Anthonij Rupert, owned by Johann Rupert, has gone into a hyperdrive pursuit of quality since 2005 when Rupert took over control of the estate following the death of his father, Anton. The estate has been renamed (from the original L'Ormarins) for Johann's brother, Anthonij, who died in 2001 and whose dream it was to see the Cape produce world-class wine.
Johann Rupert sets a quick and steady pace, and his winemaker, Dawie Botha, seems up to the task.
"He gave me the best vineyards and the best winery. So now I need to make the best wine. It's just that simple," said Botha with a dry wit.
For background on the changes here, you can reference my blog from my March 2007 visit. But here's a quick recap: To go from a large-scale, modest-quality white wine outfit to a world-class red wine producer, simply rip out 750 acres of existing vineyards on the flatter, lower parts of the estate and plant only 170 lower-yielding acres up on the steep hillsides above the winery. And do it quickly.
The hillsides are made of sandstone and granite, with pockets of red koffieklip (Afrikaans for "coffee stone," known elsewhere as ferricrete), and their undulating curves result in warmer and cooler expositions, along with some windy spots. To offset that, Botha has trained some vines on single stakes rather than on standard VSP trellises, resulting in more circulation through the vineyard instead of creating a wind break, which could lead to damaged canopies. Botha also likes the way the fruit ripens, as the sun surrounds the vine equally throughout the day, rather than hitting one side, then the other, as it moves overhead. Botha has another trial as well, cutting the canopy in one section of the vineyard to reduce vigor and get earlier ripening at lower sugars. Botha explains some of the viticultural efforts here in the two videos below.
It's a stunning spot, sitting above the thoroughbred stud farm and cattle pasture that used to be the lower-quality vineyards. The neighboring Graham Beck farm was bought in 2011 and that 1,000-acre-plus property was also transitioned quickly, ripping out 250 acres of vines and replanting only 35 for now, with plans to go to 86 acres in total. Currently, production of the Anthonij Rupert line stands at 4,700 cases, the Optima line at 9,000 cases, the Protea line at 18,000 cases and the Cape of Good Hope line at 2,666 cases.
As the new plantings come on line at the home estate in Franschhoek, along with newly leased and additional recently acquired properties, Botha is fine tuning in the cellar. For example, 20 coopers were used during the first few vintages (2005 through 2007) but that number is now down to six.
"We're figuring out things in the vineyard and the winery at the same time, and that's where the fun is," said Botha.
At a modest $18, the Protea line delivers solid value. The 2012 Anthonij Rupert Sauvignon Blanc Western Cape Protea uses fruit primarily from the Franschhoek property and some Overberg fruit to deliver mache, sweet pea, chive and white asparagus notes with a nice hint of lushness on the finish, but staying fresh. The 2012 Anthonij Rupert Chenin Blanc Coastal Region Protea uses fruit from the Paardeberg. It shows kafir lime, kiwi and green almond notes with a rounded edge on the finish. It has a plump edge but stays refreshing. There is a yet unnamed 2012 white blend of Chenin Blanc from 50-year-old bush vines, along with Roussanne and Viognier all from the Riebeeksrivier estate in the Swartland. It's juicy, with yellow and green melon and apple fruit laced with honeysuckle and green almond notes. It shows a light waxy edge on finish, but stays fresh.
The Cape of Good Hope lineup features site-specific wines from vineyards that Johann has five-year contracts with to control viticulture and buy the fruit on a per-acre rate so that yields are not an issue. These are older vineyards that were becoming economically unviable for their respective growers because of the diminishing yields, but Rupert wanted to preserve them for their quality and as a representation of South Africa's wine-producing history. The wines retail for around $30 and overdeliver at their pricepoint.
There are just 750 cases of the 2012 Cape of Good Hope Sauvignon Blanc Elandskloof Altima bottling, which spent eight months on its lees. It shows bright kafir lime, green fig, pear skin and mâche notes and a long, sea salt–tinged finish. From 42-year-old vines, there are just 300 cases of the 2012 Cape of Good Hope Chenin Blanc Citrusdal Mountain Van Lill & Visser, which is superpure, with brisk green almond, pear and white ginger notes, showing a sleek, porcelain feel through the finish. It has gorgeous purity overall. The 2012 Cape of Good Hope Sémillon Citrusdal Mountain Laing is sourced from 56-year-old vines and there are just 217 cases. It has superb cut in a floral style, with lots of orange blossom and white peach notes, freshly churned butter and chalk dust and green almond notes. It has weight and purity—a transparent wine with lovely persistence. The 2012 Cape of Good Hope Chardonnay Elandskloof Serruria (350 cases) is mouthwatering, with clementine, white peach and yellow apple fruit, pristine edges and a long, floral and minerally finish.
One of the newly acquired properties in Rupert's stable is the Riebeeksrivier estate, located in the Swartland. The 395-acre property has just 74 acres of vines now, with limited remaining land for vineyards (most of the estate is mountainside, with important water rights). Botha is really pleased with the site. He drove me around showing me more single-stake plantings of Syrah, Grenache and more. At one point he hopped out to taste the berries.
"Yes," he said with a light laugh. "I really like how this parcel is doing."
We tasted a trio of Syrahs from barrel off the Riebeeksrivier estate, which was purchased in 2007 and planted to Rhône varieties. The 2012 vintage is the second harvest for the estate and it is likely to be commercialized. The first sample came from the standard trellis system on a slope of shale-based soils and shows dark plum and boysenberry fruit, with deeply embedded charcoal and graphite notes. But the second sample from échalas (single-stake) plantings on the same shale slope shows dark bramble, crushed plum and steeped boysenberry notes similar to the first sample, but with darker spice studding the finish and a bit more grip throughout.
"That's the extra ripeness in the middle we get, because the sun moves around the clusters evenly all day," said Botha. "It makes a big difference."
The third sample was Syrah cofermented with 11 percent Viognier from a parcel with more granite and clay soils and planted back on the standard trellis. It shows a lovely, creamy mouthfeel and a pure beam of plum fruit lined with notes of anise, violet and blackberry cobbler notes, staying tightly focused through the fine-grained finish.
The main reds here start with the 2009 Anthonij Rupert Optima Western Cape, a 60/30/10 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc that has been made by L'Ormarins for years but will only now make it's way to the U.S. market. It way overdelivers at its $30 price tag, as it's a sappy, kirsch-loaded wine with lots of delicious bramble, roasted spice and singed apple wood notes and a broad, tobacco-framed finish. This has serious stuffing and carries just enough Old World grace to match its heft.
The 2008 Anthonij Rupert Merlot Coastal Region combines Franschhoek and Helderberg fruit. It's packed with dark plum, roasted spice, steeped black currant and ample but well-integrated toast. The long, coffee-tinged finish has a nice flicker of herb for complexity. It's dense and fleshy but shows remarkably polished tannins.
The 2008 Anthonij Rupert Cabernet Franc Coastal Region also combines Franschhoek and Helderberg fruit and it remains the most compelling of the varietals, with warm stone, ganache, espresso, fig, plum and blackberry notes all rolled together and driving through a muscular but very defined finish. The 2008 Anthonij Rupert Cabernet Sauvignon Coastal Region is the most muscular of the group, with dense, chewy but mouthwatering grip supporting the black currant, espresso and roasted fig notes. There's serious cut and drive here, though, despite the heft.
The 2008 Anthonij Rupert Syrah Coastal Region is entirely from the Franschhoek farm and is the most showy and overtly hedonistic of the four varietals, with creamed blackberry, plum paste and blueberry confiture notes liberally framed with mocha, black tea and melted licorice notes. Long, dense and incredibly polished, it's a beautiful modern-styled Syrah.
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