Normally, yet another small-production wine (even one with outstanding quality) would be just another entry to an already crowded playing field. Add in the fact that the wine comes from the still-overlooked South Africa, and most folks probably wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow.
But this wine does merit some attention, and not just for its quality, but for its price. The winery in question, Boekenhoutskloof, is giving the wine away, at no charge, to its importers, who in turn will then allow retailers to set the price.
“Boekenhoutskloof will not receive any proceeds from the first release,” said co-owner and winemaker Marc Kent. "The proceeds will go 100 percent to the end seller. This will then guide Boekenhoutskloof pricing for further vintages. In this way, I believe that little criticism can be leveled at Boekenhoutskloof for 'aspirational' pricing."
The wine, called The Journeyman, is a Cabernet Franc-based blend that shows gorgeous perfume, silky mouthfeel and concentrated but elegant and focused flavors of cherry, mesquite, mineral and more. It’s one of the best young reds I’ve tasted from the Cape. There are just 120 cases of The Journeyman, making it a hard find to say the least.
With its combination of quality and small quantity, it would be easy for Kent to put one of those hefty, boutique-wine price tags on it. So the decision to simply give it to his importers and let the price find itself from there is an intriguing one.
In addition to not wanting to look "aspirational" as Kent put it, he was also gun shy about pricing the wine higher than his winery’s Syrah, currently one of the best versions on the Cape and the wine that the Boekenhoutskloof’s reputation is currently based on.
"But our Syrah is sourced from a vineyard outside Franschhoek," explained Kent. "I really wanted to make something from our own farm, and I’ve felt that Cab Franc offered the best potential for the valley. But to produce one and then ask for a higher price than the Syrah would be confusing."
"Plus, we make 2 million bottles, so selling 1,000 bottles at a high price point wouldn’t really do anything for our bottom line," said Kent of his winery’s production, which includes the value-priced Porcupine Ridge line.
Kent has been working on a flagship estate red wine since the 2001 vintage, but didn’t feel he had gotten the quality he wanted until 2005, which marks the debut release of The Journeyman. The wine, which contains 20 percent each Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon along with the Cab Franc, is sourced entirely from Boekenhoutskloof’s estate vineyards, located at the end of the Franschhoek Valley.
While parts of the Franschhoek Valley can get quite warm, Boekenhoutskloof is located in a cooler spot that gets deluged with winter rains. The area’s heavy clay soils retain those winter rains through a growing season (Boekenhoutskloof’s vineyards are dry farmed) that runs a bit longer—Boekenhoutskloof typically harvests two weeks later than wineries at the opposite end of the valley. The microclimate is proving to be an ideal spot for Cabernet Franc, and other producers in Franschhoek are catching on fast: The recent debut bottling from the revamped L’Ormarins winery is outstanding, while the Troika bottling from Chamonix shows excellent potential.
As for the choice of grapes in the wine, Kent said, "I love the aromatics of Cabernet Franc, but I’m honestly not a big fan of Loire reds. I prefer Cab Franc in a claret instead, like Angélus, Cheval-Blanc, Ausone …”
The wine is named for Kent’s great-great-great grandfather‘s occupation, as it was printed on the birth certificate of Kent’s great-great-grandfather.
"I like the humility of that," said Kent of his ancestor’s modest occupation. "Plus it’s been a bit of a journey for me to prove that Franschhoek can produce a great red on its own."
The quality of the wine shows that Kent was able to prove his point. Now it’s up to others to decide how much they’re willing to pay for Kent’s efforts.
Katherine Brown — North Carolina — July 22, 2008 8:19pm ET
Jameson Fink — Seattle, WA — July 22, 2008 8:50pm ET
Lars Jorgensen — Switzerland — July 23, 2008 2:54am ET
James Molesworth — July 23, 2008 9:19am ET
Dave Pramuk — July 25, 2008 2:23pm ET
James Molesworth — July 25, 2008 2:27pm ET
Dave Pramuk — July 25, 2008 9:01pm ET
Jonathan Rezabek — Chandler, AZ — July 29, 2008 6:24pm ET
Lars Jorgensen — Switzerland — July 30, 2008 6:52am ET
James Molesworth — July 30, 2008 9:27am ET
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Colin Fitzgerald — New York, NY — September 1, 2008 6:18pm ET
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