they’re aged. We’re trying to produce a wine you can drink while it’s youthful, and is similar to a high-quality Sauvignon Blanc when young. We try to teach people to lay it down five to 10 years because the wine will improve.”
Craig says the winemakers aim to create awareness of the project and get Sémillon associated with Franschhoek in a different form. “People don’t necessarily associate Sémillon with a focused, crisper style of wine. And although this is a technical variety, we’re trying to change that perception.”
“Because we can control the narrative, we hope more people will understand Sémillon, and more people will become as excited about it as we are.”