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The South Africa Diary: Bartinney

Rose Jordaan's Stellenbosch up-and-comer has a new winemaker set to bring Bartinney to new heights
Photo by: James Molesworth
At Bartinney, steep slopes will be planted without terracing.

Posted: Jan 18, 2013 2:30pm ET

On the Banhoek mountainside, opposite Thelema, is Bartinney, a new face on the South African wine scene.

"A new face?" asked owner Rose Jordaan, looking at Ronell Wiid, her winemaker. "Maybe some old faces," she joked. "But they are lines of happiness."

Jordaan, 42, has engaging, bright eyes and long blonde hair. She drove frenetically in a small all-terrain vehicle behind the pick-up truck that Wiid, 53, was struggling to get up the steep slope above the winery. I've been on the slopes of Côte-Rôtie in a beat up Renault with Jean-Michel Gerin, and this is just as nutty a drive.

Almost to the top, we got out to walk along recently cleared land earmarked for new plantings. But instead of being terraced, the natural slope remains, and Jordaan plans to keep it that way. But what about erosion, I asked, the natural enemy of hillside plantings ...

"That will be a big issue as we have decided to plant without terraces," said Rose. "But we've spent a year thinking this through. It will be a walking only vineyard, no tractors ever, so no soil compaction. And without terraces we can have denser plantings. Combined, that means more water absorption and less run off. In addition, we've planted proteas in the parcel above where the vines will go, and they like water as well, so when the runoff does reach the vines, there will be less for the vines to deal with."

"When you plant a new block, it's the one chance you get to execute your passion, so that's why we've spent a year thinking about it. But I'm prepared to change my mind along the way too. You have to be in this business. Nothing works exactly as you think it will," said Rose.

Bartinney is a former fruit farm that had been in Michael Jordaan's family (Rose's husband) for generations, but had been sold off. Michael, a Johannesburg-based banker, bought the family property back in 2006 and it quickly became a labor of love for Rose.

"We allow him to make a financial contribution from time to time," she laughed.

Rose has become obsessed with reestablishing the native fynbos vegetation, which requires less water, an issue all winegrape farmers in the Cape must deal with.

"We're trying to do this the right way," said Rose. "We farm organically and we're carbon neutral. Everything we're doing requires more labor, but frankly generating jobs is something that we should be doing here."

The property totals 74 acres, 42 under vine with just 3.5 acres still to be planted. At craggy spots winding along the Banhoek mountain, it features shallow decomposed granite soils known as Tukhulu and Oakleaf locally. Its generally north/northwest exposure is the opposite of Thelema's across the road, resulting in a cooler microclimate even though it's also sheltered from the prevailing breeze.

2008 was the first commercial vintage, totaling just 500 cases of Chardonnay. A Cabernet Sauvignon soon followed, and production now stands at 3,333 cases annually with the capacity to reach 5,000 cases.

The Bartinney Chardonnay Stellenbosch 2011 is barrel fermented but does not go through malolactic and sees only one-third new oak, marked by a light toast.

"I want elegance," said Wiid. "The fruit here is brighter and fresher and you have to respect that."

The wine is plump in feel but shows bright star fruit and yellow apple notes with an engaging finish.

The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch is fermented in a mix of stainless steel vats and open-top bins, with minimal punching down and pump over to accentuate the elegance that Wiid is looking for. After the malolactic it's moved to barrel, but only 40 percent new, for 12 months, an aging regimen that will increase slowly to 18 months as Wiid, who started at the beginning of 2012, settles in with the winemaking. The wine is taut and racy, with a decidedly red currant profile and a strong iron and graphite edge on the finish that should unwind nicely in the cellar. It's a Cabernet with cut and drive.

"We've come so far in South Africa in the last 15 years," said Wiid. "In the vineyard, in winemaking. There is so much more interest in how people are doing things so there's an increasing understanding of what is going on. Things are more sophisticated now. The young winemakers are doing so much more experimentation that we're having conversation and thoughts we weren't having before."

"But we also still have so far to go here in South Africa with our wines," said Rose cautiously, before adding, "But that's what's so exciting."

You can follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at twitter.com/jmolesworth1, and Instagram, at instagram.com/jmolesworth1.

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