Posted by Ken Forrester
After a quick trip to Prowein in Germany, followed by two days in the Pfalz, which borders France in the area around Strasbourg and Alsace and shares a rich and colorful history of occupation by German, French and American forces through the wars and troubled times of the past. I was treated by the generosity of one Christoff Hammel to an amazingly intense tour of the region with one of the new generation—his family history goes back to the 1700s, but Christoff thinks and works in the world of today and tomorrow!
Christoff, my kind host, of Weingut Hammel in Kirschheim, is one of the new, smart, forward-thinking German producers—clear concise, contemporary labels, modern viticulture, smart winemaking with a close eye on public taste, screw-cap closures, clever marketing … more is not possible! So I was treated to a glimpse of the Old World, but something new: The Old World with some serious signs of renewal, as well as a deep heritage, century-old plantings and a rightful place in the world of fine wines.
Now, more to the point …
Here at Ken Forrester winery, we have finally landed the last of our healthy grapes (non-botrytis-infected fruit) and surprisingly managed to get even the perennially late Mourvèdre into the cellar before the Easter weekend!
We have a constant, ongoing regime of experimental winter pruning, specifically with the Mourvèdre vineyard. We have tried some early, late and half-pruning, etc.—anything to try and get the vineyard ripe before Easter, and we have so far had a negligible impact on the great scheme of nature and the natural rhythm and timing of the seasons—Mourvèdre will ripen late. It's absolutely wild as a young, fresh wine, and yet is becoming more and more important in the final assembly of our Syrah and Grenache blends.
As I take a quick glimpse over my shoulder, this year's initial ferments are now safely finalized and they are truly special. A great South African vintage is the broad consensus here and I personally must count this certainly as my very best-quality harvest in the short 15 years that we have owned the old vineyard. I do hope and pray that I may yet see another vintage this good. The phenolic ripeness was quite extraordinary, and took place relatively early, resulting in a generally lower level of alcohol and superb natural acidity with a resultant fine natural balance in the wines.
While this is a broad generalization and specifically my view, focused mainly on the Stellenbosch region with the cool coastal influence of the Atlantic Ocean, I'm happy to be able to say that many of our top winemakers and best producers in the country are in accord regarding the 2009 crush. A brilliant year for the white wines with great concentration, superb natural acidity and some lower alcohols as well as good minerality and bright fruit character.
As far as the reds are concerned, the season got a little hotter as it dragged on, so there will be patches of excellence with intense, balanced fruit and great concentration, again with many of the wines showing good natural balance and early phenolic ripeness. All show promise for the next year or so in barrel as these great wines align and polymerize their tannin structures. We are expecting some great wines and I have a distinct feeling that this 2009 crush could go down in the books as one that truly shone for South Africa.
Given the troubled world financial markets and the specific South African price points I can't help but feel really excited for our industry. When one considers that you can buy great value South African wines at south of $10 and that for just a few dollars more you can get some of the best varietal wine examples in the world. It seems almost as though the planets have aligned and there is great value for the savvy wine shopper. South Africa is in the enviable position of being able to supply some of the greatest wines in the world at prices that are almost ridiculously affordable. That's a great value proposition indeed, and I confidently invite you to test the theory!
Now we will be watching our K block vineyard (Chenin Blanc planted on a single wire back in 1970) and waiting for the winter weather to bring in the mists that will awaken the botrytis spores and bring the noble rot that allows us to produce our rare late-harvest Chenin Blanc, simply called T (named for my wife, Teresa). We are hunting through the vineyard, picking affected berries and individual trimmed bunches to ensure the freshest botrytis-infected grapes, we take these off to the cellar, soak the berries and press the fruit into new 400-liter French oak barrels and allow a natural/spontaneous ferment to take place as the incredibly high sugars (up to 46 Brix) slowly start to become alcohol and the most delicious, unctuous, concentrated dessert wine, golden in color, with the flavors of dried apricot, honey, hints of vanilla and a deliciously bracing acidity that maintains the critical balance between sweetness and elegance. So far we have had five separate pickings, but historically I have picked as late as the 14th of May! So who knows? We will nonetheless be on the lookout and hope to have enough wine to label.
Andrew Bernardo — Halifax, Nova Scotia — April 14, 2009 2:24pm ET
Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — April 18, 2009 7:43pm ET
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