It was a busy week for winemakers stopping by my office this week: I had sit-downs with Tokara winery's Miles Mossop of South Africa, as well as Chile's Marcelo Retamal and Sven Bruchfeld (notes on the latter two to follow next week).
Mossop, 38, is the winemaker at South Africa’s ambitious Tokara winery, owned by former banker G.T. Ferriera. It’s (needless to say) a well-financed project, replete with all the bells and whistles in the winery, plus a showcase tasting room and a restaurant overlooking the vineyards. It’s in a prime spot too—its next-door neighbor is the well-known Thelema winery, whose founder and owner, Gyles Webb, consults at Tokara. But despite having a lot going for it (including very good and outstanding quality wines), Tokara's initial set of releases from the 2003 and 2004 vintages failed to take off here in the U.S.
So, after a switch in importers and an 18-month hiatus from the market, Tokara is back, complete with a revamped lineup of wines and new labeling. Gone is the slightly unwieldy Zondernaam line (which meant "no name"). The new Tokara lineup will simply feature a reserve line for the top wines and a plain Tokara label for the basic line; the streamlining of the label should help on the marketing side of things.
Finally having the vineyards in order should also help. Mossop and viticulturist Aidan Morton have overseen the development of Tokara’s three vineyards sites, including the home base in Stellenbosch, which features Bordeaux varieties. Nine hectares of vines that were infected with leaf roll virus have been pulled out and are being replanted, which should help increase the quality of the wines.
In addition, Tokara draws on 22 hectares each in the cool, coastal spots of Elgin and Walker Bay, which are finally settling in.
At Tokara Winery in Stellenbosch, winemaker Miles Mossop has pulled out virus-infected vines and streamlined the portfolio.
“Walker Bay was an especially difficult spot to get a handle on, as it’s really cool and windy, and it’s naturally low-yielding,” said Mossop. “But I’m really happy with the way things are going now.”
These cool coastal areas feature Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, the latter of which was especially hard hit during the up and down 2010 growing season, noted Mossop.
“In Walker Bay, we went from a usual 5 tons per hectare to just 1.6 tons per hectare. It was really unbelievable how tough Chardonnay had it this past season,” he said.
Tokara currently produces about 700,000 bottles annually with plans to top out around 850,000 bottles. As the winery gets its feet back in the U.S. market, initial quantities here will be small, but plans are to ramp up quickly, if all goes well.
The reserve line will feature a "Director’s Reserve" red and white made from classic Bordeaux variety blends, along with additional site-specific bottlings—a Walker Bay Chardonnay and Elgin and Walker Bay Sauvignon Blancs, for example. The basic Tokara line will feature just Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, blending fruit from the various sites.
Mossop is a talented winemaker and with Tokara now getting its viticultural feet underneath it, so to speak, this is a winery that should start to make a name for itself here in this market.
[Note: Like many of South Africa’s current generation of winemakers, Mossop also has his own small side project, an eponymous label that features a Chenin Blanc-Viognier blend called Saskia, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Petit Verdot-Merlot blend named Max, and a new botrytized Chenin Blanc dessert wine called Kika.]
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Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — June 11, 2010 9:37pm ET
Roger Cabot — nantucket — June 13, 2010 3:43pm ET
James Molesworth — Senior Editor, Wine Spectator — June 14, 2010 9:31am ET
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